There is, of course, never a good time to suffer a broken leg.
But the timing of Leepaul Scroggins‘ serious break earlier this month was particularly cruel.
Less than 24 hours after he played the closing stages of the abandoned FA Vase tie with Morpeth Town on January 7, Scroggins took part in a Sunday league fixture in a bid to regain match fitness.
He had recently recovered from a lengthy lay-off through first a knee injury and then illness, and wanted to get fully up to speed again ahead of the anticipated rematch with Morpeth.
However, he was caught by a late tackle and broke both his tibia and fibula, ruling him out for what looks set to be a considerable period.
The Shields captain said: “I was just getting some fitness in, because I had only played about 45 minutes in the previous seven weeks.
“You can train as much as you want, but it’s not the same as playing.
“I just went to play the ball. A kid came from centre forward to make a tackle.
“It was a naughty tackle – he came through from the side and two-footed me. He hit me with some force.
“I knew straightaway that it was something serious. They lifted me off the pitch and an ambulance came.
“When I put my leg down, my leg moved and that’s when I knew it was broken. An X-ray confirmed my tibia and fibula were broken. I had an operation and got out of hospital on the Tuesday.”
Scroggins, now 35, rejoined Shields in the summer of 2015, having been talked out of retirement by former Mariners manager Jon King.
Many had expected the midfielder to retire at the end of the current season, but he wants to bow out on his own terms.
He added: “I initially intended to retire two summers ago, before Jon King persuaded me to help him win promotion with Shields.
“I then said I’d stay for another year with the aim of winning another promotion. It’d be excellent if I could be back by the end of the season and maybe help us do that.
“I’d like to be in a position where I can retire on my own terms rather than through something like this.
“This is not the way I want to go out. I’m going to get back to where I need to be and then see what happens.
“When I retire, it will be down to me, not because I can’t play.”
When the news broke of Scroggins‘ injury, messages flooded in from friends and opponents across the Northern League.
But one conversation which particularly struck the Shields skipper was one with Morpeth Town chairman Ken Beattie, who called him in between the two Vase ties between the sides.
Scroggins said: “The support I’ve had has been incredible.
“Ken Beattie called me, and said that although he didn’t know me personally, he thought I was a great player and lots of people he knew had spoken highly of me.
“He wished me all the best with my recovery and it was a really nice thing of him to do.
“I’ve had lots of messages and support from people in football.
“It has been quite emotional to read all of the messages but uplifting at the same time.”
Scroggins has been associated with football for as long as he can remember, but for now, it is going to take a back seat.
He said: “I’ve not had many injuries in my career.
“It’s hard work at the moment getting around the house because I’m on crutches, which is making me frustrated.
“It’s going to be a long road to get back to where I need to be.
“My priority is getting back to work so I can support my family.
“Football is a big part of my life, but it doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve got to get on with it now.”
Despite not being available for selection, Scroggins is sure to continue to have an influence at Mariners Park as Shields captain.
And he is determined to do whatever he can to help the team achieve its goals this season.
He added: “I’m still going to be part of it off the field.
“I’ve got the WhatsApp group with the lads and speak to them on a regular basis.
“I always rally round the lads and try to keep them focused.
“I think I can still be part of things in that way and I’m more than happy to do that.”
This article first appeared in The Mariner, the matchday programme of South Shields FC, for the League Cup tie with Penrith on January 17.
It is with regret that the club can confirm captain Leepaul Scroggins has suffered a serious leg break.
Leepaul is expected to miss the rest of the season after breaking his tibia and fibula.
The injury was sustained while Leepaul was attempting to regain match fitness with his Sunday league team, following a period out with a knee injury and, more recently, illness.
This is naturally a huge blow to the club and player, and we wish Leepaul a safe and speedy recovery.
South Shields take on Morpeth Town in the FA Vase on Saturday in what many have described as the tie of the fourth round.
The match sees the sides sitting second and fourth in Northern League Division One respectively go head-to-head, and will kick-off at 3pm at Mariners Park.
It is also a rematch of last season’s third round tie, which after a raft of postponements, was eventually played on neutral territory, at Consett’s Belle View.
A thrilling 3-3 draw ensued, and Shields eventually suffered an agonising 10-9 defeat on penalties before Morpeth went on to win the competition at Wembley in May.
It promises to be another entertaining clash between two of the most in-form teams in the Northern League.
Shields have won their last 10 matches in all competitions, and 18 of their last 19.
Morpeth, meanwhile, have scored 14 goals in their last two games, and have won nine of their 10 league fixtures since a 4-0 home loss to the Mariners in October.
That result can be discounted heading into Saturday’s tie, according to Shields joint manager Lee Picton.
He said: “We’ve got to draw a line under that game. I don’t think we can take much from that scoreline.
“Morpeth will certainly be coming here with a lot of motivation, and we’ve got to more than match that.
“Hopefully the quality and the support that we’ll have on the day will be some of the defining factors to help us finish on the right side of the line.
“It’s a huge game for everybody concerned and we’re looking forward to getting another big crowd behind us at Mariners Park.”
Captain Leepaul Scroggins made his first appearance in more than two months on Monday in the 2-1 Durham Challenge Cup victory over Jarrow Roofing. A knee injury kept him out for much of that time, before illness ruled him out of the Christmas period.
He said: “Saturday is a massive game.
“We played Morpeth in the league and dominated that match to get the result we wanted.
“This is a totally different game, and everyone steps up their level in the Vase, so we’re expecting a really difficult one.
“It will be a big occasion for South Shields and I’m sure there will be plenty of fans coming to the game.
“It will be tough, but it’s one we know we can come through and win if we play to our potential.
“The Vase is excellent and everyone would like a long run in the competition and a Wembley trip at the end of it. It would be great if we could do it.
“Morpeth beat us last season on penalties on their way to winning it, so it would be good to get one over on them.
“We’ll be raring to go on Saturday.”
The Mariners have an almost fully-available squad to pick from, although Louis Storey is still about a fortnight away from returning to full training as he recovers from a broken leg.
Left-back Anthony Callaghan, meanwhile, is cup-tied, having represented Washington in an earlier round of the competition.
Kick-off at Mariners Park is at 3pm, and admission prices – to be paid at the turnstiles – are £6 for adults, £4 for students and over-65s, and £2 for under-16s. As this is a cup game, season tickets, corporate and junior season passes are not valid.
Below is the front cover of the programme for the game.