'I've missed it. I love playing for this club' - Hartlepool defender Gary Liddle opens up on injury struggles ahead of Leyton Orient clash

Gary Liddle is hoping the worst is behind him as far as injuries are concerned at Hartlepool United.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 4:24 pm

The experienced defender has been struggling with a tendinitis issue in his achilles which has kept him sidelined since the goalless draw with Oldham Athletic in September, but in truth it has been a problem troubling him for some time.

A tendinitis injury can set alarm bells ringing for someone like Lidde who, at 35-years-old, knows that questions will begin to get asked surrounding how much longer he desires to carry on with his playing career while in considerable pain.

“It doesn't sound like the most severe of injuries but it’s probably one of the worst I've had which comes with age,” admits Liddle.

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Gary Liddle made his return to the Hartlepool side against Harrogate Town. Picture by Bernadette Malcolmson

“It got to the stage where I was turning up to play on a Saturday and then probably not training again until the Friday which, at my age, is no good.

“I’m the type of person who likes to train in the build up to a game so to be still hobbling around on a Wednesday and Thursday and put myself through a game on a Saturday was tough.

“As time goes on it gets worse and even training and playing became a bit daunting for me.

“We always knew there was going to be a time where I did need to have a bit of time out and after the Tranmere and Oldham games it just became too much for me at the time and the decision was taken out of my hands.

Gary Liddle has been struggling with an achilles injury. Picture by Bernadette Malcolmson

“It wasn’t just the playing football,” he adds.

“It was getting up on a Sunday morning and feeling the pain in my achilles. My little boy was asking me to play football in the garden and I just couldn't do it.

“Getting up on a morning after a game and limping around for three or four days still in pain makes you think, is it worth it? I’m 35-years-old, is it my time?”

With over 300 appearances to his name as a Pools player, and two memorable promotions, few could have complained had Liddle chosen to bow out and move on from Victoria Park after their National League play-off success in June.

But Liddle, who has spent the majority of his career in League’s One and Two, knows what it takes to be successful at this level, both with Hartlepool and others such as Carlisle United, Notts County and Walsall.

And with Dave Challinor possessing such a young squad for their return to the Football League, Liddle was only too happy to continue his fairytale at Victoria Park.

The Pools stalwart has since had a series of pain reducing injections after being withdrawn from the first team squad and made his return to Challinor’s side, coming on as a surprise half time substitute against Harrogate Town on Saturday despite being 2-0 behind.

But Liddle’s presence allowed Pools to change their formation and, with his calmness exuding from the heart of the defence, they were able to stun the Sulphurites with a remarkable seven minute turnaround.

It’s a feeling the defender has missed while being out, although he remains unsure whether the tag of ‘super sub’ will stick for him.

“I’ve been called a lot of things in my career, but to be called a super sub is a new one for me,” he joked.

“I didn’t even know who I was coming on for. I don’t think Shelts was too happy at the time but it all worked out in the end and we got a great result.

“[But] it was good to be back, it’s been a frustrating month,” he added.

“I’ve missed it. I love playing for this football club. I missed a good portion of last season and that hurt me massively so I was determined to not have that happen again.”

Liddle’s successful cameo brought him up to 334 appearances across his two spells at Victoria Park and in that time, which has spanned over seven years, he has been able to experience a great deal of both highs and lows.

And right now both Liddle and Pools find themselves on an immeasurably high. But just how does Liddle ensure he can continue to be an influence on this League Two journey and be an asset in Challinor’s team without having to take extended leaves of absence to recover from his achilles issues?

“I’ve been keeping on top of recovery and doing different exercises to keep on top of that which I’ll probably have to do for the rest of my career,” admits Liddle.

“But it’s felt fine.

“The decision was taken that I’d spend a bit of time out and try and get rid of the problem which thankfully we’ve gone a long way to doing.

“There's medicine, and therapies, and technology that help with this sort of stuff and a couple of injections later and a couple of other treatments have gone a long way to helping me.

“There’s a lot of stuff to keep on top of over the years but I’m pleased to do that, and if that makes me able to get out for Hartlepool United and play some more games then all the better.”

And one of those games could be as early as Saturday when Pools travel to Leyton Orient looking to secure back-to-back away victories in the league and potentially climb into the automatic promotion spots in the League Two table.

Despite having played just 45 minutes in the last five weeks, Liddle is expected to return to the heart of the Pools back line with defender Neill Byrne missing through suspension and Liddle says he is ready to go if called upon.

“I think Byrner is suspended so If I’m needed to come out and play 90 minutes this weekend I'm perfectly fine. I trained yesterday and we’ll do a bit today as well and then roll into Saturday.”

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