HEARTACHE FOR TEARFUL PLAYER
Evening Post, 23 November 2002
As football club after football club comes to the conclusion that the worship of cash is the only religion to follow, it is hard not to feel sorry for Michael Sisson, who learned this week that his contract at Mansfield Town would not be renewed.
I'm sure the tears he tried to hide when I spoke to him yesterday will be replicated by many outside his immediate family at the unfairness of it all.
"So what", you might think, "It happens all the time".
For every player who has even played in the Nationwide League, there are dozens who thought they had a chance, only to be left disappointed.
True, it is a frequent occurrence. But not when you are a player two weeks away from re-joining training after fighting your way back from a serious knee injury for the past two years.
An article about Sisson's situation has been planned for some time in these pages and rarely a fortnight goes by without one of my bosses asking 'how is it coming along?'
Truth be told, I was waiting to write about the happy ending, the return to the Stags fold - but now that seems destined not to come.
I did not need to see Sisson's face to know he was choking back the tears when I spoke to him on the telephone.
Short intakes of breath, a quiet 'I-just-don't-know' voice and the odd sniff meant it was impossible not to come to that conclusion.
It almost set me off and probably would have if we had been face-to-face rather than on the opposite ends of a phone line.
Sisson has been the forgotten man at Field Mill for the last couple of seasons, after he suffered a terrible cruciate and medial ligament injury in a goalless draw at Exeter City in September 2000.
Next week, I will have been covering the Stags for the Evening Post for two years.
And, despite more 'hellos' down at the ground than I dare to remember, I have never seen him play.
But, following the injury that could have easily ended his chances of walking properly, let alone earning a living playing sport, he has fought back to the verge of a return to training.
And, after completing 26 miles of his marathon recovery, he has had his hopes of once again pulling on an amber shirt, dashed in the last 385 yards.
It is the fact that he is so close to the finishing line that most grates with the midfielder, who will be 24 on Sunday.
"They have kept me on for two years and two months but it is for financial reasons that they cannot keep me any longer," he said.
Sisson, who started training at Field Mill when he was 12, was given a month-to-month deal at the end of last season to give him the opportunity to complete his recovery.
He will continue to work with club physiotherapist Barry Statham until he is fit but the goal of playing in the first-team again at his home-town club will no longer be there.
He will be left to his own devices.
"I am only two weeks away from training and they said they would give me until the end of November," he said.
"I have done all this hard work to get back to this stage.
"That is what is really hard to take because I am so close.
"It was always in the back of my mind that it might happen but it has been a real bombshell now that it has."
When his manager Stuart Watkiss, who said he was "devastated" to learn he would be unable to keep the player on the payroll, informed Sisson, it was the player's worst nightmare.
He said: "He sat me down and said that it was a financial decision that they wouldn't be renewing my contract. It was horrible."
But having come so far, he is determined not to waste all the work he has put in.
"Barry is still trying to get me fit and I have already started running," he said.
"I'm then looking to build my muscles up and work on my general fitness but I am not going to give in. I have got to keep going.
"If I can get back and play a few games and prove that I can still play, maybe someone will give me a chance.
"My family are obviously as upset as I am but I am more determined than ever now.
"Hopefully, I will make it, if not with Mansfield Town, then with someone else."
This decision marks not only the end of his Mansfield career but the end of a significant period of his life, after so long around the place.
"I have been at the club for 11 years and all I have wanted to do for the last two years is to get back on the pitch. It is just so frustrating that this has happened now," he said.
"I was told it was for financial reasons but I know I am nowhere near being one of the top-earners at the club, but the decision has been made and I have just got to accept it.
"I just want to thank Barry for all the hard work he has put in and I want to wish the lads all the best for the rest of the season.
"I have got lots of friends at Field Mill and I'm going to miss them a lot."
Everyone at Mansfield Town will wish him the best of luck.
And, while every football fan tends to be wary of an ex-player coming back to haunt their team, I'm sure any Stags supporter would welcome the sight of Sisson playing football at Field Mill, in whatever colours.
His would certainly be one visitor's goal I would openly applaud and you have to hope the rest of his career is blessed with the sort of luck he has failed to enjoy for the past couple of years.
Football's a hard business and, at times like this, it seems a pretty unjust one as well.
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