Adam Yates’ career was cut short in 2017, when he suffered a horrendous facial injury during a reserve team game for Port Vale.
The journey to where he is today has been no stroll in the park. A lack of direction and routine, no identity or purpose. These are the challenges in which he and many others are faced with when ‘hanging the boots up’. But what makes things particularly difficult, is when the decision is made by a doctor rather than the player. A degree of rancour can surface, and dark clouds often loom.
But today, Adam speaks with positivity and pride, having moved on with his life and into a role in which he is giving back to the same community that once sung his name.
This is his journey………….
It was late November 2017. The air was crisp, the ground damp, whilst a chilling wind swept across The Bycars training ground. A dreary scene was set for Port Vale’s reserve team clash with Morecambe, almost as if it was mood-setting for the event to follow. It should have been just another game, but sadly for Adam Yates, it was his last.
He had not long returned from a one-month loan spell at Macclesfield Town, then managed by current Vale boss John Askey.
On his return to The Valiants, he found himself out of Neil Aspin’s plans. The second string fixture provided an opportunity to change that, and perhaps worm his way back into contention for the right back spot that he had nailed down since his arrival in 2009.
Up until that morning, Yates had clocked up 248 appearances in a Vale shirt and was determined to reach the 250 mark before the end of the season. However, a heavy collision with his own goalkeeper, Sam Hornby, would not only make that unachievable, but it ended his football career and instantly changed the course of his life. The moments that followed remain a blur, but through the haze are memories that have stuck with Yates to this day.
“I can’t remember the specifics of the game but when it happened I think I knelt down and put my fingers into the cuts. After that, I recall being in the physio room and there was blood gushing everywhere” he explained.
“I was rushed over to the hospital, and when I arrived the nurses and doctors assumed I’d been involved in a car crash. Luckily for me, Pete Grimes, the club doctor,was working there, covering for somebody. He is a facial specialist so I was very lucky to be in his company. He got me all the scans immediately, stitched my wounds up, and informed me of the extent of my injuries.
“My next memory is waking up the following day, and not wanting to look in the mirror.”
The defender was left with a fractured nose, cheek bones and eye sockets as well as a broken upper jaw, wrist and thumb. The significance of the injuries were, and remain, staggering.
“The injuries that I suffered weren’t just career-ending, they were life-changing” he said. “My eye was the significant one. It had dropped five millimetres and went back a few millimetres, causing me to have permanent double vision. That was the injury that stopped me from ever playing again.
“I think the moment it all hit me was when my mum came in to visit me, and seeing her reaction said it all. I thought to myself ‘this is it, I’m done’.
“I felt like the doctor, Pete Grimes was letting me down slowly. I could sense that he was letting me know indirectly that my time was up. He said in all his years he’d never seen anything like it before, that amount of damage on any sportsperson or athlete.
“It was around a month or so after the initial injury, he told me he wanted to sit down and have a chat. That was the day that I found out. He said that because of the damage to my eye, I was no longer fit to be a professional athlete anymore and he couldn’t give me the go ahead to continue.
“I expected it, but it was still upsetting to hear because football was my entire life.”
It was a devastating climax for such a staunch servant to Port Vale Football Club, the highlight being his 32 appearances during the club’s unforgettable 2012/13 League Two promotion campaign.
If you were to ask supporters to reminisce about Yates that year, they would no doubt voice their appreciation for his industrious displays, and how he would tirelessly motor up and down the right wing crossing balls into the box for Tom Pope and Lee Hughes.
The manner in which all of that was taken away underpins the fragility of a footballer’s career. The instability and uncertainty that surrounds the profession. One day smiling contentedly, the next as low as can be. Wrong place, wrong time and it’s all gone. But where does somebody that has devoted their entire life to a sport go from there?
Understandably, the months that followed were painful. There were operations and hours of rehabilitation, but it was also the mental anguish that Yates had to overcome. Letting go of the only thing that he had ever known. For many, this is enough to initiate a spiral into depression, gambling or alcoholism. Unfortunately, something that we so often see. But instead of looking at the negatives and speaking acrimoniously about what had happened, he decided to look back with pride at everything that he had accomplished.
“As a child, if you’d have offered me the career that I had, then I would have 100% taken it” he said.
“Of course it had been taken away from me, almost overnight, and it was tough to take. But I was never bitter about the way it happened.
“I would always try to think back to the days when I was playing Ladsandads, I could never have argued with it. I was just grateful for the career that I had.
“I admit that I found it really difficult to watch football, and was reluctant to go back to Vale to watch any games. It is only recently that I have started to do that again, and feel comfortable with it. There are still occasions I walk down the tunnel and think ‘wow I miss this”.
“A question that people often ask me now is, ‘the mental impact of that injury must have been terrible?’
“But for me, the cruciate injury that I had the previous year was much tougher. At least with my eye, I knew it was done and I could wrap my head around things.”
With confirmation from the medical professionals that retirement was inescapable, Yates decided to focus his efforts on his next profession. People often say that football will be your secondary career, and the next will be your primary, and it’s true.
But it’s often difficult to see that when you are in ‘the bubble’. For Yates though, he had been proactive in thinking and planning for his next step. He had taken an interest in media after graduating from Staffordshire University with a Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting degree, but it was current Port Vale owner Carol Shanahan that guided Yates down a new path.
“I’d met Carol at a few business and sports events prior to her involvement with Port Vale” Yates said. “She had reached out to my mum when the injury happened and asked if I’d be interested in meeting up.
“We sat down and had a really productive conversation about what I wanted to do and the route that I wanted to go down, and at that point I didn’t really know what I wanted.
“She went on to offer me a job at her company. It was an amazing deal, she really looked after me”.
As we speak today, the 36 year old is community business manager at Synectics Solutions, as well as head of community liaison at Port Vale Football Club. His role is to deliver projects to the local community, predominantly targeting disadvantaged families and individuals within the Stoke-On-Trent region. He reserved special praise for the understanding that Carol showed in those early days, especially for someone faced with the daunting task of entering a whole new world
“Fortunately Carol saw something in me, and recognised the attributes that I possess and felt that I was a good fit.
“She is someone that accepted my background, and understood that all I had ever done was football orientated. So she realised that I would make mistakes, and that I was entering a workplace that I had never stepped foot in before.
“I didn’t know anything about simple things like using a key fob to swipe in, or going up to HR to book a holiday, or even taking a lunch break. It was all new to me.
“The support I received ultimately made the transitional period pretty seamless for me, as everything seemed to fall into place. I was perhaps lucky to have somebody like Carol, who was prepared to nurse me through the first 18 months of the role. Not many people get that, so I am grateful for what she did at the beginning.
“Thankfully things have gone well so far, and I like to think that I have repaid the faith that she has shown in me”.
It has been a sad, gruelling but uplifting ride for Adam Yates over the past two years. A journey that has opened up doors that would never have been opened.
The work he is doing in the community alongside Carol Shanahan must be applauded. For Yates to bounce back from the lows of having his dreams shattered speaks volumes about the type of character that he is. Dogged and resilient, two traits that he had once brought to the Port Vale changing room. But most importantly, he has found happiness. A happiness that once may have felt so distant, but the kind of happiness that would never have been discovered had he dodged the goalkeeper on that blustery day in Burslem.
* Former Port Vale defender Joe Davis is taking a Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting degree at Staffordshire University.
The 26 year old came through the youth system at Vale Park and played 52 games for the club, as well as playing first-team football for Luton, Fleetwood, York and Nantwich Town.