Brother’s illness fight was Matty Blair’s inspiration for Mansfield Town comeback

editorial image

Matty Blair said his brother’s successful battle against a brain tumour helped to inspire him to come back from a serious knee injury that threatened his career.

It has been a tough year in the Blair family as, while Matty tried to return from a serious knee injury sustained at Carlisle on 31st January, older brother Ross continued to battle against the odds against his tumour.

However, this month has seen great news for both brothers as Ross was told he was winning his battle and Blair this week signed a new contract with the Stags and is expected to play again by the end of next month.

“He’s doing really well,” he said on brother Ross. “He got diagnosed with a brain tumour in February 2014. Since then he has undergone chemo and radiotherapy and two or three weeks ago he had his MRI scan and consultant meeting to say the chemotherapy is containing what’s left of the tumour which is probably the best news we could get.

“So I think he will be scanned every couple of months now to make sure that is still the case, then hopefully it stays like that and he can live a long and happy life.”

He said seeing his brother’s struggle had helped him massively with his own problems.

“I had an operation I didn’t think anything of because I did think about him having his operation and he didn’t complain once,” he said.

“He still hasn’t complained once about anything. I might have complained a couple of times, being tired, miserable and moody which is why I have to thank my girlfriend and family.

“Him not complaining once about his situation has given great strength to the whole family and all his friends around him. Not seeing him down, miserable or crying or anything like that.

“Everyone can feel sorry for themselves, he’s just gone - ‘that’s life, get on with it, I’m a healthy lad and I will beat this’. That gives inspiration to everyone around him.”

Blair admitted it had still been a major struggle for him, but he was given very good advice by his girlfriend and father who, amazingly, had both recovered from the same knee injury as him.

“The injury was shocking news at the time but the rehab so far has gone as well as I think it could have gone. It’s just this last couple of weeks or month now when hopefully I can get back in full swing,” he said.

“I’d made the move (to Mansfield), I was excited and looking forward to getting involved and helping the team. Then Carlisle away, 65th minute or something, I jumped over the slide tackle and all of a sudden the twist and the landing at the same time just popped the knee. It could have happened to anyone.

“Now I am just working hard to get it as strong as possible again.

“I heard the pop and the physio came on and my knee was in bits, but he straightened it out and on the physio bed at Carlisle it felt fine.

“I didn’t feel any pain and I thought I’ve got away with it. Never having had a serious injury before I never expected it. I had the Sunday off and I went back in on the Monday and it felt fine again. I thought - have I just tweaked something and got away with it?

“My girlfriend has actually done the same injury and she looked at it and said there was nowhere near as much swelling as what she had, so I might be all right. So there was that hope that it was just a bit of a sore one and I was being a bit of wimp.

“But I went for a scan, got the results that Monday night, and they were the worst possible.”

He added: “The hard bit was getting it into your head that, potentially, you were going to be out for nine months. I was just coming to a new club and wanted to help out and that was the difficult bit.

“That was where family comes in, where the girlfriend comes in, that’s where your friends come in. It is understanding that your life is going to change for the next four or five months as I wasn’t allowed to drive, I wasn’t allowed to run, I could barely walk.

“Once I’d had the operation it was just teaching this new ligament how to work. So it’s like being a kid again, learning how to walk.

“I realised it was important for me to rest as much as not rush back. I had advice from my dad, who’d had the same injury, and obviously from everyone else. I have had a lot of help but I’ve worked hard to get to where I am now.

“I was told by St George’s Park, where you get three weeks, that my legs need to be ‘this strength’ which they never were when I did the injury. I never did any leg weights as such. I just did body weights.

“So I am doing them now and I have got to continue to do them now for the rest of my career to keep the leg strong. Hopefully my legs will be stronger then ever which will make me a better player or better performer all round.”

Blair admitted he had become very restless in his eagerness to kick a football again.

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone – it’s that cliché saying,” he said. “At times I just wanted to have a couple of shots, kick a ball. I’ve had to keep myself quite calm about it. I know I am pretty bad at looking after myself in regards to that anyway.

“But I’ve kept myself grounded as much as I can and now we have just got this final stage, it’s important I don’t get too excited and go too far too fast.

“This is the worst time now. This last two weeks and the next couple of weeks I will be getting a little frustrated as I got involved in my first training session last Friday, I was involved in a passing drill yesterday and everything is feeling good, so I will be thinking why can’t I get involved with the five-a-side. I know I can’t because it’s all contact stuff.

“It’s just keep ticking boxes and eventually I will be out on that pitch.

“I am listening to everybody. Obviously I have got two people in my life now that have done it. I listen to the physio, I listen to the medical staff, and I listen to the gaffer as well as he has obviously got my best interests at heart.

“Everyone at the football club are saying it’s great to see you back, great to see you sign, just take it easy and make sure you’re right before you play. I also have to listen to myself as well. If I don’t feel right, don’t force it. It will just come back gradually over time.”

Blair can’t wait for the day when he pulls on the Mansfield shirt again and runs out that tunnel.

“It will be a big day for me,” he said. “It will be one of those moments in life that you don’t forget.

“Being out for, hopefully, seven months and to come back and have, even if it’s three minutes at the end to waste a bit of time for us to get a win, it would be hopefully see a decent reception for me.”

He admitted this Saturday’s trip to his former club York City would have been the perfect one for him to come back for.

“That would have been a good one,” he said. “ I am going up to the game to see some people I haven’t seen for a while and support the lads as well, obviously the main priority now is winning for Mansfield, so hopefully we will get the three points.

“I got on really well at York. I love the ground as it’s an old fashioned ground. It’s very much like the fans are on top of you.

“You have got to be on your game for the whole 90 minutes every game as they don’t let up. It’s the mental side of the game more than just the physical when you go to York as the away changing rooms aren’t the nicest and it’s a cold tunnel walking down it.

“The luxury players, as such, won’t like it as much as the hard, physical ones that are there to get you three points and that’s what we need to do on Saturday.”

Blair was the villain when he scored the winning goal for York against Mansfield in the Conference Play-off semi-final in May 2012 and admits that game has fostered a great rivalry between the clubs that has endured almost like a local derby.

“From that game, that semi-final, there will always be that little bit of rivalry,” he said. “Being quite close geographically too is always handy. It’s only about an hour and half to York so it’s not too far.

“Being in the Conference together and now being in the League together, it’s like we’re better than you, you’re better than us sort of thing. So there is that little bit of rivalry. But that’s always healthy in football. It is important that the fans have got a bit of bragging rights come the end of the weekend.”

Blair said he was delighted to sign the new deal and grateful Mansfield had taken a chance on him.

“I hadn’t made any enquiries to any other football clubs or even Mansfield at the time,” he said.

“Adam Murray sat down with me at the end of last season and said it was fitness-based and we’ll see how your progress goes.

“Nothing has changed for me as, effectively, I won’t be fit until the end of September.

“Not many football clubs would take a player that isn’t fit, especially at the end of August when there are players you probably need now to impact your team.

“So not many clubs would have taken me on, so I’d have had to take a couple of months not getting paid to then be in a position of fitness to hopefully go and find a club.

“Our gaffer here has seen an increase in fitness and everything else and is happy. So obviously Mansfield thought it was the right time now to offer a deal which we both agreed and are both happy with and we go from there.”