Fareham’s prospects for the upcoming Conference West campaign, which begins at Cardiff University on Sunday, have received a significance boost with the return of influential former Great Britain Olympian midfielder Niall Stott.
It will be twelve months ago to the day that Stott suffered a double break of his ankle and leg at Teddington – a serious injury that was to have a profound effect on Fareham’s 2019/20 season, culminating in relegation from the National South division.
The 39-year old was a member of the GB squad in the 2004 Athens Olympics and played for East Grinstead and Havant before joining Fareham three seasons ago.
Stott, who is tip toeing his way back by playing in short spells, admits he thought the injury was a career-ending one.
“In all honesty, I didn't think I would ever be back playing again. It’s the longest I have been out of hockey in my whole career. I’ve made quite a remarkable recovery. Now it’s good to be back playing again,” he reflected.
“I spent 11 weeks in a full cast and another six weeks in a moon boot. After that I was then on crutches with very light weight bearing through my foot and building the weight through my leg as time progressed.”
He explained: “I was allowed to start light training mid-July and build it up slowly and gradually. I am still not back to full training yet and that will be a few months away yet.”
Having been sidelined for almost a whole year, Stott acknowledges it will take time before he can take a full part for Fareham.
“I am nowhere near fully fit and that will take a lot longer. I am still doing rehab and prehab to get my leg as strong as possible and try to get to where I was before, but that is a long way off.
“I am just glad that I can be back on the pitch again in some capacity as that was looking unlikely at points during my injury/recovery. I will be recovering for a long time and the journey is long hard and slow.”
Amid the disappointment of relegation from National South came the green shoots of numerous talented youngsters being given valuable game time in readiness for this season.
Fareham were national finalists in England Hockey’s Under-18 Cup two seasons ago and it’s the bulk of that side that will play in Conference West this term.
Stott is looking forward to playing his part, albeit in short spells on the pitch.
“I see my role in the squad as one of experience and trying to help as much as I possibly can by using my experience and knowledge in both tactical and technical aspects of the game.
“We have a very young squad with some experienced guys in there with a slightly older head on their shoulders.
“I really hope that we can play (a full season) and get back to enjoying the sport we love.
“I think we have the making of a very good squad and we are looking to develop the players and club style of play, with a new system introduced by our new coach George Harris, which we are all getting used to.
“It is always difficult to predict how well you are going to do as there is so many variables that can happen.”
Pre-season has been encouraging, even a fairly predictable 9-1 defeat at Premier Division Beeston was not as ‘bad’ as the score-line might suggest.
Stott said: “We played some good hockey. It was a really good experience for the guys to play against a team of Beeston’s quality and a massive learning curve for the boys and the club, plus it shows the level we aspire to get to.”
The former Scottish international has expressed his thanks to Fareham for their support during this long injury period.
“I owe massive thanks to Nick Knight and his staff in the clinic as I truly don't think I would be playing hockey again if it wasn't for them.
“They helped me through the most difficult parts of my journey back to hockey. They are so knowledgeable and welcoming and would do anything to get their clients to where they were before or even better.”
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