Like a lot of football bloggers, writers, journos etc I was once a promising young footballer. I had offers of trials with various clubs from the age of 10 up to about 14. I always turned down these offers as most clubs were very strict on you exclusively playing for them and as I loved playing for my Sunday League club Norseman Youth FC and I was captain of the school team Enfield Grammar school, giving them up was not an option for me. Stupidly I always thought the opportunity would be there. On one such occasion I was offered the chance to play for a big Championship teams' youth team in a trial game but this clashed with a big Sunday League game against local rivals. I was never one for letting my close friends down so again I turned down this opportunity. This fateful Sunday was the last time I would play at full fitness competitively again.
The game was going well, 1-0 up when I went in for a challenge, similar to one I would have mind a thousand times, being a centre half. I do not remember the pain but have been told I was howling similar to the noise a werewolf would make. I knew the injury was bad as not only did my manager come to my aid but the opposing manager also.
I was carried from the pitch and dragged myself in to the back of my mums car. Somewhat, coincidently, my dad happened to be their too which was a rare occurrence since my mother and he divorced.
After waiting at the hospital along with the other Sunday morning football injured, the news looked positive. A ligament strain, which would heal on it's own but come back on the Monday and have the knee looked at again. Great I thought, I'll be playing again next week. On the way back to the hospital I popped back into the clubhouse where all the players and their parents used to go after games, to share my good news.
After a sleepless night my mum took me back down to Chase Farm Hospital to see the knee specialist. After many very uncomfortable contortions of the knee, the level of the injury went up a notch. The diagnosis now was torn medial ligaments and I was put straight into a full leg, hip to ankle plaster cast. A shock, considering I thought I'd be on my merry way within half an hour.
No problem I thought, 6 weeks of this will be easy and to be fair it was. 6 weeks off school, mates round all the time, mum waiting on me hand and foot as she always did anyway and a hotline to Pizza GoGo! I did occasionally venture out with the boys but I didn't enjoy chasing for the bus with them on my crutches!
The 6 weeks flew by and I was back at the hospital having my cast cut off.... My very withered leg next to my very muscly footballers leg was a little shocking but bareable.
More contortions, more concerned faces. Still not healed back in plaster for another 6 weeks.
The second 6 weeks were awful. My mates still came round and were always good to me but they didn't want to sit with me all day, not when they could be chasing the girls. Going to the toilet was ok but not comfortable as you would imagine with a plaster up to your hip. Washing was awful, sleeping even worse but with the help of my diamond of a mum, I got through it.
After 12 weeks of the plaster cast my withered leg was now a bone but off to physio I went. The physiotherapy was pretty gruelling but my physio Nikki was very hot so I thought I'd grin and bare it.
After 3-4 months of physio the docs and physiotherapists told me I could start training again.
2 more months of training, which i hated anyway, and I should have been ready for action. My mind was, I would play football with a broken leg, but the knee just didn't feel right. It still felt weak and would often give way but i put these thoughts to the back of my mind.
My 1st game back was on as sub for the last 5 minutes on a footballing tour of Camber Sands. On the right wing so I could stay out of trouble. 2 mins after come on, whallop!!! You could hear the groans from our players and parents! F### me, I thought, that hurt.... but I didn't want anyone to know that it hurt... I thought I'd be letting them down.
My manager, having the faith in me as he always did pencilled me in the starting line up for the game the next day. He asked me if I was ok, I assured him I was. On the morning off the game, I knew I wasn't ok. My desire not to let the team down by being injured was overtaken by my desire not to let them down by not giving the 110% I always did.
Some would say I bottled it....
A few days after coming back from the tour my mum booked me into The Varney Physiotherapy Practice in Enfield. Mike Varney was well known for being an expert with knees. It took him 2 minutes to diagnose my actual injury, the injury I had actually sustained nearly 9 months before. A torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
The next stage was to have an MRI scan to ascertain the extent of the damage. The waiting line was 6 months but my mum being the woman that she is knew I couldn't wait that long. £800 that she really couldn't afford was spent on an inconclusive scan carried put a few weeks later! Another scan was required!
The local MP was the next person to hear from my mum as she battled to bring the next scan forward. She succeeded and roughly 8 weeks later I and another MRI Scan which showed the tear in my ACL.
My next issue was that the doctors would not perform an ACL reconstruction on someone of my age until they ascertained that my bones had stopped growing.
The Doctors seemed reluctant to perform such an operation on someone so young but just by chance I was waiting for my main Doctor during one appointment when a trainee doctor happened to look at my recent XRays and comment that my bones had fused which I knew meant they had stopped growing. When my Doctor did arrive he again stated that he still wasn't sure if I was ready for the Op but after a brief argument with my old lady, brief because I think she scared him, he reluctantly agreed to pencil me in for an arthroscopy first ( a camera inside the knee joint ) and then the full reconstruction.
Not long after I was in Chase Farm Hospital coming round from the arthroscopy. I had two small eye like holes in my knee and a drain in the side which wasn't too uncomfortable.
"Alright Ollie," said the boy in the bed opposite! My surname was Oliveri but my footy team-mates always called be Ollie. My mum opened my curtain and laying in the bed opposite was one of my best pals at the time Antony Dawson. He'd only gone and broken his ankle playing football the day before and was in for an operation to pin it together. If this coincidence wasn't enough, as my mum stood at the window, one of our other close pals, Glenn Barker, hobbled on crutches across the car park from casualty. He'd had pain in his toes for months and had finally come to the hospital for an XRay, only to be told he had broken 3 of his toes. He had always been a bit of a hard nut but this was something else. Think, Terry Butcher!
