FOR many a motivated footballer, the gap between the final game of the season, and the first day of the next, can feel like years. In Joel Grant’s case, then, that wait must feel like an eternity.
The London-born Jamaican forward penned a new deal at Home Park on Thursday, hopefully closing the door on an injury-plagued chapter that he openly described as the most difficult of his career.
“I’d say, probably, it was the worst season I’ve had in football,” said Joel, who has been participating in an intensive fitness regime in order to return to pre-season in the best possible shape. “The first time I’ve had an operation – it was a bit of a freak incident. It’s corrected now, I’ve been back for a while. I actually probably only missed out on the last game of the season by a week or so, so I’m raring to go.”
Joel’s injury, which he described as a “freak incident”, occurred on Boxing Day. Having just come off the bench at AFC Wimbledon, he ruptured his thigh. At the time, neither Joel himself or the club medical staff had realised quite how significant the injury was. The blow was doubly cruel, as Grant was arguably enjoying his best spell since arriving at Home Park in the summer of 2017.
“Initially, without knowing the extent of the damage, I tried to get back a little quicker than I should have,” reflects Joel. “Once I had the scan and realised the muscle had come off the bone, I had no choice but to do the operation.”
Joel’s spell on the sidelines has given him time to reflect – not only on his own career, but the fortunes of the club he plays for. Despite a disappointing season for all concerned at Home Park, watching from the stands left Grant in no doubt over the size and potential of Plymouth Argyle Football Club.
“It gave me a different perspective on things, especially of how big the club is,” said Joel. “I won’t forget the last day of the season, that really captured my spirit. It’s something that I wanted to be part of, and when I was on the retained list I was thinking – this is my job now, to try and get the club back to at least League One.”
“To be honest, the atmosphere when I’m on the pitch sounds very good, but when you’re in the stands you realise a bit more. On that day [the final game of the season] in particular, the team really showed what we are capable of, and the fans showed that they are capable of. Hopefully we can have that every week next season.”
By extending his deal, Grant will be spending his sixth consecutive season in the South West, having originally joined Yeovil in 2013, before moving on to Exeter. As far as he’s concerned, the Westcountry is his home – and his nearest and dearest agree.
“I’m very settled, my family is here,” said Joel. “We really like the club, disappointed with the way we ended last season, especially with not being able to be out there and help the team, but I’m very much looking forward to this season and getting the club back to where they should be.”
With a week to go until the players return for pre-season, and the Sky Bet League Two fixtures released today, attention for Joel, and the rest of the playing staff, turns to next season. The forward has already spoken with new manager Ryan Lowe.
“I spoke to the new gaffer, I’m quite pleased with what he’s had to say. He did very well last season, as a winner, and I’m sure he wants to continue that with Plymouth Argyle,” said Joel.
“It sounds exciting. I know a few players that played under him at Bury. I spoke to them, and they had nothing but good words to say. He’s attacking, which is obviously good for an attacking player. I just hope I can do my job, stay fit, and get the shirt on a match-day.”