We played Oxford a few days later. We won but I got subbed and as I went off the Sunderland crowd cheered. I couldn’t run, couldn’t do anything rigorous. My knee was tattered – no power, lots of pain. The crowd were on my back all the time.
I had another arthroscope on the Monday but nothing showed up. In desperation, Neil Medcalfe, our new physio, sent me down to Yorkshire to see a Mr Bollen. He prodded and poked and said he wanted to open my knee there and then. Why? I had my retirement forms. I had a job with an Irish newspaper lined up. I was resigned to life after football. But when Mr Bollen said he wanted to get his scalpel busy right then, hope rose irresistibly. OK, once more. Open it up. I’m nothing if not an optimist.
His hunch was right. I was suffering from something away from the cruciate. Mr Weeber had gone a great job on that, but unconnected to that, two bones had fused together. Mr Bollen unstuck them the next day and put me in plaster for four weeks. When the plaster came off, I stared to run. Wow! I’m like a foal. I’m running!
When it came to my first game back, against Forest at home, the mood towards me had changed. People had read in the papers that I was fighting my way back and they gave me a decent reception even though I hadn’t played since I was booed off the last time. Here they were, cheering me on as if it had never happened, or as if one of us had been drunk at the time. I was only on for the last three or four minutes but I laid on the equaliser and nearly scored. I was quietly pleased.
A few weeks later we went down to QPR. I hit the bar three times, had two goals disallowed and got the winner near the end. I wanted the game to go on for ever. Bobby Saxton, our coach, said to me afterwards that no centre-forward in Europe had played as well as I had for the team that day. I don’t know how he knew, but I loved hearing those words.