Richard Wood column: The Millers defender on opening-day excitement and the mental anguish of injuries

Jonson Clarke-Harris

Jonson Clarke-Harris

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After six tough weeks of pre-season, the first league game of the season is now upon us. The excitement and tension is building as we look to make a good start to a very tough-looking Championship.

It’s always difficult to predict how things will go for your team on the opening day. There are always a few unexpected results.

I’ve now been involved in quite a few pre-seasons and you never know how your team will fare come that opening day. I remember a few years ago having a great pre-season. Everything went perfectly, we won all our friendlies, expectation levels among the players and fans were high, but we lost our first game. In contrast, I had a pre-season where we lost quite a few friendlies and suffered a few injuries, but everything clicked on that opening day and we won.

I don’t want to raise expectation levels or dampen them with our pre-season, but our manager, Alan Stubbs, has instilled a new playing style into the Millers and this was evident in the friendly against Sunderland.

This is completely different to how Rotherham have typically played over the last few years,but hopefully the fans will enjoy what they see over the coming season.

In terms of fitness, the Millers are looking good. Throughout pre-season we have had a small tight-knit squad. This has meant everybody has had to play quite a lot of matches in a short space of time. We all have plenty of minutes played under our belt, which can only be beneficial in terms of fitness and match practice.

Alan Stubbs

Alan Stubbs

Injuries are part and parcel of football and during pre-season the main casualty has been Jonson Clarke-Harris.

He sustained a bad knee injury in the first friendly, against Parkgate, but, speaking to him after his operation, he is in good spirits and already determined to come back fitter and stronger.

Being a professional footballer is an incredible job to have, but long-term injuries are very difficult to deal with, and people outside of football probably don’t realise the effect it can have on players mentally.

I have endured this scenario earlier in my career when I was sidelined for a total of 13 months. The initial timescale of the injury was four to six months, but I kept breaking down and suffering setbacks.

It knocked me for six!

I love football. I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else, and to not be able to play the sport I love was hard to take.

It had a domino effect on other aspects of my life too. My family bore the brunt of it, with my girlfriend probably the one who I most took it out on.

Socially, I didn’t get up to much. I was miserable and didn’t want to go out. I wanted to rest and recover as I was desperate to get back fit.

The injury has made me the person I am today. Mentally, I’m a lot stronger now and it makes me appreciate what I do every day. I look back on that part of my career as a steep learning curve.

I cannot wait for the season to start.

The feeling of apprehension before the game. The roar from the crowd as I walk out of the tunnel. The adrenalin pumping through my body before the referee blows his whistle. I’m looking forward to the emotional rollercoaster that football takes you on.

We may be one of the favourites to go down this season, but everyone loves an underdog.

Just ask Leicester City fans.