As it’s the end of #DiabetesWeek I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share a blog about the completion of my 2017/18 season… A season of complete contrasts!
July 2017… As pre – season begins for most players and clubs involved in Football, I was in a plaster cast contemplating how this had all played out. Two 5th metatarsal fractures in 6 months and an operation later and I was staring down another 2 months until I could walk again, let alone run! The worst injury I’d experienced in my sporting career.
But anyone who knows me well, knows I don’t give up in the face of a challenge… This was a hard one but I was up for it!
The season was well underway by the time I could walk again on the 1st of September but after months of crutching around the local gym and using a handbike to do cardio, I was just so pleased to be back on 2 feet again. The key with injuries like this I’ve found is to celebrate the small wins as you progress towards your old self again… If you don’t give yourself the recognition of improvement it’s going to be a really hard mental and physical battle!
It wasn’t long after walking again that I was given the all clear to do some light jogging, which was a huge step in my mind, as I put some serious stress on the bone for the first time since the op. With any injury that keeps you out for this period of time the deterioration in muscle strength in your whole leg is a massive problem to also overcome as well as the concern for the injury itself. I had a LOT of rehabilitation work to do but as I was accepted onto the Sports Scholarship scheme at the University of Worcester (www.worc.ac.uk) I knew I was going to have access to great facilities and people to support me on this journey back.
After 5 – 6 weeks of strength and conditioning, constant physiotherapy and some Futsal training sessions with the university futsal club, things looked to be progressing nicely in October. I was getting used to my team mates, new surroundings at the university and the demands of the sport on my body again. I enjoyed it but things were painful… I spent a lot of the first 2/3 months in pain playing as my foot was weak and the muscles supporting it weren’t much stronger!
The first game back was towards the end of October, and when I say game, I mean 2 minutes on court just to see how things felt!! That’s the beauty of Futsal, you can roll on and roll off quickly with substitutions… It felt alright but I think it was a false sense of reality as I was still a long way off at this stage! There’s a lot of fear when you’re coming back after a torrid time which is hard to explain, naturally the body just tries to protect it so you move in a way which is not efficient or conducive of high performance. It took a good 2/3 months to get over this and I’d argue I’m still not fully there!!!
As things progressed and improved, I returned to my first national team Futsal camp in November 2018, almost a year after breaking my foot on international duty. It was a great moment for me to see the lads again after spending so much time on the sidelines… I knew it was a tough ask to compete with the boys and their levels having only been able to run for just over a month and still playing in pain. Despite this I felt I gave a good account of myself but ultimately I didn’t have the fitness and games in the tank to really challenge for a place in the Wales Home Nations squad in 2017 as I narrowly missed out. Tough to take but understandable.
But whilst the Wales boys were playing in Edinburgh, I had the opportunity to attend the England Universities Trials in London. Another great opportunity to push myself against good players and towards my ultimate goal of full fitness and playing at the levels I knew I could achieve. It was a hard session considering where I was at in terms of fitness but I was really glad I did it. It ultimately led to selection in the squad later that month which was great! The management of my glucose levels and getting them right for games/occasions was now starting to become important again as I was more involved whilst playing more and more game time. You’d think the old ways would work?! A year after the last time I played sport at that level and my body certainly didn’t play ball!! My levels were shooting up to levels I’d not seen at a Futsal game before and crashing more dramatically than I remembered. I think there’s a certain amount of trial and error in everything we do as Type 1’s but it’s about reducing the number of errors we make that will allow us to enjoy our sport. For a good couple of months I made plenty!
As the festive season approached I also took the decision to get back to playing Football. I’d missed it and it was time to use the sport to help me get fit in December and January as the Futsal season tends to go quiet at that time. My old manager Quentin Townsend had inquired about my fitness a month or two earlier and I’d put it off to ensure my body was in a good enough place to cope with Football when I finally said yes! I signed for Pershore Town FC and played my first football match in 20 months on 19th December 2017 in a friendly vs Worcester City FC.
Before I knew it I’d played in 3 games in a week and it was like I hadn’t been away! There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end but I was just pleased to get back out there again. I’ve got to say a big thanks to the lads who made it so easy for me to fit into the squad half way through the season and enjoy the second half of it. If I’m honest the transition with my Diabetes back into Football was much easier than with Futsal… Because I’ve played Football for a lot longer it feels a little more natural in terms of the routine I go through to manage type 1, so there was only really 1 and a half games from the 16 appearances I made where I’d say things weren’t quite right!
