Kneed in the groin
"....Training starts again at Wildern school at 8pm on Wednesday 6th January. 17 more league games left between now and 1st May. You can read more on Burridge and trying to be nice to referees at 'When Saturday Comes' by clicking here..."
Burridge left-back, Luke Sanderson, (pictured above) went into hospital for a routine arthroscopy to remove floating cartilage in his knee in April. Eight months on and his future is still no clearer.
Operation: April 16th 2009
Luke still recalls sitting up in his hospital bed and taking a bite out of a ham and cheese sandwich when the physiotherapist walked in and through pursed lips asked him how he thought the operation went. He'd been omitted to the Royal South Hants for a routine arthroscopy, why was he being asked how he thought it was? “The way he kept fiddling with his pen,” said Luke. “I could just sense he was skirting over something.”
The physio put him straight. “Listen,” he said. “Your injury's more serious than we realised.” Still dressed in sky blue scrubs he looked down at the papers attached to his clipboard and told Luke that he'd partially torn his anterior cruciate ligament.
“Can I play football again?” asked Luke.
“No,” replied the physio, as if surprised that the severity of the injury hadn't registered with his patient. It hadn't. Although still groggy from the anaesthetic, Luke told the physio that he was wrong. Recognising that Luke was getting upset, the physio tried defusing the situation: “Look, you're not Michael Owen,” he said as he walked closer to the bedside. “But there's plenty of things we can do,” just that by now his patient wasn't in the right frame of mind to listen.
The injury: January 31st 2009
Burridge's game with Inmar FC at Fleming Park should've been remembered for a thirty yard shot by Ryan Jones that ended up wedged into the top corner of the net. Luke Sanderson didn't see it. When the ball left Jones' instep Luke was being helped slowly to the dressing room. His match had finished after twenty minutes. He was dribbling down the left wing when the ball was nicked away from his feet. He tried to flick it away from his opponent, but in doing so landed the blades of his left Adidas boot into the turf at an awkward angle. The weight of his body soon followed, collapsing on top of his left knee onto the mud beneath him. He lay back grimacing with both hands wrapped tightly over his eyes.
He remembers the referee asking if he was alright, he wasn't. Other players told him to stay down and after a few minutes he was helped from the pitch to the touchline
onto several sports bags that elevated his limp body above the cold wet ground. Mark Reeves put his England Nationwide puffer jacket over Luke's shoulders before going on to replace him as it continued to drizzle with rain.
Having difficulty getting out of bed on a Sunday morning wasn't a particularly new phenomenon for Luke, but the reasons for doing so the morning after were different. His left knee had practically disappeared in swelling overnight making it both difficult and uncomfortable to move. Eventually he got an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon. It was booked for March 25th. After telling the surgeon what he'd previously told both the nurse at the drop-in centre and his GP at his nearby surgery, the surgeon nodded his head and said it sounded like a cartilage problem. Or to be more precise, a torn meniscus.
Once Luke's knee had been moved and stretched, the surgeon returned to his desk. No scan was taken. A simple arthroscopy is all it would take to trim away the torn cartilage. The surgeon muttered while writing down his diagnosis in Biro, “Right knee arthroscopy”.
“Left knee,” interrupted Luke, tapping the skin of his left knee that was still exposed by a rolled up trouser leg. “It's my left knee.”
The surgeon smiled. “Ah yes,” he said, mumbling, left knee arthroscope out loud as he re-wrote his notes, giving emphasis to the word 'left'. He advised Luke to expect a letter in the next few weeks with the date of the procedure.
Two weeks after the operation Luke began a course of physiotherapy. The idea of a future that didn't involve spending his Saturday afternoons playing football for Burridge hadn't become any more palatable to him. The prescribed pills had reduced the swelling in his knee and he was able to drive again. He also began using the exercise bike at the gym. It was very rare for anyone else to be in the gym when he visited and he was left with the music from his iPod to keep him company. At first his knee wasn't able to withstand much more than ten minutes peddling, but he soon built his stamina up to fifteen, then twenty-five minutes, and during the coming weeks his knee was built up from a withered muscle to something you couldn't tell in appearance to his right knee.
Once again he asked the physio if he was ready for football. “Well you can try it,” he replied, but in truth they both knew that what he said would make little difference to what Luke planned to do. Burridge began their pre-season training in June. Luke attended every session with a white Tubigrip support bandage around his left knee. During that time spent doing sprint relays and playing 5-a-side three touch matches he felt no discomfort in his knee.
The Comeback: 1st August 2009
A full month of pre-season training behind him he prepared himself for Burridge's first pre-season game against VTFC Youth on August 1st. It was raining again and he was selected by Pete Lyons to play in his usual position of left-back. With the referee thinking about blowing for half-time, Luke stepped forward to intercept a pass to the winger he was marking and landed on his knee. Burridge captain Kristian Hewitt heard the crunch from the penalty area. Luke held his knee tightly into the back of his thigh and buried his head down into the wet grass. The confidence he'd slowly built up in the gym and in training had been washed away in the summer rain. The only consolation was that his kitchen cupboard was still well stocked with plenty of the prescribed pain killers.
Life without Football: 2009/2010
When Luke pulls into the car park to watch Burridge play they have usually already kicked off. He watches from a distance and chooses not to get too involved. Not like the time he gave an opponent an earful from the touchline, who responded by asking how good Luke must be if he can't even warrant a place on Burridge's substitute bench. Or words to that effect. To the onlooker he doesn't look injured. He has no limp or visible scars, but words like that bring back the reality to him.
When he steps out of his car towards the pitch he'll say hello to Burridge manager Pete Lyons, who'll no doubt be pleased to see him. He may well ask Luke how he is and what he's been up to of late, but it's seldom that Luke ever tells him. There'll be a shout from the pitch, a succession of blasts from the referee's whistle and Pete will be caught up in the appeal for a penalty, a free-kick, maybe even a throw in, but in that effort the moment has gone. The two will exchange smiles and Luke will continue walking up the touchline, no doubt saying hello to whoever may be on the substitute bench, who are arguing amongst themselves about who is to fetch the lost Mitre from the thicket of brambles behind the goal.
Once more he'll be posed with the question of when he's going to play again and he'll tell them, as he did before, that he needs re-constructive surgery of his left anterior cruciate ligament. Just like Michael Owen did after twisting his knee while playing for England against Sweden during the 2006 World Cup and countless other professional footballers before and since.
Being self employed he can scarcely afford to be off his feet for a period of six to eight weeks immediately following any re-constructive operation. Not to mention the following eight months recovery time. He will be 28 in January, whether or not he plays again in 2010 is perhaps clearer than if he plays again at all.