At six o'clock on Wednesday morning, Fraizer Campell's phone rang: his girlfriend's waters had broken. She was well, everything was on course.
All good. Just one problem, though: he was lying in bed, 300 miles away in his hotel room on the brink of his England debut, a symbolic milestone in any career, let alone one that had suffered two cruciate injuries.
"At 6am she rang me and I was a bit like: 'We've got a game today, what's this about?"' he says. "I was half asleep and it didn't register. But then I was like: 'Oh no!' The first thing I said to Emma, and remember, it was first thing in the morning and I was half asleep, was: 'You're joking.'
"She started laughing. I knew from the early hours of Wednesday morning that her waters had broken, she went to the doctors at 10am. I went down for breakfast and I told Stuart Pearce. He just said: 'Let me know what you want to do.' It was my decision. I was sat in my room and it was a running commentary between me, my girlfriend, the doctor and my dad. It was crazy. At some stages it was like, 'you'll be fine, you'll make it [home to see the birth]', and at others it was like, 'we're not sure, you might not get back in time'."
"It was the most frustrating thing for me, sat there in a room, and I was talking to my dad and my mum, and I was saying: 'if I stay and I miss the birth I will be gutted, and if I go and the birth is not until tomorrow, I will be gutted,'" said the 24-year-old. "I was under massive pressure for no reason. I told her to hold it in!"
This has become a very modern sporting dilemma, with many high-profile players caught in the moral maze that surrounds childbirth. Where once there would have been no argument – sport always came first – current players like the cricketers Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen have increasingly swung the argument back the other way. But few have been in Campbell's position: committed to an England debut, and a possible passport to the European Championships.
"I was in a daze, I got to the stadium and I just thought, I have to stay here now. I was looking at my phone all the time before we got in the dressing room and when I was on the bench, my dad was a few rows back so I just kept looking at him and he was giving me no indication at all [of what was going on]."
Campbell duly came on in the 79th minute – around the time that Isla Rose was entering the world. "As soon as the game finished I was straight off the pitch, showered and changed. I met my mum and dad and tried to get off as quick as possible. When I spoke to my mum she said Emma had had a little girl. I was like: 'Aah.' I was a bit gutted at first. It was pretty much as I came on to the pitch.
"How did I feel coming back? I just had a massive headache! I was so stressed all day. I just couldn't get there quick enough. We got a plane back [to the North-east], I couldn't have handled a four- hour journey. To represent your country, that's a great feeling in itself and obviously I became a dad as well and that's a great feeling." As is the modern way, he tweeted news of the birth later that evening.
To give his story some context, Dave Galley, the Sunderland physio, told Martin O'Neill, the club's manager, that in his 25 years in the game he had never encountered a spirit so good and a character so positive as Campbell's. At times, that character has been severely tested, notably by a horrific double injury that kept him out of football for 18 months.
The initial damage was done in August 2010 when he snapped the cruciate ligament in his knee as Sunderland beat Manchester City. Eight months later, with his comeback date pencilled in, he snapped it again. In the end he did not return until January this year, scoring in Sunderland's FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough.
This week's promotion to the full England team confirmed his upward trajectory. "I've been through every emotion, from the highs to the lows in the past two years," he adds. "The worst point was injuring my knee for the second time. To be out for six months, come back and then injure my knee meant I was back at square one, but it takes longer the second time as well. I was like: 'How has this happened again?' At that point you don't know if it's going to keep on happening.
"You don't know if you will be the same player again, but you just have to get your head down and work hard to get back. It was nice what Dave said but half of that is him and the staff as well. It is down to them that I am playing.
"The hardest point is when you come into training and your team-mates are going out and you're going in the gym just to sit on a bike. You just get bored. I never sat on the bike thinking of England, I just sat there thinking: 'I hate this bike!'"
Such extremes of emotion are rare for Campbell, although he does confess to having wanted to throw his parent's television through the window during Sunderland's 5-1 defeat at Newcastle last season. Today he hopes to redress the balance as Sunderland head back to their fiercest rivals. "I'm still running on adrenalin at the minute," he says. "When that runs out I'll be in trouble!" You suspect that will not be until some time later on this afternoon.
Newcastle United v Sunderland is on ESPN today, kick-off 12pm
To be (there) or not to be (there)
Andrew Strauss England v Pakistan, in 2005
Michael Vaughan England v New Zealand, 2004
Martin Johnson England v Italy, 2003
Xabi Alonso Liverpool v Internazionale, 2008
Martin Allen QPR v Newcastle, 1989, defying his manager Trevor Francis to do so.
Luke Donald HSBC Champions in Shanghai, 2011
Lleyton Hewitt Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, 2005
Petr Cech Chelsea v Everton, Carling Cup semi-final, 2008
Ashley Giles Tour to New Zealand, 2002
Andrew Flintoff Tour to India, 2006
John Barnes Television pundit's job, Chelsea v Liverpool, 2010
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