LONG-TERM Rocks injury victim Ben Johnson is confident he’ll be playing within the first month of the season. And he is keen to repay the support the club gave him while he was out.
The winger, who played such a pivotal part in the club’s two Ryman one south promotion campaigns, picked up cruciate ligament damage last September which ruled him out for the rest of 2012-13 - a bitter blow to him and the to the team.
At first, it was hoped it was only cartilage damage which would have sidelined him for a mere six weeks. But tests confirmed the news nobody wanted to hear - anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) damage to his knee which saw Johnson’s season come to an crashing halt.
The injury came from what seemed an innocuous move by the player in an FA Cup win over Epsom.
“It was just one of those things really. I did it myself. I wasn’t involved in a tackle or anything. It was just a case of turning sharply,” he said.
“At the time I didn’t think it was too serious. I remember limping off the pitch thinking “Maybe I’ve jarred it or pulled something” but I didn’t think it was serious.
“Obviously scans revealed it was an ACL. It’s tough to hear because in football terms it’s as bad as an injury you can have. You could break your leg and be back playing within six months. With an ACL you have to wait for an operation which takes time and then you have an eight or nine-month recovery process before you’re back and fit enough to play.”
Johnson revealed the support he received from those around him and from the club helped keep him positive on his long road to recovery.
“Luckily I had people around me to keep me positive because that’s all you can do,” he said. “If you feel sorry for yourself, it just makes it ten times worse.
“The club were superb. I was seeing the physio Rachel a lot. Jack Pearce came up and made a point of saying that when we found out the results, the club were right behind me and if there was anything I needed, just speak to them.
“It’s a great club in the sense they are there for you when you need them. I like to think I can repay them when I come back to fitness and I do enough to justify it (their support).
“Thoughts do go through your head when you rupture your cruciate ligament. It is a career-threatening injury. Luckily enough, I was only 25 at the time and I’m at a stage where I can get myself back to fitness as well as getting back to the player I was before.”
Pre-season training for Bognor is now three weeks old and Johnson has been involved in some sessions with the squad, while doing other work on his own with the physio.
“I said to Jamie and Dabba that, I never thought I’d say it, but I was actually looking forward to getting up to where we train to go running after being out for ten months.
“I’m not quite there yet. I’m still getting a few little niggly pains and my physio at the hospital has been screaming at me not to jump back in so quickly. You have to take it seriously and treat the injury with respect. If you go in too quickly, you could set yourself back another three or four months if you don’t do things properly.
“I’m not rushing in again but I’m back running and joining in with the lads, but I can’t really do any of the physical stuff just yet.
“It’s all a case of building up the strength around the knee. If you were to look at my legs, I’ve got my good leg, which is my left leg, that has all the muscle around it that you need.
“On my right leg, it looks like it’s been in a cast for a year and I’ve lost everything. I’ve got a lot of work to do to build the muscle back up but at least I have the time to do it in pre-season, as that’s what it’s for.”
Johnson suggested an early September return would be realistic.
“My initial hope was to be back for the start of the season - the very first game of the season - but according to my physios at the hospital and also Rachel, that doesn’t look too likely,” he added.
“I’m hoping to be back as early as possible, within the first month of the season I’d hope. They do say the textbook recovery time for an ACL operation is nine months, but if you work hard you can take a month off of that.
“If I’m able to get back for the end of August or early September, that’d be realistic I think.”
The Rocks’ Ryman premier campaign kicks off on Saturday, August 10.