Paul Mortimer meets... 'Next 20' Ambassador Jack Butland - Part One
As part of a new feature series, Paul Mortimer, Kick It Out’s Professional Players Engagement Manager, has travelled across the country to speak to a variety of current and former professionals about the issues most important to them in the modern game.
Paul’s first visit was to the Potteries, where he met Jack Butland, Stoke City goalkeeper, England international and one of Kick It Out’s valued ‘Next 20’ Ambassadors who help spread the organisation’s messages of equality and inclusion.
In part one of two, Paul spoke to Jack about his recovery from injury and why being an ambassador for Kick It Out means so much to him.
Whilst England’s 3-2 victory over Germany at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin back in March was a memorable night for supporter and player alike, Jack’s evening was a miserable one.
Moments before Toni Kroos opened the scoring for the hosts with a long-range strike, a routine clearance saw the keeper – making just his fourth senior international appearance – damage his ankle ligaments, leaving him requiring surgery and ruling him out of Euro 2016 in the process.
Months later, Jack is yet to return to action but Stoke’s Player of the Season for 2015/16 is made of stern stuff and has remained upbeat.
“I’m still injured but in a really good place!” he said. “I had a great summer with a thorough pre-season and despite the setback, I still feel positive. I always have been about these situations and I never let them get me down because ok, I was injured but it’s the first time I have had a summer off in a couple of years and had a chance to rest mentally.”
It’s a far cry from how he felt back in March: “It’s the first major injury that I’ve had since I was 16 when I broke my wrist, so touch wood it won’t happen again because of the immediate devastation when it first happens and you feel like the world is coming down.”
“You don’t quite know how to deal with it, but it’s about how quickly you can wake up and switch back to being positive. You get those little setbacks every now and again and it can be a tough place but fortunately I have had really good treatment and support from family, friends, the club and fans.”
Whilst Jack’s physical rehabilitation programme was extremely demanding, he explained why the mental barriers were the toughest challenges to overcome.
“I was in my own little world for three or four weeks before the lads even came back in for pre-season,” he reflected. “You do a lot of work by yourself, but I like it – it’s focused. I knew everything was strong and physically I couldn’t have been any better. It was just getting over that mental hurdle which others go through with tough leg breaks, ligament damages and ACLs.”
“There were times where you would get up and feel achy but there were times where you would feel nothing. It would set the tone for the day as you would be coming into training thinking – ‘that was sore this morning’.”
He continued: “Those are the hardest days, where you have to admit to yourself that it isn’t quite right and you’re not ready to go at the same level again. You have a session at a high intensity and you think you can maintain that level but you have the little dips and setbacks during your rehab.
“Fortunately, if you have good staff around you then you can get back. Some players are different depending on their make-up and mentality; some can bounce back up but it can be a lonely and tough place.”
There may not be many players who could stay so resilient following a long-term injury, but it’s no surprise that Jack takes the challenge head on; his attitude to tackling discrimination is equally robust.
Shifting his attention to non-footballing matters, Jack gave an insight into his experience of representing Kick It Out as a ‘Next 20’ Ambassador: “I enjoy it! It is always a tough subject, not personally for me, but it is a subject that some people don’t like to talk about. When you talk about any form of discrimination, people can get funny as if you aren’t meant to discuss it, or as if they might be afraid.
“But since I have been playing and my profile has grown, I have always realised there is more to football than kicking a ball around. You have not just responsibilities but the opportunity to change people’s perceptions, whether it be with Kick It Out, charities or raising money elsewhere.”
Jack is clearly passionate about using his status as a role model to make a difference.
“You have a lot of power as a football player off the pitch and I think it would be wrong to not use that so I enjoy getting involved,” he asserted. “Kick It Out certainly is a massive part of the game in tackling discrimination and all the subjects we speak about. If you can get more people talking about it, having a positive influence and getting them to speak about it, then we will crack down on some of the issues that the game has.”