"I couldn't go to the ground to watch the games it hurt me that much"
Paul Lake lived out every football fans dream by playing for the team he loves, but his career was cut tragically short by injury. In the second part of an exclusive interview, Paul talks to Football Pundette about his injury hell and how he was robbed of living out his City ambitions.
Paul's career was flourishing. He had been tipped by the City manager Howard Kendall to be the next England captain and literally had the world at his feet. Then came the Aston Villa game...
“The way I was playing up until the night of the Aston Villa game and the night the England manager was watching me, I had been told by Howard Kendall that I was being tipped to be the next England captain. Since then, Alex Ferguson has come up to me and told me that he tried to sign me, along with Kenny Dalglish, Greame Souness, George Graham and David Pleat. When you have got Arsenal, Liverpool, Rangers, United and Spurs trying to sign you then you have got something going. I was confident, I felt really excited about the season. The game against Villa, I’d been on a little mazy run and nut-megged Paul McGrath and I felt fantastic. It was such a shock to the system when it happened.
“I was told initially that I had a twisted knee. Now I am a physiotherapist and knowing what I know now, you can only imagine just how ridiculous that diagnosis was. I don’t blame the medical staff at City because they didn’t know any better; they wanted the best for me. But in hindsight, a little bit more thought and a second opinion would have really been a big help. That goes for the orthopaedic side as well, the person who they chosen to do my operation could have been changed. Ironically, when mine failed twice, the strong advice to go and see the guy who fixed both Richard Edghill and Niall Quinn’s cruciate injuries fell on deaf ears shall we say.
“When I first did my knee, I was told that I had a twisted knee- back in six weeks. I call recall doing work up and down the Kippax, running up and down and everything was in a straight line. I could do all the straight line stuff in the world and it was never going to help- to test the knee should have been to twist and turn it too. So my first day back on the training pitches I collapsed in a heap and it was a comedy of this going on and on until one day I collapsed, my face was in the mud and something was drastically wrong. That is when I saw a consultant and was told that I had ruptured my cruciate ligament. The scary thing was that, at that time, I was probably doing more damage every time I trained for that six week period leading up to my first operation.”
“Sue Manchester City? I just couldn't do it”
“I wasn’t to know. I was a footballer that had put my faith in other people’s hands. It should be that if you don’t know, you find somebody that does and you check it and re-check it. That is something that I find hard to swallow. Then I had to go out for an operation and build it up, I was told it would take about six months but within three months because I had worked so hard I was told that I could go back out onto the pitches to do some ball control. The first day of ball work, it re-ruptured because it was too soon. Again, it was being falsely advised on what to do.
“Maybe City fans thought that I wasn’t strong enough and that it wasn’t to be, but when they actually know what happened and what went on...it still hurts to this day. Now I’ve got to have a total knee replacement: that will be my 18th operation on it. Not only that but I’ve got to now have my left knee straightened as for years it has been compensating for my right knee, so my left has got to be broken and then reset.
“I remember talking to a solicitor at the time who said ‘let me take over your case and sue Manchester City. Whatever you imagine you will get at your testimonial, you will get 10 times that because of what’s happened’. When you are in your darkest moments and you are lying in a hospital bed for the second and third time and the only people that seem to care are the fans, you do think about it. But it was me being such a big City fan that thought how could I sue the club that I had been a part of and love? I just couldn’t do it. I look at my mortgage now and think back to that. But there’s more to life than money. A lot more.”
“Nobody had the gumption and bollocks”
“But I can honestly say, from 1990 to 2000, apart from the birth of my son, those 10 years were the worst period of my life. I was taking anti-depressants, I couldn’t go to the ground to watch the games it hurt that much. I tried and tried and I wish in hindsight that somebody would have come to me in 1992/93 and just said it’s not going to work out, just stop. I retired in 1996 and had put myself, my knee and my emotional state through hell really.
“I had nothing in my corner, nobody who actually said ‘let’s look at what is available for you’. Knowing the potential that I had to offer the club, why didn’t they look at the best at cruciate ligaments? That’s my regrets; that nobody had the gumption, the nouce and the bollocks to recognise that it was my life they were talking about and to actually take the time out to investigate the best options for me. It was a combination of the surgery and the recovery, and I rushed my recovery back by about three months on somebody’s recommendation. That’s what hurts me the most, that I trusted people.
“My goal was to be the most capped player for City. That was my dream. It hurts to know that I had the potential to achieve it. I’d like to have thought that would have been a realistic goal for me. It’s a combination of not having the correct advice and knowing what might have been. On a positive note, to have City fans hold me in such a high regard considering how little games I played for the club, that comforts me a lot. It helps in those dark times of reflection over everything that has happened.”
In the final part of my interview, Paul talks about City’s famous 5-1 derby day victory at Maine Road and the future for both himself and City.