When Coventry City star Jodi Jones suffered a third cruciate knee ligament rupture in less than three years it was a devastating blow to a career of rich potential.
The 23-year-old Sky Blues favourite has been forced to do a lot of growing up in a short space of time, experiencing heartbreak that young people shouldn’t have to when they have the world seemingly at their feet.
But he refused to feel sorry for himself at the third time of asking, inspired by a little Coventry girl he tried to support during her fight against a terminal brain tumour.
Teigan Buckley was diagnosed with a rare type called Diffuse Pontine Glioma (DIPG) at Easter and passed away earlier this month.
Jones had been raising money to help with fundraising towards the nine-year-old’s treatment as well as sending her video messages and even having the shape of a scar shaved into his hair to mirror the one she had from her last surgery.
And the exciting young forward wanted to continue to support research into the condition and Teigan’s family – embarking on a bike challenge to ride 20k on the road every day for a month.
Explaining how he got to know Teigan, Jodi said: “She went to the little school near my house and I used to see her quite a lot in the morning on her way to school, and you know when a little kid just looks at you a little bit star struck and just wants to say hello to you.
“One day I just said hello to her and she looked so happy and I ended up speaking to her a few times when I saw her, as I do with lots of kids who just want to say ‘hello,’ and I speak to them.
“My girlfriend knows her mum a little bit and I remember one day, I think it was Easter Sunday, she told me that Teigan had been diagnosed with the illness and I just thought that no little child deserves to go through that, so I immediately wanted to help, to do whatever I could really.
“I knew that if it had been one of my family or my little brother then I’d want people with a bit of a platform to try to help us, so the first thing I did was send a little video to try to encourage her.
“I think we were in lockdown when I raffled off one of my shirts, which was my favourite one from the Checkatrade Trophy final from Wembley, because as a child growing up in London and seeing Wembley all the time, it was just a dream and I always wanted to play there.
“So it was the most valuable shirt to me, and it was signed as well, and I raffled that and it made something like £5,000 to help with her treatment.”
Former Sky Blues star James Maddison, now a Premier League regular with Leicester City and England international, donated a pair of his boots as well as Dave Busst giving one of his old City shirts for raffle prizes.
“I tried to raise as much money as I could to help and Teigan went off to Switzerland to get treatment,” said Jodi. “Unfortunately it didn’t work. I think there’s a less than five per cent survival rate for that illness but we all wanted to see if a miracle could happen.
“I just wanted to help. And then I spoke to her mum and told her I was going to get the haircut to try to make her feel better, and she said it really made Teigan smile.
“I asked how she was doing and she said not too bad, and that she was at home. I told her I was ordering a Coventry kit with my name on and a pair of football boots in her size as well. I did that on the Friday and said they’d arrive on the Monday and give her something to look forward to.
Lost for words
“Then on Sunday night we found out that she had passed away.
“I was just lost for words, having been so close to someone who wasn’t my own family.”
He added: “I don’t want her legacy to end and want to try to raise more money by doing a 20k bike ride every day for 31 days, with 50 per cent going to the DIPG charity and 50 per cent to the family to help with any funeral costs or anything they are struggling with at the moment because they have spent a lot of money on her treatment and buying her presents before the sad news came. And I know they have other children so if they need help with Christmas presents and things.”
So has the young footballer’s connection with Teigan put things in perspective for him during his darker days of his injury?
“One hundred per cent,” he said. “I knew about this before I got my latest knee injury and when it happened again my family were devastated. My mum and my girlfriend were so sad, crying their eyes out.
Used all my tears up
“I was obviously gutted but I couldn’t cry. They asked me why I wasn’t crying and I used to say that I feel like I have run out of tears over the last two years. I don’t feel sorry for myself any more because there are always people who are worse off.
“For the first two years it was like going to hell and back and I used all my tears up. I looked at people like Teigan who inspired me, and even now she keeps me strong because I am healthy, and so are my family. I have got this injury problem but it’s so minor compared to things like that.”
Articulate and confident, Jones has grown up a lot since joining the Sky Blues as a shy, fresh-faced teenager billed as the next big thing.
“Everyone says to me that I was the most immature person throughout my school years,” he says, breaking into a chuckle. “Even doing my football scholarship, I was always messing about. But I think my injuries have helped me keep my head screwed on and mature and grow up so much more. I think if I hadn’t got injured I’d still have the childish mentality that I had.”
To suffer a re-rupture of an ACL is bad luck, but for it to happen a third time, this time to the opposite knee, is unimaginable for a player with so much talent. But that’s what happened on the training ground in September, just as he was getting back to the player he was.
