In July 2015 Alex Baptiste made a move north...
However, four days after completing a move to a side who were determined to get promoted to the Premier League – an ambition they ultimately realised at the end of last season – his own ambitions turned into nightmares as 20 minutes into his first run out, a pre-season friendly against York City, he suffered a double fracture of his leg.
What could and should have been a season of triumph for the Nottinghamshire-born central defender turned into one where he was on the outside of everything and fighting to get fit.
Twelve months on and he is back in the north west and enjoying life again, something he is not taking for granted after what was a pretty hard experience, as he described when he sat down with The One And Only at Springields ahead of a game against a former club in Burton Albion.
“Things are good right now,” began the 30-year-old. “I feel like I have settled now and nothing is better than getting the results we have been getting, so I am enjoying it and hopefully that can continue.
“[The injury last year] was hard to take; especially when I had just signed for Middlesbrough. Being the first 20 minutes of my first game, it wasn’t a good year! That is football, it is just one of those things and I have worked hard to get back playing. I played at the end of last season, which was good to get some games under my belt and then I have come here and played quite a few games already. It was just one of those things that was unavoidable and you have to get on with it.
“The mental and physical recovery from the injury were both as hard as each other. Mentally it was hard, especially as the lads were doing so well and it also hurt physically. Every day; trying to walk again, you first learn how to walk and the first few days after the injury was the most pain I have ever experienced. So both things were as tough, but each day you get better and thankfully now things are better and I can just keep going.
“It was horrible to not be able to be a part of [Middlesbrough’s success]. I had just signed, so I don’t really know any of the lads yet and they didn’t know me or know what I was about and then suddenly I was off. I was there for four days and then I was off for another two months, so basically I only spent four days with the lads and then I was at back at home, because I hadn’t fully moved over to Middlesbrough. So I had to start all over again. I wasn’t part of the squad, but that wasn’t Middlesbrough’s fault, it is just the way things are. I was in long days with the physio and that’s just the way football is – it was unavoidable, they couldn’t do anything. They were well into the season and going for promotion by the time I was getting fit. Of course, I tried as hard as I could, but you are never fully part of the squad at that stage.
“But Middlesbrough were different class with me; the way they helped me with my leg and I can’t thank them enough. They were first class with my rehab.
“The loan spell at the end of last season was definitely more mental for me to be ready for this season. The first time of going into a tackle, playing again, the training week leading up to the games and that Saturday feeling; that was definitely important mentally for me. Of course it was also important physically as well, but it was more of a mental challenge to see that my leg was okay. I needed it to get up to match sharpness and I enjoyed it. It was disappointing the way that we finished; we were on a good run and we drew a few home games that we shouldn’t have and thus is fizzled out a bit too much at the end of the season, but I definitely enjoyed my time and I have good things to say about Sheffield United and the experience they gave me to play.”
The summer was a big time for the former Mansfield Town trainee; his parent club had been promoted to the top flight, but he wanted guaranteed first team football and the chance to move back to the Red Rose county was something he couldn’t resist, especially the chance to work with Simon Grayson and Steve Thompson again.
“Lancashire is definitely the place I have played the best football in my career,” he continued. “Everyone knows what happened with Blackpool, which was a good experience and at Blackburn Rovers I had a really good time as well. It has been good with those two clubs, who were different class, and then coming here, I never thought I would enjoy my football again as much as I have done after the injury.
“I am really enjoying it; the lads are spot on, the fans are fantastic and the staff I have known for a long time.
“I have just fitted in here and they know me, they know how to get the best out of me and I am really enjoying it and I think you can tell that with the performances we are putting in as a team.
“The gaffer and Tommo were the main reasons for me coming here. The gaffer rang me the day before the move and I did have other options, but I wouldn’t have signed if it wasn’t for them.
“I speak to Tommo all the time. I class him as a mate, never mind a coach; we are more friends than anything. Even away from football we speak all the time and he was ringing me the week leading up to the move and they made me feel wanted.
“Moving back up here has been really good and hopefully we can keep the performances going that we have shown of late. It is a long season and we have set high standards now and we have to keep them going.”
You can read more from Alex, as he discusses his former club Burton Albion, with whom he had a loan spell, and much more, in Saturday’s 100 page edition of The One And Only.
There are also features and interviews with Daniel Johnson, Callum Robinson, Tom Clarke, Jermaine Beckford and John Welsh, plus much, much more, on sale from Friday afternoon from the ticket office and from sellers inside and outside of the ground on matchday for just £3.