'There was talk of amputation'

Jon Culley speaks to Ian Knight about the aftermath of a shattered leg
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IT IS almost a week since David Busst was plunged into the nightmare that stalks every professional, the moment his right leg was so grotesquely twisted that the bones snapped and ripped through his flesh. The moment in which his world collapsed.

The physical discomfort that the Coventry defender has endured while lying in hospitaI awaiting surgery, will have been matched by the emotional battering of facing a life from which all certainty has been removed.

Ian Knight knows only too clearly what Busst is going through. A little over nine years ago, two minutes into a televised FA Cup replay between Sheffield Wednesday and Chester, his life was shattered in much the same way. A tackle left his leg broken in seven places.

Where Busst is 28, Knight was just 20, which made his misfortune all the more distressing. And he cannot, from personal experience, offer Busst the prospect of a happy ending. The talent that had brought Knight England Under-21 recognition was never fulfilled. He left Sheffield Wednesday for Grimsby - where he works today as community officer - but his attempts to re- establish himself foundered through recurrent injury and he retired in 1992.

"For David it will be about how much he wants to make it," he said. "At a Premiership club he will have the best facilities at his disposal, but still it will come down to how determined he is. I was in plaster for seven months. There was so much muscle wastage that I literally had to learn to walk again before anything else. The damage had been so severe that there was talk of amputation at one stage, although I was never aware of it.

"Of course, there were times when I wondered if I would play again, especially when I read the papers in hospital. I realised then how serious an injury it was. In the space of 12 months I had gone from the dole to First Division football and international recognition and I wanted nothing else but to pursue my ambitions.

"That was what kept me going, that plus the help I had from the club. The physio, Alan Smith, would pick me up every morning and drop me home every night. And I was made to feel included in everything, even tours."

While for Knight the world stood still, for others it did not. Howard Wilkinson, manager at the time of the incident, left Sheffield for Leeds; Peter Eustace came and went; then Ron Atkinson - now Busst's manager at Coventry - arrived.

Extra questions were asked of Knight, whom many people judged not to be the player he once was, and he lost his place in the first-team squad.

He was transferred to Grimsby but fate struck cruelly again in only his second match, in which he fractured the fibula of the same right leg. On his recovery he suffered a broken ankle in training; floating bone fragments finished him off.

"It was all related to the effects of the original injury. And in time, although I kept getting back, it was taking longer and longer to recover from games and training, to the point where I couldn't cope with the physical demands of being a player.

"Giving up was heartbreaking. I did nothing for a while, wondering what I was going to do with my life, and I consider myself very lucky now to have the job I have, to be able to put my enthusiasm into the game and get my rewards from seeing the kids enjoying themselves.

"These injuries - not just breaks but ligament damage too - are to do with the pace of the game, the high rewards, the pressure from the top to win at all costs," he said. "But my own feeling is that even though it is a physical game, with a lot at stake, players still have a duty, to their team-mates and opponents, to have some regard for safety."

Even now, the terrible moment remains in Knight's thoughts. His claim for damages against Gary Bennett, the Preston striker then of Chester, is still pending. And last week, when he saw it replayed on television, he shuddered at the grim impact of Busst's collision.