It’s been a whirlwind year for most of us, with a global pandemic, three lockdowns and a significant lack of live football on offer.
But for AFC Bournemouth Women’s player, Ruth Topping, it really has been a 12 months like no other.
The central midfielder not only had to temporarily up sticks from her houseboat in Poole Harbour, but as fixtures looked to be returning and training not far from resuming, her first serious injury could not have come at a worse time.
A member of the club’s elite player programme at Brockenhurst College, which is run in line with the Community Sports Trust, Topping picked up the injury while in training.
She explained more to afcb.co.uk: “Basically, I was at college and we were just doing mini matches as part of the session.
“I was going towards goal and all I had to do was pass the ball into the bottom corner, but the goalkeeper came and just wiped my legs out.
“It was more the actual impact of it that caused problems, but my muscles in my legs took most of that.
“Luckily, I had strengthened up my knee not even six months ago. Had I not done that and worked on it, I think the injury would’ve been a lot worse.
“I just remember lying there after it happened on my stomach, with my bad knee on the floor and my left leg straight, and I just could feel so much pressure in my knee. I just remember thinking “what on earth have I done here?”
“I was just in total shock.”
The 18-year-old, who has been a regular supporter on the sidelines as Steve Cuss’ side reached the Subsidiary Cup semi-finals, went on to explain how scans soon revealed the true extent of her injury.
“I was walking on it for 11 days and then, when I had the MRI, it turned out that I completely tore my MCL, which is my medial collateral ligament,” Topping explained.
“Then I had multiple fractures on my tibia, as well as bone damage and bruising.
“They don’t know how I was walking on it for 11 days because apparently I shouldn’t have been able to do that because of the pain.
“But I couldn’t really feel anything, it was just pressure as opposed to pain.”
With the country nearing the end of a third lockdown when Topping suffered her knee injury, she admitted that the effects of the pandemic made it even more difficult to get her head around.
The women had played just one league game when the season was declared null and void for a second year in a row, so when a return to action neared, a serious injury was not the most welcome.
“Every person in sport and out of sport has struggled mentally because of lockdown, but I’d always had football as a coping mechanism if I wasn’t feeling my best or if I was struggling.
“When we came back into training just before my injury, I was so excited because it was my routine and it felt like a bit of normality.
“Then, when I got this injury, it was just another barrier to stop me from playing when we were literally just getting through the pandemic.
“I struggled with it quite a bit, but I’ve got such great support from the girls at the club and they sent me some really lovely messages when it happened.
“My family have been really supportive too, so I feel like, even though I struggled, I had good people around me and I was really fortunate.”
It wasn't just her family who have been there for Topping, who has also had unwavering support from teammate, Abby Jones [pictured below], and her parents.
For the second time in a year, they provided a base for the youngster as she spent time living there during the early stages of recovery.
“As I live on a boat, it’s not as stable and I wasn’t really allowed to put unnecessary weight on my knee,” Topping continued.
“I was so lucky because Abby [Jones] and her family were so lovely and took me in.
“They did it last year too during Covid because certain washing facilities around the harbour weren’t open, so I needed somewhere to stay.
“Then, literally a year later, I was living with them again, but this time it was due to my knee!
“It was so kind of them, but also tough for me. I didn’t have my mum around because she lives in Devon and my dad did the best he could and often came to see me. He also took me to the gym, so I could train my upper body.
“Abby and her family were so supportive of me, always checking up on me, but I still struggled because it is just such a comfort having your family around. It’s just what you know.”
Topping, who hopes to be back fighting fit during the early stages of next season, concluded by admitting how the struggles of the last year, and particularly the last few months, have been so alien.
“Generally, it’s just been a little bit difficult.
“An injury like this is something that I’ve never really experienced. I’ve done little things like pull my hamstring, but I usually heal quite quickly.
“This one has been a little bit more difficult because it’s taking a long time and I’ve been hearing from doctors that, when I come back, this one might affect my knee a little bit.
“It’s all been a little bit of a shock. I’ve never really had a knee injury like this or even a serious injury.
“You never really think about it, but hopefully I’ll come out stronger.”
Thank you for your support
Bournemouth University for being our main girls and women's team sponsor, and iPRO and Vitality for supporting the womens' programme.