I spent a lot of time learning about how to manage my diabetes around sport again… 12 months away is a long time and plenty of things change during that time.
But as I moved into 2018 things were looking really promising following the call up to the England Universities squad and with regular weekly game time. This was huge! I was playing a 90 minute game on a Saturday and then playing Futsal on a Sunday for about 4/5 weeks on the bounce and after that I was flying into the business end of the season.
My season was all about pushing myself in Futsal and enjoying the game time in football. I wanted to come out of the season with some silverware with the university team with both the league and cup in our grasp. As we negotiated our semi final with a really tight 9-8 win vs a well drilled Loughborough 2’s team, I had a cup final to prepare for as well as a north vs south challenge cup as part of the England Universities squad.
Unfortunately we were unable to chase down the league title after a couple of disappointing results which meant we finished up as runners up in our division but we still had the cup to play for.
I won’t go into much detail about how the final went as you can read all about it on the previous blog post (https://thediabetesfootballcommunity.com/2018/03/18/the-cup-final-can-you-ever-get-it-100-right/)…
To go from that cup final and into the North vs South challenge cup just a couple of weeks later was absolutely class and well timed… I could feel I was on a roll and feeling good, so for me it was great to see the good form continue as I ended up as the top goal scorer in the tournament and with a Team South win 9-3 across the two games (6-2 & 3-1). I was finally able to show my ability as a result of the body being closer to a state which could showcase it! After this tournament and a couple of good results with Pershore, I pretty much knew the only meaningful game left in my season was the annual varsity ding dong derby between the University of Worcester and the University of Gloucestershire.
Varsity is a big deal for the students at the university you represent and winning the game you’re involved in is all that matters in the month of April! Luckily for us we entered the game in good form and were really confident that if our big players turned up we’d win the game… So it turned out to be the case. We ran out 8-3 winners and the team played a really good game in which we controlled it from the start to finish. It was a cracking way to finish the season off and undoubtedly contributed to the way we were rewarded at the end of season awards night…
The University 1st team were given the “Team of the Year” award for our cup and league exploits, whilst my individual contribution to those performances and my representation of the university with the England universities squad led to me being awarded “Male Athlete of the Year”. An award I didn’t feel worthy enough of winning but one I was extremely grateful and very lucky and proud to have received! When last year’s winner was an Olympian and former commonwealth champion Matt Hudson-Smith (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Hudson-Smith), you can see why I didn’t feel like I wasn’t worthy of this level of recognition haha! Incredible all the same though…
I honestly couldn’t be prouder to have ticked all of that off this season, despite not actually being 100% at any point. The key was that after all that time away from the sport I found my love for it again, the smile on my face was back when I played and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed playing like I did in 2017/18, since I was a kid. Sometimes the adversity can set you up for what’s next and I think the injury taught me a lot about fun and enjoyment that maybe I was missing beforehand!
I think this line sums up the approach I’ve taken over the last season and one in which I’ll try to continue for the rest of my playing career:
“Train like it’s the most important thing in the world, play like you couldn’t care less!”
However, one thing that I wanted to finish on surrounding Diabetes… After 12 months of being injured and focussing on my Diabetes more and more my Hba1c was 50 but as I returned to playing it went back up to 64… A really challenging question is…. What’s more important? I was called up to the England Universities squad, scored 5 goals in a cup final winning performance, won varsity and I won male athlete of the year at my university, yet my Diabetes control was worse. There’s no doubt my sport, the demands on my body and the responses my glucose levels have to exercise complicate overall control of the condition as my intensities of exercise differ so drastically!
I’d love to have some feedback on this… Because I honestly don’t know the answer but my choices have always involved enjoying life experiences over prioritising perfect Diabetic control but I’d love to hear what you think…
Finally I’d just like to thank a number of people who’ve supported me hugely throughout this season, my family for your continued support, to Dan Allen (https://www.instagram.com/da_training_and_performance/), Jamie Harrison and Marc Scriven for their strength and conditioning support, to Sally Smith and Lewis Miller for putting me back together each week with their sports therapy support, to the University for their providing great facility access and lastly to my teammates and coaches who’ve made me feel welcome and whom have played well so often this season! We win and lose as a team….
All in all a progressive season after one of the hardest periods of my sporting career with so much to look forward to in the 2018/19 season!