3 months later I was back in the hospital awaiting the full reconstruction of my Anterior Cruciate Ligament. I wasn't nervous, I just wanted to get back to football. The Doctors reattached the ligament to the bone using bolts and a few hours later I was sat in my bed with my leg in something like a baby cradle. This electrically moved my knee gently to make sure the ligament stayed in one piece.
I spent that week in hospital and it just happened to coincide with GCSE week. Now I didn't know this before but I had to take the exam at the same time as everyone else so my first English GCSE was in my hospital bed with one of my kind teachers who had agreed to sit with me and adjudicate (make sure I didn't cheat) sitting in the armchair next to me. Halfway through I had what myself, the teacher, the nurse and my mum thought was a heart attack. My chest literally felt like it was going to explode. The Doctor rushed in, did a few checks, tapped my stomach and chest and had a look of relief on his face!
"When did you last have a wee?" he said. I had been too embarrassed to wee in a pot while I was stuck in bed and the Doctor informed me that my bladder was so full it was fit to burst! A bit of coercion later and the threat of a catheter and before I knew it I'd had the best wee ever and was back to the exam.
I also did my Maths GCSE at home a few days later. Once again, my teacher came and sat with me. Without his kindness, I wouldn't have been able to take the exam. It wasn't something any of my teachers had to do, it was only out of the goodness of his heart and for that I am eternally grateful. I got C's in both of those exams.
Months passed, filled with physio, jogging, cycling, anything to get me fit again.
Then a bit of ball work and then some contact work. The knee felt weird but of course it would!
While I had been out, my team Norsemen had made it to the Middlesex Cup Final against Percival. My first game back was to be included in the squad for the final.
It was in the build up to the game that I finally accepted the inevitable. I was never a quitter but I knew in my heart things just weren't the same. Mentally I would always have the attributes for football I'd always had. Physically, I was a shadow of my former self.
I sat through that final on the bench, I'd never really sat on the bench before. Without sounding selfish or boastful, it didn't suit me.
We won the game 5-3. I use the term we very loosely. It didn't feel like a victory for me, i was pleased for them but anybody who has competed in any sort of sport will know what I mean.
At 16 I made the incredibly difficult decision to give up the game I loved, the only thing that I had ever wanted to do with my life. My manager asked me to come and be his assistant but that wasn't for me. I didn't want to coach, I wanted to play. I had grown up with this group of boys, we had been best friends as well as team mates.
At our end of season presentation the trophies that I had won myself throughout my youth career all went to others and I couldn't help but feel that first real pang of pain in my heart.
Sometime after, my manager Steve did say that nobody would wear my number 10 shirt again. When I heard him say that they were going to effectively 'retire' my shirt, I did allow a single tear to escape. It sounds silly now but for a team like ours, a Sunday League team to even make an offer like that was a special touch.
That was 12 years ago. Occasionally I feel a slight pang of what might have been but hardly ever these days. I'm married now with a 3 year old Princess called Ava and another little princess due in 4 weeks. I'm quietly pleased that both my children will be girls. I'm not that selfish that I wouldn't support a son or my daughters for that fact, if they wanted to play football when they were older but I do worry that I would become one of those parents who would attempt to live their lives through their children. Does that make sense?
I occasionally have a kick about with friends and family but I am very conscious of my knee and the potential repercussions If I damage it again. It is fairly weak and occasionally gives way but doesn't me give me too much trouble. It will become a bit sore after standing 90 mins at The Emirates or at an away ground somewhere in England or abroad but The Arsenal are worth it!
I firmly believe that if I hadn't had to give up football I would have led a completely different life and in hindsight, I would never change that for the world. My only real involvement in football these days is my love of Arsenal. I have a Season Ticket at The Emirates and also at my local side Southend Utd. I also follow both sides away occasionally.
I've always wanted to thank all my former team-mates, most of whom I unfortunately don't see much of anymore but do keep some contact through Facebook or Twitter. They made me a better footballer than I could ever have dreamed of. The fact that not a single one of us played professionally is scandalous. They were all supremely talented and it was a pleasure to share those specials years of our youth together. Rob Reynolds, Lee Spinks, Matt Nigro, Glenn Barker, Neal Keer, Richard Green, Hakan Yilmaz, Jerome Miekle, Kieren Barker, Antony Dawson, Jamie Doust, Jason Alexander, Kevin Dyer, Jamie Foster, Alex Michael. I still think about you guys. Of course, we wouldn't have to anywhere without our manager Steve Keer who made us all better players.
I must also make a special mention to my mum. She spent countless hours, days, months, years consoling me, helping me to the toilet, helping me wash, putting up with my moods, spending a fortune on scans, physios and fitness machines. She pulled me through when my dream of football died and I will never forget that.
In a way I consider myself one of the lucky ones. So many youngsters make it much further on the football ladder then I ever did only to have their dreams dashed through injury or sometimes just bad luck. I have never known what it would be like to be a professional footballer so I will never have to know the pain of giving that dream up.
I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and lifes occurrences make you a better person. I will always be grateful to those that helped me during the dark times and I will always love my wife for giving me two of the most beautiful gifts that any man could wish for.
Being a footballer is every young man and many young womens dream. Some will reach the top of their game, some will make a living from it but many will become The Forgotten.
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