Fuller glad to still be playing
Fuller glad to still be playing

Barry Fuller rolled back the years for Steve Lovell’s Gillingham last season producing performances that earned the full back the Player of the Year. But it could have been very, very different…

In the second part of our exclusive interview with Barry, we revisit the dark times of his career following his horrific 2011 knee injury which threatened his career.

Here he talks frankly and bluntly about the injury, the misdiagnosis and his recovery only to not be offered a new Gills contract by then boss Martin Allen.

We asked Barry what he remembered of the fateful day. “I remember it,” he said almost grimacing.

“It was at Priestfield, and we were playing Macclesfield in what I think could have been the last home game of the season. I didn’t start and within two or three minutes of coming on, the ball came out to me – I think it was Tony Sinclair – played the ball out to me, played it a little bit short and as I played it down the line to Cody (McDonald) I think it might have been and there was a late tackle that caught me and sent me somersaulting over and I remember the pain at the time and thinking at the time that I’ve never done anything like that – that doesn’t seem right.”

“I got stretchered off – it was a long few hours waiting in the hospital for X-rays and scans and whatever, and then the rollercoaster ride of the next few months were the hardest in football.”

“All the scans at the time came back that it was bone bruising, so I dusted myself down and hobbled back onto the training ground – managed to get through training sessions and get through games. Then after games, Saturday, Tuesday, I’d come home and virtually feel like I was crippled!”

“Not being able to walk – recover Sunday, Monday, train Tuesday and the same would happen again the following Saturday, and I just got to the stage where I was almost pleading to the physios that “it can’t be bone bruising surely!” and I still ended up playing.”

“I remember playing when we won six away at Hereford – six-one I think we won, so it was a great day! But I remember going down thirty-five forty minutes into the first half – the ball going into the left winger’s feet and me going to press him to set it back to his full-back – to spin and go with him and then felt such a burning and I went down and I remember Hess was manager at the time and Steve Allen the physio came on and I told him that there was a burning sensation in my knee like crazy.”

“He was like “we’ve got two or three minutes until half time. Get through and we’ll have a look at you!” I hobbled through the last minutes and I remember sitting on the physio bench at half time telling him that the burning just wasn’t going.”

“He was doing all these tests and kept telling me that it “feels strong in there Bas” – he said, “we’ll strap it up and you can carry on”. We were four-nil up at the time I think and I felt surely we’d just make a sub, they didn’t make the sub and so with a big bandage around my knee and I literally remember hobbling around for the rest of that whole game, being five, six-nil up and keep looking across thinking “surely you can bring me off now!”

“Even though I was still buzzing as we were five, six up – got through the game and went in on the Monday virtually barely walking and said that we have to do something.”

“I was lucky in a way as at the same time Simon King was struggling with a bad injury himself. He went to see a specialist for him, and the original scan that we had done at different hospitals we took the copies – well the physios did – to see Simon’s doctor – I think it was James Corden at the time who was an ankle specialist not a knee, but he had a look at it and told them that “there’s so much going in in there that you need a knee specialist” and he told the physios – Steve and Jav – to go and see the best guy in the field; Andy Williams.”

“We managed to get an appointment – Andy was away at the time with the England rugby side, so we saw his number two who is these days probably THE best surgeon – Sam Church – he was there, and he diagnosed the problem from my original scan! I’d has two scans by this point, and everyone was one saying that I still had bruising – he did his own scan when I got there and being one of the top clinics, we got the results almost straight away.”

“He then put all three up on the board,” Barry continued, “but I didn’t have a scoobie what I was looking at! And he said, “this is the one from the day of the injury; this is the second from a couple of weeks ago and this one is today’s” – he said I can diagnose from here and all these little things flapping around are all meant to be together!”

“But the type of injury that you’ve got can be easily overlooked and is very rare in a footballer. We sat down at his desk with my wife and he told us that I needed an operation as soon as possible and you’ll be out for twelve months!”

“I said “Don’t you mean twelve weeks” No he said, months as you’ve ruptured your post lateral corner – he went on to tell us that he’d never seen a footballer have this injury – it’s completely ruptured so we need to operate as soon as we can but I want you to go away and have a coffee with your wife to let it sink in and then come back and I’ll go through all the details.”

“I remember sitting there having a coffee with my wife and neither of us said a word for about five minutes! I was just sitting at the table – she was upset of looking at the state that I was in really. We went back and Andy told us that he’d made a couple of phone calls and that he could fit me in the following day to do it or you can wait for a couple of days.”

“I told him whatever he thought would be best. He told me that if we did it the following day it will be at a smaller hospital but if we wait a few days we can do it at the bigger Lister which will be much nicer. Let’s face it, when you’ve waited three months or so to be diagnosed, what’s an extra couple of days, so we waited!”

“I decided to go home and get my head around it – I rang my Mum and Dad on the way home, and they were gutted for me. When we got home, I got a call from an unrecognised number – and it was Sam Church, the specialist!”

“As soon as they said there was something, in a strange way, it was a relief as there was actually something wrong – and when he said he understood why they could have missed it – it was only the top radiologists who knew what they were looking at but Sam said he could feel my pain for not having it diagnosed.”

“He then said that he had no idea how I was able to play through it in the eight or nine games with the knee the way it was – if you carry on I was looking at the knee collapsing and finish up with a knee replacement.”

“I think the hardest thing when he said that he’d never seen anything like it in a footballer was knowing the he’d never done the procedure himself and the rate was sixty/forty seventy/thirty against me ever playing again.”

“He emphasised that he’d never done it on a footballer and didn’t know what the recovery would be like as it would be new to him as well. When the phone rang that evening and it was Sam, he said, “I wanted to run something by you. As it’s ruptured so much, and you said that you didn’t want your hamstring touched, there was a large ligament – a new thing coming out; an artificial ligament which we’d like to use on you, making you a guinea pig if you like, but if you say no, we’ll use the hamstring!”

“And in my head thinking about the seventy/thirty and not playing again I’ll take the chance of having an artificial ligament. So, two days later I’m in hospital ready to go down – I think that was the scariest moment in my footballing career that I’d chosen the option not knowing if I was ever going to play again!”

The operation thankfully was a success as Barry now turned his attention to the rehabilitation. “In the time I was recovering, I put my coaches head on as I’d always wanted to go into coaching management as a youngster I started to think more of that whenever I watched games either on the TV or coming to Priestfield – I was sitting there seeing a different side to the game rather than just putting “I’m a player” blah, blah, blah! You’re analysing the game a little bit more – coaching – thinking that if I don’t play again, I’ll try and get as much knowledge as I can by thinking how a coach would think!”

“My wife, on the other hand, would say that I’m the worst watcher when I’m injured as I don’t want to miss games and I was probably grumpy and annoying too for being at home all that time pulling my hair out, and she knows all along that all I want is to be out on the pitch going into battle!”

Just when Barry thought he was through the worst and his long recovery was complete came the news that the now Gills boss Martin Allen was not going to be renewing his contract… That’s where we’ll pick up the story next time…

Picture supplied by Gillingham Football Club.