When doctors advised Calum Elliot he might need a knee replacement before the age of 30, he knew the game was up.
The demands of professional football have destroyed his right knee. It has barely any meniscus tendon, plus damaged cruciate ligament and muscle tears. Elliot knew retirement was his only option.
The former Hearts and Raith Rovers striker spoke today about the difficult decision of ending his footballing career at the tragically young age of 28. Although retiring was the obvious option, he remains rightly frustrated that persistent injuries have forced him out of the game he loves.
Four operations on the right knee – two of them this year – have taken their toll. Medical specialists didn’t tell Elliot he had to retire. News that a knee replacement was the next option made the player’s mind up. Surgery in February this year followed by another operation last month were intended to ready him for the new season. Instead, he has opted not to continue with his career.
Elliot explained to the Evening News that struggling to walk properly has been a problem he has endured for years. The prospect of having children and not being able to play with them was too much, though. All in all, he felt he was left with little alternative other than to stop playing football.
“I got an operation on my knee in February and got back playing within three to four weeks,” he said. “I was back in the Raith team for the game against Hearts at Tynecastle [in April]. The following week, I played against Livingston and got a bad tackle which damaged my knee. I needed another operation and the doctors had to figure out how and when they’d do it.
“I was still positive about playing. I made the decision to stop after listening to what they had to say, and the possible consequences of playing on. The only option left if I wanted to continue playing would be a knee replacement and, at 28-years-old, that’s far too young. I just felt it was the right decision to make for myself and my family. When I’m older, if I’m lucky enough to have kids, I’d like to be able to play with them.
“I’ve not been able to walk properly for years, throughout my career. I’ve been unfortunate because the knee problems I’ve had have stopped me walking. I don’t really have much meniscus left, recently I’ve had the tear on the inside of my knee and my cruciate has gone as well. This was really just a wake-up call. I’ve realised there’s more to life than trying to get yourself fit for a football game and the consequences that could come with it.”
Much like he did on the field, Elliot confronted the situation head-on. He didn’t want to wait around and try to convince himself he could continue. He may well have been able to, but the future ramifications weren’t worth the hassle. After 11 years as a professional with Hearts, Motherwell, Livingston, Dundee, Zalgiris Vilnius, Alloa Athletic and Raith Rovers, he decided it was time to retire.
“I had to be a man about the situation and take the challenge head on rather than waiting to see or think about how I could come back,” he continued. “It would’ve been a case of me possibly suffering later on. It was tough but it was actually a fairly easy decision to take.”
Deciding what comes next isn’t so straightforward. Elliot has yet to decide what his new career path will be but, as ever, will confront the challenge with typical fervour and desire. Professional football has been his life and the fact he could soon be working in a totally different industry takes some getting used to.
“All I’ve ever done since I left school was be a professional footballer. I’m actually looking forward to the challenge of starting a new job or a new career path. At the moment, I’ve only just reached this decision so I’ve not had much time to think about what’s next. I’ll see what comes up in the next month or two and take it from there.”