Fleetwood Town's game with MK Dons on Saturday with the final match for Head Physio Luke Bussey, who will leave the club after five years.
Luke caught up with David Mitchell ahead of his final match at Highbury, to reflect on his time at the club.
A chance meeting with former Fleetwood manager, Graham Alexander, at the Trafford Centre led to Luke Bussey’s arrival as Fleetwood Town’s Head Physiotherapist in 2013. The MK Dons match at Highbury marks his final game at the club as he leaves to take up a position in the NHS and awaits the arrival of his first child.
“I decided that when I started a family, I would step out of football so that I can be around for my baby.”
Luke was at Bolton Wanderers when he met up with Graham in the shopping centre but they had previously worked together at Burnley,
“I was glad of the opportunity to come to Fleetwood because it was a promotion for me. I had previously been an assistant. Living in Preston I was well-aware of Fleetwood’s progress through the leagues. It looked a project that would be interesting and working with Graham again would be a big attraction. It was definitely a good time for me to take on a job as Head Physiotherapist and it was the right environment to come into.
“The promotion from an assistant was one that I felt I was ready for but having said that it was more challenging than I expected. There are different types of pressure to deal with regarding the decisions surrounding whether a player is fit or not. You learn to become diplomatic. When you give advice and opinions about fitness you have to weigh up a lot of different aspects, not just the physical side. There is the mental side, what the team needs and what the manager needs.
“A lot of people will try and influence your decisions. The bottom line within the medical and sports science team, though, is that we base our advice on the physical facts we find on the table in front of us and we pair that up with the history of the player. We might suggest things that others won’t want to hear but we have to stick to those principles. Then we let the manager and coaches make the decision. As soon as we compromise our position you can lose a lot of respect from players.”
One of the key challenges is returning players from serious injury.
“The biggest side of physio that is underestimated is the day to day contact with a player who is, in his mind, at the worst point in his career. For our players, having or not having a contract is crucial. They are not receiving the kind of money that Premier League stars are getting. Interpreting where a player is and helping him recognise that it isn’t the end of the world is one of the biggest battles we face. We have to get them thinking positively, we need them on board and buying into our ideas that we are trying to put in place through rehab.
“We have developed strengthening and conditioning programmes and everyone within the medical team is on the same page. It is so important for a player to see that and I’m grateful to Youl Mawene, Jimmy Barrow, Tom Riley and Alan Watmough for their support. There is no doubt that I have greater quality and experience around me than when I arrived.”
After ten years in the game, what impressions will Luke take away?
“Every day is different. It is a very fluid environment. It can be both extremely positive and hard to deal with at times. Working with players at a high level was my reason for coming into the game and I’ve had that chance. I’ve had a very lucky football career with the places that I’ve worked at and the people I’ve met. I’ve been to Wembley twice with teams and we won both games.”
Luke’s first Wembley appearance was when Burnley were promoted to the Premier League through the play-offs in 2009. Five years later he was part of the backroom staff when Fleetwood defeated Burton Albion in the League Two play-off final.
“For professionals, working at an environment like Wembley is as exciting as it is for the players. The experience on the day is quite surreal and hard to appreciate because you have a job to do. It becomes increasingly special looking back. Also, to be able to share it with your family is amazing.
“Following the experience with Burnley I was given the chance to explain to the Fleetwood players what they could expect on the day and that was really nice to be able to do. Actually, I enjoyed the experience more with Fleetwood because I had been there before. I don’t remember needing to run on at any stage but when Pondy went away on a run in the dying moments, I thought that the time might come but he stayed on the pitch!”
Luke is a calm and thoughtful by nature and feels that this is important on matchday.
“As a medical department we should be in the background. You don’t always need to jump to your feet. You get to know the players and can learn to recognise real pain. Usually, the player will lie very still and not make much noise. If they are thrashing around you can give yourself a few seconds.
“When medical people rush on they can be worrying about things that don’t need to be worried about. I’ve always felt that my approach should be as a calming influence, not irrational.”
Thankfully, serious situations are rare but one such was the injury to midfielder Kyle Dempsey’s leg in the home game against Walsall in December 2016.
“Kyle Dempsey’s was a case where the player could look down and see something clearly wrong which isn’t the case with an internal injury. Kyle can put up with a lot of punishment but this one was quite alarming for him.
“The doctor helped and we were able to clean the wound very quickly which was key at that stage. Along with Kyle’s determination to put himself back on the pitch, it was a relatively quick return.”
There are some very good memories to look back on but Luke recognises that in every career there are times to change and he has reached one.
“I’m looking forward to a new challenge within a different working population. I leave happy with the level of service that we have been able to provide at Fleetwood Town. There won’t be many clubs who have a fully fit squad to pick from at this stage of the season.
“That’s something I’m very proud of and the club should be as well. I’ve learnt something new every day. You have to constantly reflect on what you are doing or you get left behind in a profession where progress is so rapid.”