The Pre­ston loan cap­ture on over­com­ing his in­jury de­mons

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

STAND­ING in the nar­row, cramped tun­nel at Bootham Cres­cent, Alex Baptiste tried to quell the but­ter­flies ca­reen­ing round his stom­ach.

For Mid­dles­brough, the preseason trip to York in July was a stroll down easy street: a half­paced, sun-kissed kick­about against a half-fit Na­tional League club. Yet, for their 30-year-old de­fender, it was a nerve-shred­ding test of char­ac­ter.

Twelve months ear­lier, al­most to the day, Baptiste had stood in the ex­act same tun­nel. Twenty min­utes later, he was star­ing bleakly at its ceil­ing, his right leg grotesquely snapped and his sea­son in ru­ins.

The 30-year-old, signed from Bolton only five days prior, had gone into a 50-50 with an op­po­nent known as Tri­al­list A, later re­vealed to be Teessider and Boro fan Danny John­son.

Every­body heard the crack. Every­body hoped it was a shin­pad.

Baptiste even at­tempted to clam­ber up in pur­suit of the loose ball, only to col­lapse when his shat­tered limb folded into the turf. Ashen­faced medics needed only a glance to di­ag­nose a dou­ble break.

“I don’t ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber what hap­pened,” says Baptiste, who has now joined Pre­ston on a sea­son­long loan with­out play­ing a com­pet­i­tive game for Boro.

“I know it wasn’t a bad tackle, just a freak ac­ci­dent. Peo­ple al­ways ask me if I’ve watched it again but I haven’t and I don’t plan to, ei­ther.

“It was bad enough at the time, look­ing down and see­ing your leg at a dif­fer­ent an­gle.

“Be­yond that mo­ment, I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing. Not the pain, not what peo­ple said. I guess you’re just in shock.” The sub­se­quent 12 months have been tough, not least be­cause Baptiste hadn’t com­pleted a planned re­lo­ca­tion to Har­ro­gate.

Forced to aban­don the move, he re­turned to his home in Black­pool and spent the early stages of his re­cov­ery ma­rooned on the sofa 130 miles from Mid­dles­brough.

“I couldn’t do any­thing at all for the first eight weeks,” he says. “The only in­struc­tion was to keep my leg up. My day was ba­si­cally get up, sit on the sofa and stay there un­til bed time.

“I watched a lot rub­bish TV. I did a few se­ries on Ne­flix...and Foot­ball Man­ager. I got through so many sea­sons. I don’t think I ever want to play it again!”


Boro boss Ai­tor Karanka sent reg­u­lar texts and Baptiste is full of praise for the sup­port he re­ceived from the Teessiders.

Yet it was Black­burn and their erst­while boss Gary Bowyer who proved the real life­savers, of­fer­ing their for­mer player the chance to step up his re­cov­ery in Lan­cashire.

“They rang up and said I could go in three days a week, in­stead of trekking all the way to Mid­dles­brough,” ex­plains the for­mer Black­pool man, who spent the 201415 sea­son at Ewood Park.

“At Boro, I knew no­body. At Black­burn, I al­ready knew all the lads, the phys­ios and the staff. To be in an en­vi­ron­ment like that was just what I needed.

“Just to let me in the build­ing, when I played for an­other club, was an un­be­liev­able ges­ture and I can’t thank Gary enough for sort­ing it out.”

Of course, while Baptiste was grind­ing his way back to fit­ness, his new team-mates were gun­ning for pro­mo­tion, even­tu­ally seal­ing their place in the top-flight af­ter a dra­matic fi­nal day showdown with Brighton.

An emo­tional Karanka would later ded­i­cate the vic­tory to Baptiste, but it didn’t make up for miss­ing out.

“That was heart-break­ing,” ad­mits Baptiste, who was part of the Black­pool side that won a mem­o­rable pro­mo­tion to the Premier League un­der Ian Hol­loway in 2010.

“Every­body wants to be part of a

squad that goes up and my chance was taken away.

“It was hard watch­ing, but that’s foot­ball, isn’t it? Horrible things hap­pen all over the world and there are plenty of peo­ple with big­ger prob­lems than me.”


For Baptiste, the come­back started with an 11-game loan spell at Sh­effield United. Then, af­ter re­turn­ing to pre-sea­son at Rock­liffe, that date with destiny at Bootham Cres­cent – only his sec­ond ap­pear­ance in a Boro shirt since that calami­tous de­but.

“It was hard be­fore the game,” ad­mits Baptiste, who played the first 45 min­utes of a re­sound­ing 6-0 vic­tory.

“Sit­ting in the chang­ing room, all the mem­o­ries com­ing back. I didn’t en­joy it all to be hon­est.

“The first ten or 20 min­utes, I was wor­ried, hold­ing back a bit. In the back of your mind, you’re think­ing ‘Please don’t let light­ning strike twice’.

“But be­fore long you get into a rhythm and all the nerves melt away. Even so, it was a re­lief to get through it un­scathed.”

Get­ting into the Boro team, how­ever, has proved rather more dif­fi­cult. Karanka has spent £5m on de­fen­sive re­cruits this sum­mer, leav­ing Baptiste out in the cold.

So, when Si­mon Grayson, the man who signed him for Black­pool way back in 2008, came knock­ing, the Premier League was ditched – for 12 months at least.

“I was in the squad for the first two games and didn’t get on,” he says. “Third game, I didn’t make the 18. The day af­ter, I went to Brett Ormerod’s tes­ti­mo­nial and was speak­ing about it to Glynn Sn­odin, the as­sis­tant man­ager at Pre­ston.

“On dead­line day, I got a call from Steve Agnew, the as­sis­tant at Mid­dles­brough, say­ing Pre­ston had come in.

“He said Ai­tor wanted me in the 25 but that he’d un­der­stand if I wanted to get out and play games. With the qual­ity they’ve brought in, I knew that was the best op­tion.

“It’ll be great to fi­nally play un­der Si­mon. He ac­tu­ally left for Leeds a cou­ple of months af­ter I joined Black­pool, so I never got a chance.

“My aim is just to play reg­u­larly again and do my best for Pre­ston. But I feel like there’s un­fin­ished busi­ness at Mid­dles­brough.

“The club have been fan­tas­tic to me and it would be nice to pay them back.

“Hope­fully, what I do here will earn me that chance.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

HEAD­ING IN THE RIGHT DI­REC­TION: Alex Baptiste is ea­ger to get back play­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis PAIN: Baptiste is car­ried off with a bro­ken leg in preseason at York last year ALEX BAPTISTE

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