Broken bones and fears for the future

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The Independent Online
REALLY looking forward to today's match against Middlesbrough - Juninho, Nicky Barmby et al. Having played only the last 10 minutes of England's match against Portugal in midweek, with Stuart Pearce selected ahead of me as I recovered from my broken ankle, I feel I have an extra incentive.

I say as much to the orthopaedic surgeon John Hodgkinson, who works withRovers and who treated my fracture, as I go to the medical room to collect the elastic bandaging for the ankle. I have become a dab hand at strapping myself up. This is the best it has felt, and my broken hand, though it still has a lump of bone protruding, is also getting better.

We take the lead through Alan Shearer and I make a couple of useful contributions. I am feeling more confident than for some time. I remark to Colin Hendry at the interval that I have a lot left today.

Then comes the incident and injury that is to change the course of my career and, in many ways, my attitude to life. Running back to chase a ball just past the halfway line, there is no easy pass on, except back to Tim Flowers. I feel Juninho on my left and suspect he might catch any ball back, so I try to turn. My left foot is on top of the ball but as I put my right down, I can feel my weight on my heels rather than my toes.

Juninho catches me slightly and I am in a spin, out of control. I know I am going to get injured but there is nothing I can do. This must be what it is like in a car accident, when people talk about things happening in slow motion. Suddenly there is a twisting and crunching and I am facing the other way. My right foot is at right angles to my shin.

The pain is excruciating. I just hold up an arm and shout: "Ref! Help! Help!" I seem to be on the pitch for ages. Finally I am in the dressing- room tended by John Hodgkinson and the England physio Alan Smith, who is also at the match, and I am breathing the Entonox gas-and-air painkiller as my boot is slowly removed. Later I have a pethidine injection in my backside and the thought occurs that if I am drug-tested now I will fail.

At Blackburn Royal Infirmary X-rays confirm that my fibula is broken. I also have ruptured ankle tendons. By 7pm I have been transferred to a private hospital in Rochdale, where John Hodgkinson is a consultant, for an operation to pin the bone. John is giving up a Saturday night dinner out to perform it.

As I try not to look at my leg, I think about the European Championships. About my career. The anaesthetist can see my fear. "You look like the kind of person who needs to be kept informed," he says. The liquid he is about to inject is very expensive, he says. As I feel its coldness coursing through my vein, I tell him I don't think it is going to put me out . . . .

DISCHARGED today after five of the gloomiest days I have known but which were brightened by people's kindness and the remarkable attention of the healthcare professionals, who are so easy to take for granted.

The anaesthetic did put me out, of course; so well that when I came round I was insisting to the nurses that I still needed an operation. I turned on the TV for some football, but the European Championship draw came on and I couldn't bear to watch.

I was just about compos mentis the following day when a bowl of fruit and get well wishes arrived from Middlesbrough, which I really appreciated. There was a telemessage from the PFA and a card from the FA, one of whose employees, David Bloomfield, also sent me a crossword dictionary. Visitors and phone calls also come from Blackburn.

TWO bottles of wine also arrived from the club, delivered by the chairman Robert Coar last night. Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford phone today, and I have also had a call over the weekend from David Batty and visits from Stuart Ripley, Jeff Kenna and my room-mate on away trips, Ian Pearce, who is also injured.

For some people, being laid up might be quite enjoyable, and I am being well looked after. My sister Jeannette, girlfriend Mariana and friend from Germany, Forrest, have been catering for me but for an independent person like me who likes to do his own cooking it is frustrating.

Still, at least I have control of the TV and video remote, though if I do watch football I find myself worrying that someone may get hurt. I will settle over the holiday period for following Rovers' fortunes on Teletext.

BACK to hospital to have the plaster and stitches - 15 of them - removed. Because I am fit and healthy, the healing process is going well.

Because I am fit and healthy . . . those words have often gone through my head. As a sportsman, sometimes you think yourself indestructible. Now I realise how fragile I am. This has been an exercise in humility, though I have always felt my attitude is balanced, through the good times of winning the title and the bad that have followed.

I have never worked out my career exactly but I did think about the future, about European Championships and World Cups. I realise that life is what happens to you when you are busy planning something else.

Financially, I am lucky. Also, the injury could have been worse; it is my right leg rather than my stronger left and my fibula rather than than the weight-bearing tibia. John Hodgkinson told me that but for the elastic bandaging, the bone would have pierced my skin.

I am more cheerful despite still being on crutches. A positive attitude will help the healing, as should a holiday somewhere warm with plenty of swimming. That will be in a month, when the plaster is removed. Then I will know when I might play again. I don't know about the Queen's annus horribilis; for me this will be an annus hobblis.

I HEARD the news today, oh boy, as the Beatles sang, and, as they nearly sang, there was certainly one hole in Blackburn, Lancashire. Terry Venables was the man who gave me my England career and it looks as if I have worked with him for the last time. He has really supported me through all my problems this season. I think he has success with players because he treats them as adults, with respect for their individuality and personality. His reasons are understandable but I will miss him.

Now the loneliness of my rehabilitation begins. Tomorrow I have my first day back in the gym, with circuit training and work - one-legged - on a fitness bike. Alan Smith has also worked out a daily programme of press-ups, leg-raises and dumbbells. "No alcohol please," he says, but for medicinal purposes I will of course be taking the odd glass of wine with dinner.