I’d had enough and couldn’t carry on: Bognor recruit relives his Pompey injury nightmare
New Rocks recruit Joe Hancott has been reflecting on the dark days he went through during a gruelling rehabilitation period.
He’s managed to come out of the other side with a contract at Bognor following his departure from Pompey – although he’s not ashamed to say he thought about throwing in the towel on several occasions during his Fratton Park injury nightmare.
A freak training ground incident in October 2019 not only halted the defender’s eye-catching progress but effectively brought his Pompey career to a close.
Hancott announced his departure from Fratton Park two weeks ago, having been at the club 12 years, and claimed the record as the Blues’ youngest player in post-war history aged 16 and 161 days.
However, his time at the Blues came to a cruel and premature end.
After making two appearances in the Football League Trophy during the 2019-20 season, Hancott was preparing to feature for the reserves against a full-strength Havant & Waterlooville in the Hampshire Senior Cup. However, the left-back suffered a setback even he couldn’t believe when diagnosed.
Having innocuously caught his studs in the wet turf at Pompey’s training ground and hearing his knee click, Hancott was still able to walk to the changing room unassisted. Yet a scan the following day revealed he’d suffered ACL damage.
The Isle of Wight ace subsequently underwent two operations and the best part of a year and a half on the sidelines. Hancott candidly revealed how there were numerous times he lacked the motivation to make a full recovery. Being confined to the gym wasn’t for him.
But support from his family, girlfriend and the Pompey staff helped him return to full fitness. Hancott said: “I’d never had a knee injury before and the first minute of pain was horrific but then I got up and walked off. I was able to move it a bit even though it hurt.
“I thought I’d just twisted it. The next day, it had swollen up so I had to go and get a scan, which showed I’d torn my ACL. The rehab was mentally draining. It’s the bit about football people don’t see. There were times throughout rehab when I thought about quitting completely.
“I remember saying to my mum and dad and girlfriend that I’d had enough and couldn’t carry on. I just wanted to be a normal lad and leave but was persuaded to carry on, which was the right decision.
“If I was to leave, I needed to get my body right so I could have a normal life and play football again. The rehab was tough, though. Throughout the week I was just trying to get through every day. I’ve never been one of those people who loves the gym and likes lifting weights, even though you’ve got to do it.
“Watching everyone go out to training was tough when you’re on your own. Throughout the week I just found myself thinking: “When is the weekend? When can I go home, see my friends and go for a few beers?”
“The worst part was when I got back to training and my knee didn’t feel right, so I had to have another operation to remove a build-up of scar tissue. You just feel like it will never end. There were days when I thought about not turning up.
“I spoke to people like Mark Kelly, who was excellent because he had his own knee problems that cut his career short. He gave me brilliant advice and I learnt a lot of life lessons as well as football lessons from him.
“Mark was brilliant, as were all the staff who got me through it. Without my family, girlfriend, close friends and all the people at the club, I would have quit because I would have been that drained I’d never have come back at all.”
Hancott made his long-awaited playing return last month. In an under-18s friendly against Luton, he featured for 60 minutes. He came through that game unscathed, giving him confidence his knee won’t break down again.
Now he’s signed for Bognor ahead of next season, while working as a sports coach and PE teacher on the Isle of Wight and studying for an applied sports studies degree at the University of Salford.
Hancott added: “The Luton game was the first Saturday in about 15-16 months where I wasn’t sat in watching Gillette Soccer Saturday. I was out playing a game and it felt so good.
“At the start, I was nervous about whether I’d get through it. I kept things simple in the first ten minutes, didn’t look to overlap the winger but after that I was fine. That was nice to get through.
“I’m looking forward to joining Bognor and it’ll suit me well along with the job I’ll be doing, so it’ll be a nice balance in terms of life and financially as well.
“You see people like Ethan Robb and Dan Smith (now playing for Brentford and Eastleigh respectively) who have been released (by Pompey) but fought back so there is a pathway there. For me, there are no immediate plans to break back into the pro game. I just want to get games in, enjoy it and if I establish a career down then line again then so be it.”
Despite Hancott being at solace with his situation, he doesn’t stop him from thinking ‘what if?’. Around the Christmas period in the 19-20 season, Pompey’s senior left-backs Lee Brown and Brandon Haunstrup were both out injured.
That freed up a berth in then-manager Kenny Jackett’s defence that could have been filled by Hancott had he remained fit. He said: “I’d gone on loan to Bognor and we’d done really well, having won two games comfortably and had been training with the first team. There was a time in December when Lee Brown and Brandon Haunstrup were both injured. I did think ‘what if, that could have been my opportunity’ but it’s no-one’s fault. I’m not going to dwell on that.”