It’s been a long road back for Barry Fuller after suffering a serious injury in February, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel now and he’s on course for a mid-July return.
We spoke to our captain about his recuperation and the article first published in Monday's match day programme is reproduced below.
It came as a shock to Barry when he learned that his season was over, but he’s bounced back from bigger setbacks before.
Since he signed in May 2013, Barry Fuller had barely missed a game, making a vital contribution to AFC Wimbledon’s success. But that all changed during the home match against Charlton Athletic just over two months ago, when he suffered an injury to his left pectoralis muscle.
“Whether it’s two weeks or six months out, I don’t like watching games,” Barry said. “During my time at this football club there hasn’t really been a stage when I’ve missed a lot of games – at most it’s been two in a row. It’s the first proper injury I’ve had since I joined. In four years here I’ve not really had time out. Hopefully, I can be here for another four years – but who knows?
“I went to see the specialist after I suffered the injury to find out if I needed an operation. At first I was told that I didn’t, and I’d only be out for six to eight weeks, which I was really happy with. But two days later I got a phone call from him again. When I saw the number I thought, ‘This is weird, specialists don’t normally ring you!’ He said there had been a change of plan. Three or four consultants had looked at it, and it was worse than initially thought. I was told that it wouldn’t repair on its own and I did need an operation. I had to get my head round it, because it was six months instead of six weeks. It happens in football, though, and you have to be mentally strong.”
It was a particularly tough start to Barry’s injury lay-off. He had to come to terms with not being able to drive or attend the coaching academy he runs jointly with Barnet player Curtis Weston. In recent weeks, he’s been completing cardiovascular sessions on the spinning bike under the supervision of AFC Wimbledon Sports Scientist Jason Moriarty.
“It’s going really well now. The specialist is really pleased with my progress. He said that I’m ahead of schedule in terms of movement and stuff like that, but with the strengthening of the muscle I just have to take it slowly. It has to heal inside, and if I push it too hard I could be back to square one. Stuart Douglas has been getting information from the specialist because it was an unusual injury. The pec muscle had come away from the bone, and the operation involved reattaching it.
“I’ve had nothing to rush back for because I knew the season was over for me. The target is to be ready for mid-July. There’s no contact stuff until then, but I can be back with the boys before that to do running and passing.”
Barry says that his wife Laura’s support has been invaluable as she has driven him back and forth from Kent to continue his recuperation and to watch matches here. “Laura knows what I’m like! She knows I get agitated and frustrated when can’t go to training. I couldn’t do my coaching for a few weeks after the operation because I wasn’t able to do anything. I couldn’t drive for six weeks, and I relied on Laura, and not just around the home. She’s been brilliant: bringing me here, fitting it all around her part-time job and looking after our three kids. I think she’s due a holiday!”
Attending Wimbledon matches recently has also really helped Barry, in particular with the support he’s had from fans, and he’s determined to get back out on the pitch and to help the club progress further.
“For the Milton Keynes game, I was sat in the directors’ box with Ivor and Mike Richardson, and Laura came along too. It was frustrating to have to sit there and watch because I was itching to be out there, but I was proud to see how well the boys played on the night. It was great to be in the ground with that atmosphere too. The fans were asking how I was and wishing me a speedy recovery, and that was great to hear. I can’t wait to get back out there, but I don’t want to rush it and break down again. I want to be back in pre-season and be raring to go again.
“The results this season have shown how far this club has come and that we deserve to be at this level. The manager has built a side that he felt could cope with League One football, and we’ve done that. There have been a few tough spells, but if at the start of the season someone had offered me the position we’re in now, I’d have snapped their hand off. We went through a stage when we were looking over our shoulders a little bit, but we were also in a play-off place during the season. We’ve got the belief that on our day we can match anyone in this league.
“Not long after I got injured, the boys had a tough run of fixtures, but they went away and got the right results. We’re not little old Wimbledon any more. We’re in League One, and we deserve to be here. We’re looking to progress each year. Next season will be no different, and we’ll be looking to push on and see where we can go.”
There’s light at the end of the tunnel for Barry, who faced a far worse situation at Gillingham when he suffered a career-threatening knee injury in 2011. Having come through that, he isn’t too disheartened, but he knows he will have to battle to regain his place.
“Mentally, the injury at Gillingham was worse to come to terms with. I was out for 12 months, and I was told I might never play football again. That was a difficult time, but it’s helped me mentally. I’ve stayed strong throughout this injury lay-off. I know I’ll come back stronger. I can’t wait to be back in the dressing room, getting my kit on, and walking out onto the pitch again.
“As any footballer knows, you have to earn your place back after you’ve been injured. George Francomb is one of my best friends at the club. The manager knows that George will do a job for the team wherever he plays. This season George has played at right-back, in central midfield and in right midfield. He’s been good in all those positions, and he’s a very good player. He’s done a great job in my absence.”