ANTHONY PILKINGTON will return from injury as strong and skilful as ever.
That’s the view of former Town favourite Terry Poole, who suffered two leg breaks during his Leeds Road career, but still managed 231 appearances for the club.
In more recent years high-profile players Alan Smith, Eduardo and Antonio Valencia have all suffered similar injuries to Pilkington, who dislocated his left ankle and broke the fibula above the joint during Tuesday’s 2-1 derby win over Rochdale.
But Town supporters around in the early seventies will certainly remember Poole, the goalkeeper plucked from the Manchester United third team who was considered an England prospect before the first of his broken legs, in the FA Cup third-round replay win at Birmingham in January 1971.
Then aged 21, a year younger than Pilkington, both the tibia and fibula were fractured a few inches above his right ankle in a collision with Bob Latchford 83 minutes into the tie on a St Andrews pitch which was fast icing up.
Like Pilkington, he was taken from the stadium to hospital by ambulance and had surgery, memories of which were stirred by this week’s events at the Galpharm.
“I saw the incident on television and I’ve read about it in the papers, and I really feel for the lad,” said Poole, who after a second leg break suffered in the Third Division home defeat by Preston in January 1975, played for Bolton (under his old Town boss Ian Greaves) and Sheffield United and is now a taxi driver in his home town of Chesterfield.
“It’s a worrying time for anyone, but when you earn your living as a sportsman, especially so, and in the immediate aftermath of the surgery, when you’re laid up, you do start to think about things.
“There will be ups and downs, mentally and physically, but my advice would be just to stay positive and take it one day at a time.”
Poole was in hospital in Birmingham for a month, and didn’t return to first-team duty until November 1972, but pointed out: “The treatment is far more sophisticated now, and I know the club will look after him properly.
“At this stage, Anthony probably won’t have a timescale to return, but I’d be very surprised if it was as long as mine, and the main thing is to ensure that when he does make his comeback, it’s not rushed, because he’s 22 and has time on his side.
“It seemed like the end of the world when I broke my leg the first time, but I made progress week by week.
“The surgery was certainly successful, because when I did my leg the second time, the specialist said ‘The bad news is it’s broken, the good news is that the previous fracture withstood the impact, because the new one is only a couple of inches above’.
“Given modern techniques, I’m sure his bone will heal well, and it’s the same with the ankle dislocation.”
Pilkington was quick to thank fans of both Town and Rochdale for their messages of support, and Poole confirmed: “Things like that mean a lot. His teammates will have been in to see him, and with modern technology, he can be in almost constant contact.
“When I was in hospital, my family were only able to get down at weekends, but both the Town and Birmingham lads came in to see me during the week, and Derek Dougan, who was high up in the PFA at the time, was brilliant.”
Pilkington will also get to know Town’s physio staff well, and Poole laughed: “In my days, it was a bloke called Brian Hustler, and he was a big help.
“Rehab can be lonely and repetitive – I got to know every crack in the wall in the old Leeds Road gym – but you have to keep that comeback game firmly in your mind and just grit your teeth and get on with it.”