BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Tom Bradshaw ticked off a notable milestone in his rehabilitation from cruciate knee ligament damage this week – but the Millwall striker knows that rushing his return is simply not worth the risk.
The 26-year-old suffered the injury to his right knee in the 2-0 defeat at Brentford at the start of November.
But Bradshaw, a 79th-minute substitute at Griffin Park, did not even realise there was a major issue until he got a phonecall later the following week from manager Neil Harris.
“It was a combination of shock and just being gutted really,” said the Wales international, in his first newspaper interview since being sidelined.
“You hear horror stories when you do your ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] – people rolling around on the floor screaming – but it wasn’t the case with me.
“I finished the game and even did the fitness work after. I had no pain or swelling initially. As we were leaving Brentford’s ground I just flagged up that I heard a bit of a crunch. Because I had no pain I just presumed it was fine. I got assessed on Monday because Paul [Tanner, head of medical services] was fairly worried.
“I got the scan that day and then had a missed call off the gaffer about 9pm or 9.30pm that evening. You know that can’t be a good sign. He just broke the news to me, that I had ruptured my ACL.
“I was obviously devastated, having just signed for the club and had really been enjoying my football here.
“We have watched the moment back when it happened a lot. It is just so innocuous. Romaine Sawyers nicked the ball around me, I half-turned and my foot slipped at the same time. That’s when I heard the crunch.
“I know Byron Webster did the same injury [the season before] and even finished the game.
“It was so strange – I went into hospital feeling fine and came out in agony because of the surgery.
“I spoke to the surgeon, Simon Ball, to see if there was any way it could be wrong, because I felt absolutely fine. He showed me the scan, which to him was pretty conclusive.
“But then they went in just double-checking that the ACL was ruptured, before starting surgery, and that confirmed it. I could walk around and even do the leg press before surgery, I was trying to maintain the quad.”
This week has started well for Bradshaw, after he got on the anti-gravity running machine.
“You can set the weight and on Tuesday I was running at 65 per cent of my body weight,” he said. “That’s quite a big step, once you are on there you can really kick on.
“It shouldn’t be too long now before I am outside running, because it feels absolutely fine after that. I’m on the bike nearly every day, doing spin sessions and stuff that doesn’t put too much force through the knee while it is still healing and recovering.
“Once you get to 90 or 95 per cent body weight is usually when you can get outside and do straight-line running. Because it has reacted so well, I’m expecting that to be in the next week or 10 days.
“Psychologically it will be brilliant to be back outside around the boys training, although I’ll still be a little while away from training.”
Bradshaw was a club-record signing in August – joining from Barnsley in a seven-figure fee – before that fee was usurped by Ryan Leonard’s switch not long after.
He made just 10 appearances for the Lions, two of them as a starter, before his campaign was over.
With Bradshaw progressing so smoothly, it almost sounds as if he could be back in the fold sooner than expected.
But he explains why rushing back would be a gamble.
“I’ve always been quite bad at wanting to get back as soon as possible and almost rushing my recovery,” said the former Shrewsbury Town, Barnsley and Walsall forward.
“But with this injury I have had that taken out of my hands, I’m going off the advice of the surgeon and Paul.
“It’s not something you can rush., If you do it again there can be a real mental barrier of a re-rupture and going through the whole process again.
“It’s about being careful and sensible. The earliest you can come back is six months and even then the risk of a re-rupture is 25 per cent.
“Every month you give it after six months halves your chance of doing it again. So if I come back after seven it is 12 per cent and after eight months it is six per cent. It is just controlling the risk factor.
“In terms of the surgery, as far as I’m aware, they take a portion of your patella tendon – which is at the front of your knee – and mould it into a new ACL.
“They reconstruct it that way. Once they have taken the patella the rest is done through keyhole [surgery] – getting the line and tension right, so that it is as much like the ACL as possible.
“It feels as good as it did before now, which is quite dangerous for me as I usually like to push through and recover as quickly as possible.”
Initially Bradshaw was not able to get to matches because he was on crutches.
He went to Dubai with his partner Alexandra and his daughter Nala Alexandra, who is just nine weeks old.
“The surgeon advised that around the 10-11 week stage to have a week completely off, away from the training ground,” he said. “In the early stages of an ACL it can be really quite repetitive – it’s very limited what you can do.
“So you have a week away and just let the knee completely settle.
“It was nice to get away with my family – to get that time to mentally refresh before the next stage of the rehab.
“I’m back raring to go and will hopefully be on the grass in about three weeks.
“My daughter being born was the best distraction I could hope for regarding the timing.
“As a footballer you never want to do an ACL injury. Most are scared of doing it because it is such a long recovery time. But my little girl was born around that period that I had the operation – so it helped me not to look too far ahead.
“If you do then there is a long rehab period and you can get bogged down by it.
“Now I can get back and watch our games, it makes me hungrier to want to be playing. It’s the worst thing as a footballer, to be watching games and not be able to influence it.
“It made it even more devastating that I had just signed for the club – I haven’t had the chance to prove myself yet at Millwall. That was a real kick in the teeth.”