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Paul Lake

About The Author

Paul LakePaul Lake was Manchester born, a City fan from birth. His footballing talent was spotted at a young age and, in 1983, he signed coveted schoolboy forms for City. Only a short time later he was handed the team captaincy.

An international career soon beckoned and, after turning out for the England under-21 and B teams, he received a call-up to the England training camp for Italia '90. Despite missing out on a place in the final squad he suitably impressed the management, with Bobby Robson earmarking him as an England captain in the making.

As a rising star Paul became a target for top clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool, but he always stayed loyal to his beloved club, deeming Maine Road the spiritual home at which his destiny lay. But then, in September 1990, disaster struck. Paul ruptured his cruciate ligament and sustained the worst possible injury that a footballer can suffer. And so began his nightmare. Neglected, ignored and misunderstood by his club after a career-saving operation was irreversibly botched, Paul's career began to fall apart.

I'm Not Really Here by Paul LakeWatching from the sidelines as similarly injured players regained their fitness, he spiralled into a prolonged bout of severe depression. With an enforced retirement from the game he adored, the death of his father and the collapse of his marriage, Paul was left a broken man. Set against a turning point in English football, his autobiography, I'm Not Really Here: A Life of Two Halves, is the powerful story of love and loss and the cruel, irreparable damage of injury; of determination, spirit and resilience and of unfulfilled potential and broken dreams.

Paul's book has been very well received by both critics and readers alike, marking it out as as essential read for any football fan, offering an insider's insight into the frustration and heartbreak endured by any footballer hoping for the glamour and glory of top-level success. You can read an extract from I'm Not Really Here below.

A raw, sometimes unsparing and frequently moving account of how Lake's career was shipwrecked... an epic, harrowing and gripping story... an astounding football autobiography - The Guardian

Lake's touching story isn't all doom and gloom - it's packed with humour and insight into the game. A superb read - FourFourTwo magazine

My favourite player in those days was always Paul Lake. I used to love watching him. I don't know what it was about him, but he was just a top footballer and cool as fuck, never any pressure on him, always knew what he was doing. He could play for us now, man - Liam Gallagher

 

Extracts

In September 1992 the club physio, Eamonn Salmon, and I flew business class to the States, touching down on a hot, humid afternoon. The taxi ride to the hotel was unbelievable, a half-hour procession past countless LA images that I'd only ever seen in the movies. Light-reflecting skyscrapers. Six-lane freeways. Huge, gleaming Cadillacs. WALK/DON'T WALK neon signs. Beige-suited cops weaving their way through the traffic on their monster motorcycles, evoking memories of Saturdays in Haughton Green when I used to watch CHiPs on the telly, glued to Jon and Ponch's mobile crimebusting.

Our cab driver spent the entire journey lazily flicking through the many radio stations on the dial, and I remember being struck by the fact that most of the songs pulsing through the speakers were by British artists. From The Beatles to Bananarama and The Cult to Kajagoogoo, Britannia was certainly ruling the LA airwaves. It made me feel all proud and sentimental (I'm a sucker for a homespun tune), never more so than when my favourite Beatles track came on.

Here comes the sun, sang George Harrison as we cruised through the San Fernando Valley, my destiny awaiting a few miles down the highway.

 

            Here comes the sun
            And I say, it's all right.

 

We set up camp in a fabulous marble-floored, glass-panelled hotel on Ventura Boulevard. After freshening up, we headed straight over to the Blazina Clinic in nearby Sherman Oaks for formal introductions to the medical team. Dr Sisto, the lead surgeon, had made his name repairing the limbs of American soldiers wounded in the Vietnam War, pioneering a revolutionary cruciate ligament repair technique that involved the grafting of an Achilles tendon taken from a dead person. Gruesome as it sounded, I was prepared to give anything a go if it meant me being able to kick a ball again.

Tall, dark and with a look of M*A*S*H's Alan Alda, Dr Sisto cut a very impressive figure, with an air of honesty and self-belief that reassured me no end. He put me through a vigorous assessment that included a succession of x-rays and scans, followed by a bizarre 'distraction therapy' procedure that tested the strength of my knee. I'll never forget his response.

'Whoa there, Paul, this is a loose 'un', he drawled. 'Boy, have I got my work cut out here...'
He went on to explain that, while my knee was salvageable, he'd seen quarterbacks smashed into by huge linebackers who had more stable joints than mine. He told me that I'd definitely need a double transplantation, one for my inside medial ligament and another for the cruciate, using grafts from separate donors. But what he couldn't fathom out was why I was seeing him so late in the day.

'If I'd have seen you straight away you'd have been back playing soccer by now,' he said. His words cut me like a knife. Had City's physio not been standing there, I'd have probably responded by spouting chapter and verse about the club's various failings but I didn't think it was the time or the place. I also thought it vital to maintain a positive mindset.

'I'll do the best that I can for you, Paul,' smiled Dr Sisto, 'and we'll see where that takes us.'

The operation wasn't scheduled for another 48 hours, which allowed Eamonn and I a full day's sightseeing. After supersizing ourselves with burgers the size of dustbin lids, we hired a Chevrolet, donned our Ray-Bans and drove over to the legendary Muscle Beach. A haven for models and bodybuilders, this open-air gym swarmed with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Brigitte Nielsen lookalikes, all honing and preening their beautiful bodies in the California sunshine. If I felt inadequate standing there, poor Eamonn - all 10 stone of him - no doubt felt worse. He looked like Supersonic Syd Little next to all these pumped up poseurs, and his decision to keep his T-shirt on was a wise one.
We arrived back at the hotel in time for a light supper, and I spent the rest of the evening sitting alone on my balcony, sipping weak American tea and watching Ventura Boulevard by night. Something about this technicolour union of buildings, cars and neon lights had me transfixed for hours. There was a real feeling of activity and optimism about the place. Maybe it would rub off on me, I persuaded myself, as I started the countdown to the third major operation of my life.

 

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