'When he said it could be career ending I broke down' - Chesterfield's Sam Muggleton on his 'car crash' injuries sustained on loan for Darlington against Southport
Sam Muggleton doesn’t know if he’ll play football again, after suffering ‘car crash’ injuries in a match last month.
The Chesterfield left-back was on loan at Darlington when he was involved in a sickening collision.
There was no malice in the challenge, but the dislocated knee, fractured femur and ligament, tendon and nerve damage he sustained now threaten his career.
Writhing in agony on the Blackwell Meadows turf, he knew it was serious.
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“I knew straight away,” he said.
“As soon as I did it, when I looked at it, my knee was at the side, where it shouldn’t have been.
“It was the worst pain I’ve ever been in – it was a shame they didn’t have any gas and air there, I didn’t have any painkillers for about 40 minutes, until the ambulance got there.
“When I got to the hospital I’d managed to go through two bottles of gas and air.”
The 23-year-old’s recollection of being examined is hazy, due to the medication.
But it was very quickly apparent that his injuries were, even for a physical sport, rare.
“The people I spoke to said what’s happened to my knee shouldn’t really happen on a pitch, it’s more like what you’d see in a car crash,” he said.
“It wasn’t even a bad tackle. I’ve gone to have a shot, he’s blocked it but we’ve both gone full force. It’s unfortunate.
"I never really thought it would happen to me. I’ve got quite thick legs, naturally, so I thought it wouldn’t happen.
"But it did."
Sitting down with a surgeon to be told the possible consequences for the only job he’s ever known, was another sickening blow.
“He said it’ll be 12 months minimum and he can’t promise that I’ll play again.
“When he said it could be career ending, I’m not going to lie, I broke down in tears.
“This is all I’ve ever done.
“What the surgeon was saying wasn’t really going into my head, so I told him to ring Claire, the physio at Chesterfield, to let her know.
“I know now what he was saying, but at the time it was hard to process.”
His father, former Spireite goalkeeper and coach Carl, also found the news difficult to take.
"Obviously my dad being involved in football he’s seen leg breaks and heard of injuries that have potentially ended careers.
"This one is a bit close to home, for him.
"As soon as I saw him, after I was told the news, it hit him just as hard as it hit me.
"As you can imagine, he just wants me to play as much as I want to play."
The first of two operations took place a couple of days after the Southport game, with another yet to come.
"I went in on the Tuesday after. I’ve had to have my leg straight in a brace and I’ve just got a new one so I can start bending it 30 degrees.
"I’ll hopefully have another op in five or six weeks.
"They had to check on the nerve because I lost a bit of feeling in my foot, so they fixed all that and my PCL.
"The next op will be my ACL and the LCL."
Rehabilitation is slow going and Muggleton has had plenty of time to himself since his ability to do his day job was wrenched from him.
But he's also had plenty of support.
"Family and friends have been really good.
"I’ve had a lot of messages from loads of different managers, ex team-mates, fans from different clubs.
"Chesterfield have been sorting it all out medication wise and the ops.
"Nels (Michael Nelson) came round to my house to see me.
"I’m in a group chat with the lads, I see them all when I go in once or twice a week."
With such a long healing process ahead of him, Muggleton is focusing on what is in front of him right now.
“From now until I can play again I’ll just take each little step as it comes," he said.
"I’m just taking each day as it comes
"I got a new brace and can bend it 30 degrees.
"At the minute I’m looking forward to bending it 60 degrees."
Darlington included the collision in their YouTube video of the Southport game, and the sight of Muggleton's leg leg wrapping itself around Marcus Wood will have sent shivers through many of the near 5,000 who have viewed it.
Some of those views have been the player himself, showing friends.
Seeing it again hasn't been problematic for him, but he's noticed a difference in his experience of watching football in general.
"I have watched it a few times. It’s not really affected me watching it back.
"I don't look at it and think that's horrible.
"But I do tend to watch football now and I’ve realised, when I watch a tackle, I’m a bit ‘oof’ - I’m looking at it a little bit differently."
Positivity is one of those easier-said-than-done words thrown around at difficult times for footballers, but while Muggleton sets his mind to his own battle, he's cheered by the sight of his Chesterfield team-mates winning their own.
The relegation fears that have dogged the club for much of the season, are almost completely behind them now.
"It’s great to get the results to keep us up," he said.
"Throughout the whole year, the lads have never thought we were going to go down.
"We’ve always been confident we would stay up.
"The new manager has come in and results have got a little bit better.
"The club shouldn’t be where it is, so it’s good. Luck has definitely has changed in the second part of the season."
As the season winds to a close and Muggleton begins the long road to what everyone will hope is a full recovery, the Spireites squad are playing their part.
"It’s nice seeing them and getting out of the house," he said.
"Just sitting watching daytime TV isn’t great, it’s nice to get out and see different faces, have different conversations.
"When I go in every week the lads will notice that the swelling has gone down or it looks loads better, that’s nice to hear because it’s hard for me to tell.
"It’s nice to see that progression week to week."