Joe Rafferty is ready to make his return to action this weekend against Bamber Bridge after missing the end of last season with a fractured back.
Raff was absent for the last eight games of the 2020/21 season due to the innocuous injury he picked up in March, but he’ll be hoping to play a part on Saturday afternoon when PNE play their first friendly of pre-season at the Sir Tom Finney Stadium.
Speaking to iFollow PNE about his injury, Joe said: “It was a bit of a funny one really, I ended up fracturing my back. I think it was against Luton, it was Alex Neil’s last game and someone just came in behind me.
“I happened to get it checked out and they said I had two fractures in my back, so it was quite a sore one but it’s all healed now.
“At first I just had a little bit of time off because there was not much I could have done apart from rest and let it heal on its own type of thing. As the weeks went on it was just kind of about getting up and starting again, get yourself fit.
“So I ended up having to do a little bit more over the summer because I missed the last two months, but once it healed it was fine, back to normal.”
The period Raff missed last season, unfortunately for him, was the impressive run which the team went on under Frankie McAvoy when he stepped up to the role of interim head coach.
PNE took 17 points from those eight games and, while Joe was of course disappointed to be missing out, he knew he still had a part to play behind the scenes, despite not being able to physically take part.
“It was tough because obviously Frankie came in and he got the lads going again, there was a bit of a buzz around the place,” he added.
“It was tough for me watching all the lads and then the next minute the results picked up and it was tough because I wanted to be involved, but I just tried to make myself as positive as I can be for the lads who are playing, in and around the place.
“I knew that my season was over, so the only thing I could do there was be as positive as I can and obviously help the lads as much as I can off the pitch.”
Joe will be hoping now he’s fully fit that he can get back to making an impact on the pitch instead of off it, and that may start this weekend against Bamber Bridge in front of a sell-out crowd of 1,300.
It’s the first time that supporters of the Lilywhites have had the chance to watch their team play in person since March 2020, and Joe shares the excitement of the fans ahead of their return.
He said: “I’m a fan myself and it hasn’t been the same. That’s all we want, we want the fans back in, we want a bit of atmosphere.
“Whether you’re away and you’re getting stick, or whether you’re at home and you’re getting cheered on, we need the atmosphere. We’re all young lads just playing, we love hearing the songs, so I can’t wait for them to be back in and can’t wait to get going.
“It’s good to get straight into it. I’ve seen that they sold the tickets more or less straight away so that’ll be a brilliant game, the fans will be buzzing to get back. I know it’s a small ground but sometimes smaller grounds are the best ones.”
PNE’s friendly against Bamber Bridge on Saturday is certainly not the only game this weekend which supporters will have a vested interest in, with England taking on Italy on Sunday in the final of Euro 2020.
The North End squad will already be up in Scotland for their pre-season camp by the time the game kicks off, so the English contingent in the team will be hoping to get the win, for more reasons than one.
“I’m not nervous, I’m just looking forward to it,” added Joe. “Italy have probably been my favourite team to watch apart from England in the competition.
“I’m so happy that it’s England versus Italy, I think that’ll be a brilliant game. We know they’re a really good team, but you want to see the best versus the best and the Italians have been unbelievable so far.
“I think I’ve watched every single game so I can’t wait for it to be fair, it’ll be an unbelievable game.
“Greg [Cunningham] was already putting stuff in the group chat last night trying to wind us up so hopefully we’ll win just to rub it in his face.”
Hear more from Raff in his full interview with iFollow PNE on the video above.