WHEN injury wrecked Josh Langley’s hopes of a promising career with Wigan Athletic he turned to the Professional Footballers’ Association for help.
Now Josh, the son of former Wigan legend Kevin, who holds a club record for Latics appearances, has begun a new career in the NHS as a physiotherapist at St Helens Hospital.
THE surgeon’s expression was sombre and then he said those words, ‘Josh, I don’t think you will play football again.’
I was 17 and it felt like my world had collapsed.
I was heart-broken because football was all I’d ever dreamed of.
I’d been on the Latics team bus to a Premier League match at Chelsea a week earlier and had trained with the first team squad.
I’d only left school, but I was working alongside the brilliant Dutch defender Mario Melchiot.
Mario was a Premier League star with Chelsea, winning the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge.
Yet he couldn’t have done enough for me, offering advice and kind words to a rookie trying to make his way in the game.
The whole experience was surreal - I had a real chance to make it as a professional footballer.
Then my injury nightmare began in a Latics youth team game at Knutsford.
I saw a pass coming and as I turned to collect the ball my foot went in the opposite direction and the studs got caught in the turf.
My ankle exploded, a very bad fracture, and the ligaments were severely damaged.
I lost two years of my career – but I wouldn’t accept that it was over.
The physiotherapist at Wigan Richard Evans worked wonders to get me back on the pitch again.
I had eight screws in my ankle, but I wasn’t the player I’d been before the injury.
I’d joined Wigan Athletic as a six-year-old when my Dad took me there, but sadly, at 23, I knew it was over.
When I dropped into non-league with AFC Fylde it gave me a fresh perspective and the manager Dave Challinor (now at Hartlepool) took a gamble on me.
I was captain and player of the year, twice leading them to promotion, from the Northern Premier League (2014-15) and the Conference North.
That made me incredibly proud – lifting those titles - but the injuries kept piling up.
Then, a couple days into AFC Fylde’s National Conference campaign I ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament.
The thought of another twelve months fighting my way back from a serious injury filled me with dread.
I desperately needed a change of direction in my life and I called Oshor Williams, the Professional Footballers’ Association Assistant Director of Education.
Oshor said: ‘The PFA will look after you Josh.’
He was brilliant and Oshor suggested a physiotherapist course at Salford University.
With the injuries I’d suffered, and working with so many physiotherapists, like Richard Evans, it had sparked a real interest, offering me an insight into their profession.
Six months ago, I began work as a physiotherapist with the Early Stroke Discharge Unit at St Helens Hospital.
We rehabilitate stroke patients, helping them recuperate.
Also, the Covid-19 pandemic has left many sufferers with Long Covid, some who have lost their mobility.
I feel fortunate to be part of a fantastic team who inspire me every day – as do the brave patients who show so much courage and will power to get better.
However, I can’t thank the Professional Footballers’ Association enough because they helped guide me into a new profession, something I’ll do for the rest of my life.
I really don’t know what I would have done without my union’s help.
Sometimes it upsets me when I think what might have been with Wigan Athletic.
But then I see what physiotherapy has given me, helping people convalesce from a life-threatening condition to a full recovery is the best feeling in the world.
I play part-time for Nantwich Town and Dad – who never misses a game I play - says he enjoys watching me more than he did playing for Everton.
Dad was an unbelievable footballer who had a stellar career with Latics and Everton.
He won the old First Division title under Howard Kendall and played in front of 100,000 at Wembley in the Charity Shield against Liverpool.
But for whatever reason, playing professional football wasn’t meant to be for me – but the satisfaction I get from my new job is immense.
Josh Langley was talking to Tony Dewhurst.