POSITIVITY can just seep out of some people, even when they stand face-to-face with the biggest challenges of their lives.
Stricken Rotherham United forward Jamie Proctor is one of those people.
He has an air of confidence about him. Not the kind of confidence that sees him swagger in the room and expect all eyes to be on him, more a belief in what he has to say. A level-head that has kept his feet on the ground. Not your stereotypical 21st century footballer.
Jamie Proctor gave Huddersifled defender Michael Hefele a torrid time in the cup
Proctor enters the room half way through manager Paul Warne’s weekly press briefing. He takes a seat at the side of the room, the two catch each others’ glance, and from that moment on, every joke the boss makes has Proctor at the butt of it.
But the innocuous coming together between himself and Charlton skipper Chris Solly at the end of August which resulted in a potentially season-ending injury was no laughing matter. The image of the 25-year-old face down in the New York turf, holding his knee, thumping the ground in sheer pain will forever be etched in many a Millers’ memory.
“When it first happened I obviously knew in the initial moments I was in agony,” the 6ft 2in number nine told the Advertiser. “I knew I had done something quite serious. It’s not like me stay down and bang the floor like I did.”
Tests showed a tear to the anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and his meniscus, a season-threatening concoction of damage around his right knee.
Proctor moments after the innocuous challenge with Charlton's Chris Solly.
The Preston-born front-man has never struggled with injuries in a career that has seen him turn out for clubs such as North End, Bradford and Bolton.
A double hernia operation when he was around 19-years-of-age was as bad as it had been for the man who admits he doesn’t really pick up injuries, making this possible season-ender even harder to take.
“I’ve got my head around it now,” he acknowledges. “There’ll be some very tough times and there’ll be some good times where I make progress and improve and I’ll feel positive about things.
“I’ve got to get my head focussed on getting my knee right, not trying to rush things and making sure that when I do come back it’s in the best way I possibly can.”
Proctor has made the area his home and become a key member of Warne’s squad off the field, citing Rotherham as the first club he has settled into the quickest and felt most comfortable at.
He has a property in the area that he stays in through the week, before heading back over the Pennines to his pregnant wife, a welcome distraction from “the first major set-back” of his career.
Proctor is stretchered off and his season appears to be over
“I’d say it’s been the hardest time of my career, yes,” Proctor says.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had tough times before but in terms of different aspects of football. Whether that be on the pitch, not playing or moving clubs, but injuries have never been a big part or a big problem in my career so far, so to go through this has been mentally tough.
“This is the hardest thing that you could go through, mentally you have to keep yourself together and positive, that comes form not only me but my family, my wife, the lads at training, the staff, everyone around the club, the way they are with me.”
Proctor’s first half performance against Premier League new-boys Huddersfield in the Carabao Cup three days before the fateful Charlton clash give Millers fans a glimpse of what he could do. He ran Michael Hefele, Huddersfield’s composed German centre-half ragged in the first 45 minutes, leaving the travelling faithful dreaming of what he could do to League One defenders.
They may have to wait until next season now for that to become a reality, although the man himself isn’t giving up hope of turning out in the red of Rotherham United again this campaign.
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“I do really feel like – as easy as this is to say now – I could have gone on and had a really good season. It is the first place I have settled into quickly and felt comfortable,” Proctor reflects.
“In my head, I want to be back before the end of the season and get some game time ahead of next year.”
For now, Proctor is taking his rehabilitation one week at a time, stepping up his training regime gradually to rebuild strength and confidence in his knee.
“I’m doing a lot at the moment, which is good,” he says. “ It’s good to finally feel ‘normal’ again, like I’m actually doing something in the gym.
“At the minute I have two different knee programmes, I do one a couple of days a week and the other the rest of the time. That involves strengthening my knee and the rest of the muscles in my body.”
Lunges, squats and balance work make up the bread and butter of Proctor’s training regime, while he also pays regular visits to the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield to use the anti-gravity treadmill, allowing him to run without the full load of his body weight passing through his knee.
“That’s a massive help, it’s going really well and I feel good in myself,” Proctor adds.
When talk finally turns to his comeback, Proctor references Manchester United and Sweden great Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who returned from a similar injury in just seven months recently, but is well aware it can take longer too.
“I couldn’t tell you when I will be back,” he says. “But you can’t rush at all, so if that means missing the last few games of this season to be ready for next season that’s what I’ll have to do.
“I know it’s a cliché but it will make me stronger, it will be something I will learn from. I’d say any other injury or set-back I have in the future I will be able to look back on this time to make sure I turn them into positive situations.
“The mental side is tough but it will definitely make me stronger.”
Positive in his darkest hour.
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