Lankester on injury pain, dark times, hopes for the future and how starting his own business helped him cope
- Credit: Archant
Jack Lankester has reached a major milestone on his journey back to the Ipswich Town first team. ANDY WARREN spoke to him.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Jack Lankester. How far away that light is, nobody really knows. But it’s there and it’s shining extremely brightly.
It’s now 15 months since the youngster’s last appearance in an Ipswich Town shirt, with a stress fracture in his back chopping him down at a time when he had broken into the first-team and was beginning to make a very real impression.
The light’s been there before, only for his hopes of a summer return to be dashed as a second fracture ultimately led to surgery. But now, after a long, hard road to recovery, he’s been given the all-clear to return to full training. “I’m in a really good place,” Lankester said. “Getting the all-clear to train with the lads again is massive for me, it’s just a shame coronavirus means that has to wait a bit. It’ll be worth it, though.
“It’s been a long, hard journey to get here. I thought it was over it in pre-season so to have to do it again, have an operation and spend another long spell out was hard because you get to the point where you think you’re done with it. In many ways it was worse.
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“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel now though and to know I can be back with the lads when we go back is great. I’m feeling good and I’m ready to go.”
The timing was cruel. Lankester had become a regular in Paul Lambert’s starting XI and his influence was increasing. The forward has always played with confidence and his self-belief was growing, helped of course by his first professional goal on New Year’s Day against Millwall.
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“I was on such a high with everything in terms of my football,” he said. “I was living the dream.
“I probably played several games with my back aching but I just kept going through it because I was starting, playing games and doing well. I didn’t want to stop.
“I had aches and pains in my back but it did come to a point where the physios stopped me and got me a scan and everything had to stop. I could have made it a lot worse so I stopped at the right time.
“It was hard, but how hard it was didn’t really kick in until a couple of months after the injury. You start to think about it more. I got down in the dumps and all my friends could see that because I wasn’t out socialising as much and I was keeping myself to myself. It does hit you hard and hits your life but, once I started getting over that things were ok.
“But when I came back for pre-season I wasn’t quite myself. I was feeling ok and I knew I had come a long way from when I suffered the first injury but I wasn’t quite feeling myself. I didn’t really think much of that though because I had been out for so long, so I just got on with it.”
A lot of positives came out of the Blues’ trip to Germany in pre-season, as Lambert’s new-look squad too shape, but it ended on a low note. Toto Nsiala and Teddy Bishop were both injured during the Interwetten Cup in Meppen and, a few days later, it was revealed Lankester had suffered a second stress fracture in his back. This time it was handled differently.
“People who have this injury the first time don’t tend to have surgery straight away and try to recover without it,” he said. “I wore a brace for a while and did everything I was told to do. There are a small percentage of people it doesn’t work with and sadly that was me.
“I did a lot of research about surgeons and consultants and the one I chose was always going to take a longer time in terms of recovery, but it would ensure I wouldn’t have any further problems later on.
“I have to say a big thank you to Matt Byard (head physio). It’s not a particularly common injury in football but Matt did a lot of research into it and how it has been dealt with in other sports as well, and he found a consultant that I’ve seen ever since the day Matt found him. My dad (Stephen) and BY (Byard) went to meet him the first time and we agreed I’d have the surgery. I had it three days later and he’s got me back to where I am now.”
Since then it’s been a slow rehab process, with the mental battle at times as tough as the physical one.
The youngster was back at Ipswich’s Playford Road training base within a week, walking around the training pitches to ensure he remained involved despite his injury, but it has been another of his passions, away from the game, which has helped him through a difficult time.
The 20-year-old has launched a clothing brand, Millennium Apparel (Lankester was born in the year 2000), with the multi-talented footballer combining his love of art and fashion. He designs his products himself and is making good progress.
“It’s something I had always planned to do and I just went for it,” he said. “It kept my mind away from the darker stuff and gave me something to focus on.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion and I took art and design at school. I still do art to this day to take myself away from everything, sketching, mainly.
“I bit the bullet and went to do it. I’ve managed it alongside my rehab every since so when I get home from football I’ve got something else to switch my mind onto.
“It’s been going well. It’s a big market so to start with it’s about getting out there and building up my profile. I’ve had help from people I’m close to and from others I’d never met or spoken to before, so it’s been really interesting.
“It’s something I’ll continue to do and I’ll try and make it as big as I can. It’s not been going a year yet but people say it takes two or more to establish.
“Skusey (Cole Skuse) has a lot of the stuff and wear it and a lot of the boys like it. I’m bringing out all-new stuff now which I’ll give to the boys to wear. They’re really supportive of me, which is great. Nobody saw it as a negative.
“Some of the older lads have children or other things which help them switch off away from football but for me it’s the art or the business.”
But now Lankester’s mind is firmly on his day job, with the forward hopeful of being involved when the Blues next take to the field – whenever that may be.
“The aim’s just to play again really and to get back to where I was before,” he said.
“I haven’t trained with them or anything for a long time and at the moment we don’t know when we will be playing games again, but it does look like we’re going to have a period of training before we do start playing matches again.
“That will be important for me and hopefully I can get through that ok. Then, when the first game comes around, hopefully I can be around it and be ready to play. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to be there.
“I’ve lost a lot of time but I need to make up for it now. That part is done with, everyone gets injured and it’s part and parcel of the game. I just happened to have mine so soon after breaking through.
“I know what I can do and, now I’m 15 months older and developing more, I’m physically stronger and I’m looking to take the positives.
“It’s just about waiting now, though.”