‘I honestly thought I was dying that day’ – Chambers on playing through injuries, keeping the armband and blocking out the criticism
PUBLISHED: 18:18 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 18:41 31 July 2019
Ipswich Town skipper Luke Chambers has given a typically open interview as the club prepares for life in League One. In part two of this chat with STUART WATSON, he talks about the injury which left him fearing for his life, playing through the pain for Paul Hurst and finally feeling fully fit.
Luke Chambers is patently aware that some people think he's over the hill.
It's an understandable view. He's just been part of an Ipswich Town side that was relegated to League One. And he'll be 34 in September.
This summer is different though. This summer, for the first time in a long time, he's fully fit.
Rewind to April 7, 2018. It's 0-0 at Griffin Park, 24 minutes played in what proved to be Mick McCarthy's penultimate game in charge.
"The ball came over the top, Bart (Bialkowski) came running out and just smashed into me with his shoulder," recalls Chambers with a visible shudder. "I honestly thought I was dying that day.
"They carried me off the pitch and I was just lying in this little room. I just couldn't get comfortable. I was panicking. It was like my whole insides had been ripped to pieces.
"I'd fractured my sternum, broken ribs and disclosed my shoulder too. Luckily my wife and kids were on holiday at the time because I wouldn't have wanted them to see me like that.
"I walked across the road the next day to (Cole) Skusey's house, it's about five, six hundred yards down the street, and walking back later on I've had to call the doctor. I said 'doc, I'm in a bad way'. I nearly collapsed on the street.
"That finished my season. I was carrying that through last summer and then the new manager (Paul Hurst) came in. From day one he pretty much laid the gauntlet down to everyone. He was like 'I don't care what you've done before, you've got to do it for me'.
"So there was no other option but to grit my teeth and throw myself straight into it having done nothing over the summer because I was literally broken in half."
Fast forward to February 10, 2019. Rock-bottom Town head to table-topping rivals Norwich. On his previous visit to Carrow Road, Chambers had scored what looked to be a late winner only for the Canaries to hit back in stoppage-time. There was no way he was missing this game.
"I'd kicked John McGinn's studs at Villa two weeks earlier," he recalls. "I looked down and immediately my foot had blown up. Something had burst in my foot.
"I had the week off, it went down, we got to Friday, I trained and it just burst again. I took my boot off and it was horrible - I've got pictures of it, it's crazy.
"The drugs testers were there that day, but I went in to see them and had to be signed off on medical grounds. I went straight to the hospital and had a scan.
"I missed that weekend's game (a 1-0 home loss to Sheffield Wednesday), had another few days off and then tried to train again on the Thursday. It didn't really do anything this time.
"Then, on the Friday, it started happening again. I went to the hospital and they lanced the pocket of fluid. Immediately I'm like 'brilliant'. I said to the gaffer 'I'm going to be fine. He said; 'Are you sure? I do need you'.
"The warm-up was alright, but then in the first 10 minutes I'm like 'oh no'. I think if you watch the game back, for their second goal, (Teemu) Pukki gets put down the side and I'm nowhere near him. If I was fit, I slide tackle him.
"I think I missed the next two games after that.
"There are a lot of things I've played through that a lot of people wouldn't. That's not me saying I'm being a hero, that's just me as a person. If I can play, and they want me to play, then I'm going to play.
"If I'm not going to play then it needs to be taken out of my hands. The physios know me by now and realise that."
Back to present day. Luke is stopped by a supporter during Town's involvement in the Interwetten Cup. 'Blimey, you're looking lean Chambo!' The Blues skipper beams back in response.
He does look lean. He looks happy too. His mum has just been given the all clear following an operation for breast cancer. He's had injections to stop the blurred vision and migraines which came on every time he took a bang to the head.
Now he's ready to hit the reset button.
"This is the first summer in about five years where I've had no injury," he says. "I feel unbelievable. I've never felt this good.
"My distances in training show that. I came back and finished second in the bleep test. I'm probably fitter now than when I played right-back. Don't let the manager know though because he might play me there!
"For me, age is a number. There have been major advancements in technology and training methods over the last 10 years. Players are retiring later and later."
He continues: "I've not missed a game through injury in terms of muscles or anything like that. It's only been through impact injuries, which are part and parcel of football, and I seem to bounce back pretty quickly from them.
"When my body starts to take longer to heal I'll start to question myself, but honestly I feel like I've had a really good summer with my family.
"You go away and re-evaluate so many things. I've spoken to the manager (Paul Lambert) and I've spoken to Stu (Taylor), the assistant, about what I can improve on and off the pitch in order to help them the best way I can.
"I honestly feel like I've got another three or four years in me playing at a good level."
The duo has become a trio. Best mates Luke Chambers and Cole Skuse have a new mucker in prankster James Norwood. The summer signing from Tranmere has, as they say, settled quicker than snow.
"He's alright!" laughs the Blues skipper. "He's a lively character. He's what I've been crying out for really.
"Every time we sign a character it's brilliant because it's not just my voice everyone hears.
"The day I think my voice is getting a little bit boring for the lads and I feel any sort of animosity then that's the time I think 'do you know what, it's time for a change'.
"Maybe not a change of club, but should I be the captain any more? I think I would be humble enough to think 'it's someone else's turn'. Right now I feel that the lads want me where I am though."
He added: "Hopefully we'll sign a couple more like him because that's what we need.
"You've seen his record. He's like me - he's played virtually every single game for five years. He's split his head open sticking it where the boots fly. He reminds me of Joe Garner. I think the fans will love him because he works his bum off.
"I've already noticed that his movement is tremendous. He'll score goals, no doubt."
During a career consisting of almost 700 appearances, Luke Chambers has become adept at blocking out the constant noise that surrounds professional football.
He also acknowledges that it's a lot harder for the newest generation of players to do the same.
"People are entitled to write and say what they like," said the centre-back.
"That's where industry has changed - everyone has a platform to give their opinion and there's no escape from it now.
"There might be a thousand people out there thinking you've played well and three or four saying you've been awful.
"Lads, especially nowadays, will pick up on those three or four then all of a sudden they start questioning their own ability.
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"I've never been one of those players who over worries. Maybe I was lucky that when I first started playing you didn't get on the bus and see every goal straight away on Sky Sports News.
"There will be a day where it's your fault for a goal, you'll see it, sat there with all your team-mates and you'll just think... *blows his cheeks out*. No-one knows how that feels unless you've experienced it."
Chambers converted part of his Ipswich home into an annex for six of the club's young players to live, including first teamers Corrie Ndaba, Flynn Downes and Jack Lankester.
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"The young lads take everything on board," says the Blues skipper. "When the manager took over he asked me what the lads are like and I said 'gaffer, they will do anything for you, they will run through a brick wall, it will never be through a lack of trying'.
"To be honest, they sometimes take stuff on board so literally that you scratch your head and go 'you've still got to think for yourself!'
"When you're younger you are just a whirlwind of emotion. I try and set an example to them by keeping pretty level."
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