Ex-Sheffield United, Leeds and Portsmouth man Michael Doyle: My career was at risk if I played on through serious injury - but I ignored it, I wanted promotion

Michael Doyle’s determination to lead Pompey to promotion drove him to defy medical advice and risk his football career ending through injury.

Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 12:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th December 2021, 2:12 pm

During the Irishman’s maiden Fratton Park campaign, he fractured a shin and sustained medial knee ligament damage, all to his left leg, at Northampton in December 2015.

Regardless, the Blues skipper insisted on playing on through three months he should have spent on the sidelines – never missing a league game.

In the 2020 book Played Up Pompey Three, Doyle admitted both Paul Cook and Pompey physio Sean Duggan were against his remarkable comeback.

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Yet the combative midfielder refused to let injury deny him the chance of captaining the Blues to promotion.

‘I wasn’t missing three months of Pompey’s season, no chance.

‘Had I been younger, perhaps that wouldn’t have been the case, but, at that stage of my career, and the type of character I am, there was no talking to me. That was it, my mind was made up, I’ll be carrying on.

Former Pompey captain Michael Doyle was advised not to play through injury in the 2015-16 season - or risk ending his career. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘Pompey’s physio, Sean Duggan, argued I shouldn’t play, he was adamant the injury could escalate without rest. There was a genuine danger any setback could necessitate a major operation which may finish my playing days.

‘To make matters worse, in addition to my fractured left shin, there was also slight medial ligament damage to my knee.

‘I don’t know if I possess a high pain threshold, but when you’re driven, you want to play through anything.

‘It was my first Fratton Park season, we were fourth in League Two and I was the skipper. Faced with three months on the sidelines, my overriding concern was failing to earn promotion - and I subsequently didn’t miss a single league game through injury for the remainder of the campaign.

The iconic Michael Doyle photograph following Pompey's League Two title success. Picture: David Cherriman

‘The problem occurred at Northampton Town in December 2015, on a pitch which was lovely, but really slippery.

‘During the first half, the ball went over my head, I turned to chase it with Marc Richards, only for my left leg to jar in the turf.

‘I had never felt pain like it. In those initial 30 seconds I thought I’d broken my leg, while our physio feared cruciate damage. Still, I saw out the match, which finished in a 2-1 victory, through goals from Gaz Evans and Conor Chaplin.

‘A scan afterwards showed I had fractured my shin. I was instructed to have a week at home, before starting my rehabilitation lightly, with a scheduled absence of three months.

‘Let’s just say I had a bit of a disagreement over the phone after being told that advice!

‘After not training for a couple of days, on Christmas Eve I saw the gaffer, Paul Cook, and said “Listen, I’m playing. I’m telling you, I’m fit”. He replied “You’re mad, you’ve got a fracture!”.

‘Still, I trained that day to see how it went and felt great. We went into a training match and I played a few passes, and, although my knee was a bit sore, I managed to get through it all fine.

‘We were at Leyton Orient on Boxing Day, I remained in the side and, warming up beforehand, as soon as I played an inside pass, I felt my medial knee ligament as well as my shin.

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‘It must have been a slight tweak as it wasn’t too bad in the game, which we lost 3-2. A few matches later, we had Crawley Town at Fratton Park and every time I played a pass around the corner the left knee was killing me, but we managed to win comfortably 3-0.

‘Considering my injuries, the plan was now to play games but not train, instead focusing on gym work. I would be rested from our FA Cup third-round tie with Ipswich Town, giving me three weeks before our next League Two match, at home to Oxford United, so I battered the legs in the gym every day.

‘Then there were the strong painkillers to get me through matches, taking eight with my Friday night dinner and two or three on the Saturday morning before the game.

‘After a couple of months, I was fine, training most days. It wouldn't stop me.’

Pompey won the League Two title the following season, claiming it on a dramatic final day at Fratton Park in May 2017.

It would prove to be Doyle’s last match in Pompey colours before rejoining former club Coventry later that month.

He added: ‘There’s a photograph of me standing in Fratton Park’s South stand looking at celebrating supporters gathered on the pitch below on the day we clinched the League Two title.

‘When I finish playing, that’s definitely going on a wall in my house. It reflects the culmination of two years of battling ups and downs, the pressure, the fear of promotion failure a few months before, and now the relief.

‘It’s an amazing picture, capturing a fantastic time at a wonderful football club.’

Michael Doyle made 96 appearances and scored three goals for Pompey from July 2015 until May 2017.

Played Up Pompey Three is available from Waterstone’s, Pompey’s club shop and Amazon.

Played Up Pompey (paperback) and Pompey: The Island City With A Football Club For A Heart are also on sale from the above.

Alternatively, contact [email protected] for copies autographed by those featured in the books, including the signatures of Michael Doyle, Benjani, Alan Knight, Guy Whittingham, Martin Kuhl, Sammy Igoe, Dave Munks, Sean Raggett and Lee Brown.

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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