Richard Sutcliffe: Finding my Achilles heel as Downton outshines Championship

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IT was my own stupid fault.

The five-a-side football court is, as I now know, no place for someone the wrong side of 40. Or, as Bradford City associate director Malcolm Scott so ‘kindly’ pointed out on hearing I had ruptured my Achilles tendon, “the wrong shape”.

But, in August when the summer felt like it would go on for ever and Yorkshire were odds-on to win the County Championship, I still believed fervently that leaving behind my 30s in May had not withered my ability to charge around after the ball every Monday night in Skipton.

Sadly, such belief proved misplaced and seven miserable weeks spent in plaster, effectively housebound, has been the price paid.

The incident itself was so innocuous that, looking back now, it seems ridiculous.

I had just laid the ball off to a team-mate when, as I turned to, hopefully, take the return and move in menacingly (stop sniggering, that’s how I remember it...) on goal, my left leg suddenly gave way.

There were 10 or so minutes left and the match had been quite a feisty affair, with some rather robust challenges and a disputed penalty award. It meant tempers had been rising throughout the game, albeit not quite as much as the previous week when one of our more ‘veteran’ members had stormed off, never to return, after being penalised for encroaching into the penalty area.

So, as I gingerly got back to my feet, I was certain I had been clattered from behind. Which is why I turned towards the opposition player I believed responsible and demanded, ‘What the **** did you do that for?’

His puzzled expression was the first clue that all was not quite as it seemed. That much was then confirmed a couple of seconds later when several others stepped in and said, ‘Er, no one kicked you – there wasn’t anyone within five feet when you went down’.

In that moment, I knew it just had to be something to do with my Achilles.

I have interviewed enough footballers down the years, the most recent of which had been Hull City striker Matty Fryatt in April, to spot the danger signs.

Sure enough, later that night the diagnosis was confirmed by X-ray in the local A&E. My Achilles had simply snapped and I was destined for a lengthy stint in plaster. And, as I soon realised when first attempting to get around on crutches, a spell where leaving the house would be nigh on impossible.

Being confined to barracks meant the television quickly became my lifeline to the outside world. So much so, in fact, that the entire daytime schedule for every major channel is now emblazoned on my mind, while perhaps the most unexpected development has been me becoming an avowed fan of Downton Abbey, below, thanks to the first three series being shown at tea-time on ITV3.

The travails of Lady Mary and Lord Grantham aside, football dominated my viewing. And, boy, have there been a lot of rubbish games this season, particularly in the Championship.

Leeds United’s games with Sheffield Wednesday and Queens Park Rangers were dull affairs, though not quite as dull as the 1-0 win for Rangers at Bolton that was sandwiched by the two Elland Road contests or last month’s South London derby/snorefest between Charlton Athletic and Millwall.

Reading’s goalless draw with Brighton was not much better, while only a comical equaliser for Blackburn Rovers at Turf Moor rescued what is usually one of football’s fiercest derbies from being utterly forgettable.

I did, admittedly, enjoy Huddersfield Town’s draw with Blackpool a week ago, but this did little to change my perception that this is a very ordinary Championship.

Hopefully, I am wrong and my view has been warped by Sky being desperately unlucky with their choice of games.

Soon enough, I’ll find out as last Monday brought my time in plaster to an end. Instead, I’m now sporting a ‘spaceboot’-style contraption that suggests I should be typing this column en route to the moon rather than in the Yorkshire Post’s swanky new offices.

It means I will soon be out covering games, desperately happy that life no longer revolves around Rip Off Britain or Homes Under the Hammer.