Rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee is an injury that strikes fear into the heart of every footballer. So imagine this happening four times in your career. Fate struck Lewis Vaughan.
“It’s inexplicable,” says the 27-year-old Raith Rovers striker. “I’m sitting here and still can’t believe it myself.”
Vaughan has just returned to action after the fourth of those ACL injuries, one that kept him out of action for 14 months. Isn’t suffering such misfortune so many times some kind of unfortunate world record?
“Craig Forsyth at Derby made three. Bradley Diack at Blackburn made two,” he said. “But I searched and I couldn’t find any footballer who came back from four ACLs and still plays at the same level. So that stands proudly with me.”
So what makes the injury so serious? What does the ACL actually do? Given his experience, Vaughan has now become something of an expert on the subject.
“It basically keeps your knee stable,” he explains. “You have a lot of ligaments in your knee, but your ACL is the main one. If it’s okay then there seems to be a lot of other structures that go along with it, just with the impact of the injury.”
Edinburgh-born Vaughan has had many ups and downs since first signing for Scottish Championship club Kirkcaldy-based Raith aged 16.
His first ACL injury kept him out of action for the better part of a year and it was, he says, the hardest to deal with.
“We were playing Albion Rovers in the League Cup at the start of the season. I had just scored a penalty. Then I went neck and neck with a midfielder and landed clumsily on my right leg.
“I was only 18 and it was my first major injury. I didn’t even know what an ACL was, so when the physio told me the bad news, I didn’t realize how much It was serious. All I knew was that my season was over.
“It was tough. It kind of opened my eyes to what you have to do to be a professional. I was so young and naive. I had never had an operation before, so going through all that was difficult.”
“You wonder why it happened again”
Vaughan finally made a comeback with the winner in a 2-1 win over Cove Rangers in the League Cup and began to rebuild his reputation. But, in 2019, the cruel hand of fate would twist the knife a second time.
“I went from my first professional hat-trick in the Fife derby in front of 6,000 fans to lying in a hospital bed a week later. It was hard to go from so high to so low in the space of seven days,” he said. .
“It was in Brechin – rain, snow, wind, the ground was soft. I remember changing direction and my left knee just gave way. I knew what it was straight away.”
Since that second rupture, Vaughan has suffered two more ACL injuries. He has now had two surgeries on his right and left knee. How did he deal with all of this mentally?
“Sometimes you wonder, ‘why did this happen again?’ Luckily the fans and the boys in the locker room stuck with me and Raith Rovers went above and beyond for me.
“Loyalty is a hard thing to find in football, but everyone who was close to me stayed by my side and continued to believe in me. It is a credit to Raith that they have stayed by my side ever since over 11 years now.”
Vaughan is now in great shape after bouncing back once again. He describes the feeling of scoring his first goal after 14 months away against Morton in the Challenge Cup in early December as “incredible” and worth it.
After all he’s been through, it seems almost unfair to ask, but does he ever consider what would happen if he were to rupture an ACL for the fifth time? It is something he has contemplated himself.
“In my head, I checked all the boxes, I didn’t crop,” he says. “In the summer, on vacation, I was in the gym every day, making sure I passed all the tests before coming back.
“So if I had to do it again, I have peace of mind because I did everything I could.”