“Everyone was probably thinking he’s done it three times now, it’s game over,” he said. “Not everyone, but I think a lot of people would have thought that and I don’t blame them because from the outside you would think, ‘wow, three times in such a short space of time, that’s not good at all,’ rather than, say, it happen three years later and then people might think I’d have a chance.
“When I came back from the second one I scored against Burton and Peterborough, and played well against Rangers in the pre-season games and I felt like I was finally finding my form again, and they’re the things that keep me positive.
“I have seen people come back from ACLs and they just don’t look sharp or have the pace they had. The first time I came back I wasn’t right but the second one I was as sharp as ever. Without bigging myself up the goals I scored against Peterborough and Burton showed that.”
He added: “It takes a long time to get back after this injury but when I played against Rangers I was so surprised. I thought the gaffer might give me 20 minutes but I played 45.
“I thought I would be so rusty but I played well, and did well again against Peterborough and Burton, and I finally felt like I was finding my feet. It was like, ‘Let’s go, it’s time to push on.”
Asked how his latest rupture happened, he explained: “I was just doing a small sided game in training and the physio said it was just a freak incident. It was so unlucky. I just couldn’t believe my luck. I thought, ‘why me?’
“Not that you should get anything back for giving, with all the charity work and helping people who are feeling down. If anyone ever asks for a message for their child I always do it, I eat the right food etc but you realise there are people so much worse off.
“All that happened to me is I got injured and had to have an operation, performed by one of the top surgeons, so I think of myself as being really lucky.”
Jones believes the type of surgery he had the second and third time around has given him renewed confidence to come back even stronger.
“The guy who did the second one in London is one of the best you can go to,” he said.
“I have ended up coming to terms with the fact that my genetics and way my body is shaped, and bones are structured, I was always more vulnerable to suffering this injury than other people. And that’s obvious because I have done it three times. Had I done my left knee again then I would have had a serious problem.
“People say that when you do one, you have a chance of doing the other because of all the overcompensating on the other leg. It was clear that I needed extra strength in my knees so with the left one I had an extra bit put on the side of my knee to give it extra strength. They put like a knot at the top and bottom that locks the knee so it’s stronger.
“I was back for about 15 months and my left knee was perfectly fine. But comparing it to the right one, I could feel the biggest difference ever. So now I have had my right one done the same so I now have, quite literally, better knees than a normal human would have. Me and my family joke about it, saying I have got robot knees now!”
He added: “There’s no good time to have an injury like this but I am happier that it’s happened now rather than further down the line when I was 29/30 and it forced me to retire. I have just turned 23 and when I come back I will still be 23 and I’ll be raring to go with two of the strongest knees out of everyone I know.
“I know what I am doing with the rehab, and I’m progressing quickly and getting so much stronger. And I feel when I come back I’ll have two fresh knees and nothing to worry about.”
Asked where he is in terms of his recovery, he revealed: “It’s three months since I had my operation. Time is going really quickly and in another three months I hope to be outside running on the grass, so I am progressing really well.
“It’s usually a nine month injury so hopefully in another three months, maybe March/April I’ll be out running. It just depends if I have any setbacks, but I didn’t with the previous two. I go into Ryton every day and do everything I can in the gym. It’s hard seeing all the boys because I just want to play my part and help.”
Jones has always had a close affinity with the fans, whose on-going love and support is greatly appreciated.
“I have only been at two clubs but Coventry fans have been the best,” he said.
“No disrespect to Dagenham and Redbridge fans, because they loved me so much, but Coventry fans are just the best.”
He added: “I turned my social media off when I did my last injury because I honestly thought a lot of people would say I’m finished etc.
“But a lot of my friends messaged me and told me to turn my social media back on because the messages I was getting were so good and they said it would make me feel so happy. So I turned it back on and saw so much positivity that it made me even more determined, and I can’t wait to come back and give those guys what they deserve. I owe the fans so much for sticking with me.”
Jones will run out of season to be able to make a comeback before the summer when his current contract comes to an end. But the player is hoping to be offered fresh terms in order to repay the faith already shown in him by the club, Mark Robins and the supporters who have stuck by him.
“I love Coventry and I want to stay at Coventry,” he said. “I feel like I owe the fans and the manager a lot. I feel I owe a lot to the club for sticking by me but at the end of the day it comes down to them and whether they want to take a chance or let me go.
“Me, I know that when I come back from this one I will be as strong as ever. I am going to have two new knees and be back to normal.
“So I hope that I do get another contract because if I do I know I will be back to the Jodi Jones that everyone knew.”
* To donate to Jodi’s charity push to raise money for brain tumour research and Teigan’s family, click on hisgofundme page here: