Former St Mirren and Aberdeen midfielder Greg Tansey has suffered two years of injury hell after what should have been a routine operation. Now, as he told the Totally Scottish Football Show this week, he’s back and ready to return…
Like plenty of footballers around this time of year, Greg Tansey is looking for a new club. But the circumstances surrounding him being a free agent are a little different to most.
Tansey left St Mirren earlier this month after what can only be described as two years of injury hell, which all started in innocuous fashion, but has led to what should have been the prime of his career wrecked.
In 2017 Tansey had just signed for Aberdeen after a few years at Inverness, which included their 2015 Scottish Cup win. Things started well, playing in a few Europa League games, and the Dons flew out of the blocks in domestic football. But against Motherwell in September Tansey felt a small problem in his groin, which turned out to be a hernia, meaning he had to have what is theoretically quite minor surgery.
“It’s a routine operation, you’re normally out for three to four weeks max,” Tansey told the latest edition of the Totally Scottish Football Show, explaining that roughly a third of footballers will have it at some point in their careers. “But they didn’t do a very good job, put it that way, and gradually it got worse.”
He came back, but could only manage three starts in November, in two of which he didn’t make it into the second-half.
“Around December time I was given a steroid injections in my pelvis, because they thought I had osteitis pubis [a muscle inflammation] and basically that didn’t work – it made it worse if anything. I went on loan to Ross County just to try and maybe have a fresh set of eyes on it and hopefully get playing at some some stage that season.
“Ross County were absolutely fantastic, I can’t thank them enough. The physio there [Kevin Bain] saw a few alarming things in the groin area, sent me away to Professor Lloyd [a groin injury specialist] down in Leicester.
“He opened me up and found that the mesh that was put in to cover the hernia was six centimetres too high in my stomach and the hernia was still there, which if you carry on playing with that, it’s going to cause you some pain. And no doubt it did. I was struggling to get out of bed at times.”
From what he thought was a routine hernia problem, some dark thoughts began to fester. “It got to a stage where I was in pain, and you start fearing the worst, feeling for lumps.”
And if that wasn’t enough, there was more to come. “When you have a lot of operations in the same place, there’s a possibility you can contract something called osteomyelitis, which I did. It’s a bone infection, and I caught it in my pelvis.”
It got to a stage where I was in pain, and you start fearing the worst, feeling for lumps.
That set him back further, but eventually he signed an 18-month contract with St Mirren in January. However, he only managed eight appearances, and in his final game against Hearts, the pain returned. “I could feel it the day before in training. But then I got out of bed the next day and thought ‘Oh no…’ The same pain was there again.”
The osteomyelitis had returned. That was his last appearance, before he and St Mirren eventually parted ways: his departure was confirmed this month, but really it was clear he wouldn’t be staying at the club from the end of last season. And all of this from a badly treated hernia, one of the most straightforward problems a footballer can have.
“It’s been hell,” Tansey said. “You just don’t know who to trust. It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth a little bit. Football is a commodity at the end of the day. You know this from day one, you know you’re bought and sold like cattle, and that’s the way it is. If you’re not good enough at a certain club, you’re out. But for this to happen and for it to be taken out of your hands…it’s felt very odd.”
Tansey’s position at St Mirren became, in his words, “untenable” after it was made clear that he would have to pay for any further operations himself. “That was what another hard one to take, to be honest. It was sort of the icing on the cake, really. Mentally, it’s been torture.”
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The mental side is something that sometimes isn’t considered in situations like this, but Tansey has received support from the PFA and encouraged anyone in a similar position to seek help as he did.
“I’d advise anyone who’s gone through something like this [to seek help]. Talk to someone on the phone. Or you can go and visit someone, just someone to talk to and just someone to bounce ideas off and just tell people how you feel. It helped me massively. The worst thing you can do is just sit there and just dwell over what’s happening.”
He’s been training on his own and feels fit again, and his agent is talking to clubs. He’s also getting married soon, and there is light at the end of what has been a hellish tunnel.
“I’m open to offers,” he said. “The reason I haven’t been into some clubs is I have waited until I felt fully fit. The surgeon who operated on me, gave me the go ahead. We’ll see where it goes. It’s certainly not the way I wanted to be but, I’m just trying to trying to make the most of a bad situation.”
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