Just Going in for Training Each Day Is a Huge Bonus

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), December 6, 2005 | Go to article overview

Just Going in for Training Each Day Is a Huge Bonus


Byline: By John Gibson

Only four short seasons ago Michael Bridges was strutting the Champions League boulevard, pitting his skills against the world's elite in the company of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer at Leeds United.

A young striker with the awareness, touch and lethal finishing of ultimate pedigree, he had been a room-mate of Michael Owen on England Under-18s and 19s tours and was destined to become a full international as sure as dawn follows darkness.

The Geordie kid who had flared to prominence at Sunderland had been signed by Leeds for pounds 4.5m and appeared to be unstoppable ( but he was to be savagely struck down by no fewer than three separate, long-term injuries.

A career bathed in sunshine suddenly went into a tail spin as, desperately searching for a chance to regularly play the game he loves, he shuffled in and out of Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland again, and Bristol City.

Still only 27 years of age, Bridges is now temporarily at Carlisle United, who have just returned to the Football League after banishment in the Conference.

It would appear to the casual observer that Bridges has hit rock bottom, a footballer who should be only approaching his prime years bitter at Lady Luck turning her back on him like a spurned lover.

Yet the man I'm faced with in a small meeting room at Brunton Park over two steaming mugs of coffee is neither bitter nor depressed.

"Sure, I could react like that but I'm actually happy ( to get up every morning and go training is a marvellous bonus," explained Michael.

"I was told after my first injury, a dislocated right ankle, that I would never play again. That was the really serious one ( a career finisher. I could have taken the insurance money and quit the game as I was advised to do.

"However, I would have regretted it every day for the rest of my life. I'd have probably spent my time drinking to drown my sorrows. But I didn't, I battled on, and I'm a stronger person for it. I've had some terrible days, some real lows, but I've never stopped believing.

"What I do feel is that I was cheated out of three years of football. That hurts and I can never get those years back."

However, bearing in mind the standard Bridges had achieved so early in his career and where he is today, playing in Division Two, surely he accepts that his injuries have taken a mighty toll beyond the three years of inactivity? "No, not really," he insisted. "Yeah, I've probably lost a bit of pace ( but then Teddy Sheringham isn't the quickest and he's still playing in the Premiership.

"What you don't lose is your touch and your football brain. And as long as you don't carry fear of being injured again in tackles, which I don't, then you have a real chance given that I'm only 27.

"The difficulty has been that I haven't played enough back-to-back games to re-establish myself. I haven't played regularly, I've usually been a sub coming on at Newcastle and Sunderland, or had nothing more but that a few games on the bounce. That's no use to me, which is why I've come here to Carlisle rather than just sit around at Bristol City picking up my money. I can't afford any more wasted time.

"I still believe in my ability. I've played in the Premiership and I want to go back there. I know I can if someone has the faith in me to give me a genuine chance."

Lest anyone doesn't realise Bridges' standing before he was cut down and told to quit football, he smiles and recalls the reaction to him joining Leeds from Sunderland in 1999.

"A glossy mag did a huge article with photos predicting the England team that would play in the 2006 World Cup finals," smiled Michael. "They were all there ( Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and David Beckham. Up front were Michael Owen and myself and amongst the subs were three of my new team-mates at Leeds Jonathan Woodgate, Lee Bowyer and Alan Smith. …

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