Jodi Jones used to promise himself there would be moments like this. When it seemed like he might be losing the fight to get back, he closed his eyes and imagined.
So standing on the touchline on a big international night at Wembley Stadium, about to come on for Malta against England, he let the butterflies lift off and savoured the flutter.
Up in the stands were 25 of his friends and family, including great-grandmother Irene, 90 years-old and watching him for the first time since his agonising sequence of three cruciate ligament injuries.
The first was in the left knee at Stevenage when he was flying at Coventry and closing in on a move to Leeds. The second, a repeat in training and the third in the right knee.
He did not make a single appearance for 572 days between an FA Cup tie in January 2020 and his return for Coventry in August 2021.
Jodi Jones (left) played against England on Friday for Malta having promised himself he would get to experience the kind of moments
The 26-year-old has suffered three cruciate ligament injuries in his career but is over the issues
Jones said he ‘knew there would be days like this to cherish’ after coming on as a substitute in the 59th minute at Wembley
Mail Sport’s Matt Barlow outlines the comeback of Jones following a series of horrific injuries
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Once back, Jones needed time to rebuild his strength and confidence and to learn a new position at Notts County, transformed from winger to wing-back by manager Luke Williams.
He is now in the form of his life. Nobody in the top four divisions of English football has more assists than his eight and his cameo off the bench in the 59th minute at Wembley on Friday earned him top rating from fans voting on the BBC website.
‘I knew there would be days like this to cherish,’ says Jones, who qualifies for Malta through his father and made his debut last year. ‘Days to look back on and say, “I’m so happy I didn’t give up”, especially once my dad told me he was bringing my great nan, because it was the first time she’d been to a game since my first injury. She loved it.’
Jones is at pains to thank his extended circle of family and friends, particularly godfather Terry Adams, his agent Jordan Segal, of Evolve Talent Group, and all those at Coventry who supported him through the hard times.
‘To have given up I’d have felt like such a coward after everything they had done for me in my career,’ he says. ‘I was really down. The third time I thought it was all over. I cried at home and told my partner I’d never play again.
‘I’ve been back for nearly three years, but now is the first time I feel I’m back to my true self and it feels good.’
He admitted that there were times where he could have ‘given up’ on football, but he said he would have been a ‘coward’ to have done so
He is starring for Notts County in the form of his live, providing the most assists of anyone in the top four divisions of English football this season
It is an uplifting story of overdue success for someone who simply refused to quit and Jones is not the only player finding Meadow Lane the perfect place to revive a career. It is the regeneration game under Williams. ‘We speak about it all the time,’ says Jones, who made his debut for Dagenham and Redbridge at 17.
There is Dan Crowley, tipped for stardom when Arsenal signed him at 16 from Aston Villa, flourishing a decade later and scoring his ninth of the season in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Bradford.
There is John Bostock, wanted by Barcelona at 14, playing for Crystal Palace at 15 and Tottenham at 16 before various loan spells and moves to Canada, Belgium, France and Turkey, exuding experience in midfield.
County is proving a good place for players to revive their careers – former Arsenal man Dan Crowley (left) is also starring
Veteran avid McGoldrick, who started his career at County, is back at the club and has experienced the path first hand
There is David McGoldrick, perfectly aware of the path the others are walking. Like them, he was hailed as a teenage sensation, plunged into Notts County’s first team at 16 and then sold when Southampton offered £500,000 up front to ease a financial crisis.
McGoldrick was into his 30s before he settled into his best football and reached the Premier League with Sheffield United. Now 35, he is back at Meadow Lane with a complete understanding of his craft and setting an example for others, including the team’s goal machine Macaulay Langstaff.
Signed from Gateshead last year, Langstaff scored 42 as County won promotion from the National League and two against Bradford on Saturday took him to 13 for this season, one behind Salford’s Matt Smith, who is leading the League Two goal charts.
McGoldrick likened Langstaff to former Sheffield United goal ace Billy Sharp when we spoke recently.
It is a select group of players with unique experiences and motivation, coming together at a club on the rise again and guaranteed not to give up.
Macaulay Langstaff (pictured) has scored 13 goals this season and netted 42 times last term – McGoldrick compared him to Billy Sharp
Reds youngsters struggling
Liverpool’s Under-21 team have won only once in 15 games across five seasons in the EFL Trophy (now sponsored by Bristol Street Motors) but that win, against Morecambe in September, proved enough to reach the knockout stages for the first time.
There was an assist from one of their former academy coaches, Neil Critchley, who is now in charge at Blackpool. They beat Morecambe on Wednesday to ensure Liverpool’s progress.
Charlton still making gems
Ezri Konsa’s England call-up is a timely reminder of the quality of players produced inside Charlton Athletic’s prolific academy, despite what is now 16 years outside the Premier League, often in financial strife.
Joe Gomez, Ademola Lookman, Jordan Zemura and Joe Aribo have all come through to win full international honours.
Alfie Doughty is another who has adapted swiftly to the Premier League with Luton and Mason Burstow, who scored with his first touch in senior football for Charlton against Crawley before joining Chelsea last year for a reported £1.6million, is developing on loan at Sunderland.
Ezri Konsa (right) earning a first England call-up was the latest reminder of the quality of players produced by Charlton Athletic’s academy
Konsa joined Charlton at the age of 11 and is now a Premier League regular with Aston Villa
Still at the Valley, Karoy Anderson (19) has made his international debut for Jamaica, Ashley Maynard-Brewer (20) is in Australia’s squad and Dan Kanu (18), on loan this season at Southend, is in the Sierra Leone squad.
Other graduates making progress in League One are Miles Leaburn (19), Tyreece Campbell (20), Nathan Asiimwe (18) and Lucas Ness (20), who are all in and around the first team picture.
Micah Mbick came off the bench to make his senior debut in an FA Cup replay against Cray Valley Paper Mills just seven days after turning 17 and scored inside five minutes, the sixth in a 6-1 win.
Cray Valley, meanwhile, suffered a crushing aftershock on the back of their terrific FA Cup run, beaten 5-1 at home by Hampton and Richmond in the FA Trophy on Saturday.
Addicks and Australia goalkeeper Ashley Maynard-Brewer is one of several current Charlton players involved in their international set-ups
Mousehole set up crowdfunder
Mousehole, the upwardly mobile Southern League minnows, have launched an ambitious campaign to build a new road.
It will ensure fans and opponents can reach their Cornish outpost at Trungle Parc without unleashing more traffic chaos on narrow country lanes, or upsetting neighbours in the nearby village of Paul, which is two miles south of Penzance.
They have launched a crowdfunder with the aim of raising £100,000 and have celebrity backing from writer and comedian Karl Pilkington, a friend of Mousehole media manager Jeff Richardson since they met as children on holiday in North Wales.
The Welsh in Scotland
Meanwhile, on the subject of competitions featuring random interlopers, Welsh champions TNS are into the last four of the Scottish Challenge Cup after beating Arbroath 4-1 at home, in Oswestry, Shropshire.
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