When you’re young and living in Scotland, football is everywhere you go. You’ll have football in your family, on your TV, in your schools and even embedded in your religion. It’s safe to say that most children in Scotland have played football at least once in their life …
For my brother Chris Duggan, it was never really a career goal, it was a bit of fun, but little did he know that he would spend just under two decades giving life and limb to the sport.
To this day, Chris has bruised both his feet, ruptured the ligaments in his ankles, twice — on both feet. He has also strained his calf, pulled the same calf, pulled both his hamstrings, ruptured his hamstring from the bone, pulled his quadriceps, tore the meniscus in his knee, tore his kidney and has suffered four concussions.
After sitting down with Chris, I quickly realised how much he was prepared to risk for the sport. For example in 2014, Chris was playing for Partick Thistle when during training he slid for the ball and was hit by a short but sharp pain in his knee. After training his knee began to swell like blowfish and he could hardly move.
What had happened was that Chris had torn the meniscus in his knee which would now need surgery. However, at this time Chris had just recovered from another injury and had been in rehab for the past few months. Chris said:
‘I realised I wasn’t going to be able to play. Being out most of the season, that wasn’t an option’.
So in a wave of desperation and quick thinking, Chris dosed his knee with heat rubs to get rid of the swelling, took anti-inflammatories and painkillers and played through all ninety minutes of the next game.
This injury would then go on to take him out for six months, it was the first major injury but it would not be his last.
When he made the jump to being a full-time footballer for Partick Thistle, football became more than just fun, it became his livelihood. Injuries became a much harder pill to swallow. Although each player is part of the team, being a full-time footballer can often feel like a race, and you don’t want to be left behind.
‘You’re in everyday and the boys are in everyday training, and you still have to go to the games on a Saturday and you still have to watch it’, says Chris.
‘Listening to people ask me, “How are you feeling? When are you back?” Asking the same questions over and over again. That’s the frustrating part, you can’t really forget about it and focus on the rehab because people are constantly asking you and bringing it up’.
Before rehab, Chris would have to rest and let his injury heal. While his team played on he had to sit at home, doing mostly nothing.
‘It’s tough because you lose all the muscle’, says Chris.
‘What happens is you wither away to nothing’.
To not be able to train, play football and even move around like you used to … withering away and being forgotten about is something a lot of athletes fear.
All of this can have a real mental toll on a football player. On occasions Chris has been out for six months at a time, sitting there watching the team, uncertain of what things will be like when he returns.
‘The worst thing about injuries is the uncertainty, not knowing when you’re going to be back; is this going to affect me when I’m back? That’s the worst part’.
Then in rehab, you begin the tough and tedious journey of getting your body back to where it was. It can be one of the most physically and mentally demanding things any athlete goes through.
‘It’s tough physically but it’s also frustrating. Just going from being able to squat 200 pounds to then having to strip it all back and not being able to squat your own body weight. You know you are a shell of what you were’.
What I always wondered about my Brother is why he kept going, and the answer is almost a philosophical principle to him and something only athletes can understand.
‘Being an athlete isn’t normal. The human body isn’t made to take what we do. In terms of training, two or three times a day, seven days of the week, eleven months of the year. It’s the reason your body gets injured, it breaks down. But there’s something in being able to find the limits like that and being able to push yourself as far as you know you can physically go’.
Chris goes on to say:
‘When you actually take yourself to that limit. And you actually take yourself too far. When your body tells you “Listen, I can’t go any further” it is then that you realise that you only have so much in the tank’.