By Scott Neville

I’ve had some serious injuries during my career, but the latest one is definitely the most awkward to talk about.

It happened at training five weeks ago. It was a morning session on the Gold Coast and we were doing a transition drill. As I had a shot, Jack Hingert followed through with a harmless challenge and the top of my leg kind of grazed his head. 

There was nothing in it, really, but my balls suddenly exploded with pain – like someone had taken a sledgehammer to my nuts. I tried to run it off, but there was a dull ache which wouldn’t go away.

The next day, we played a pre-season game against Capalaba, a local club here in Brisbane. I played despite still feeling a fair bit of discomfort. After the game I asked our club doctor if he could take a look, and he sent me straight to the hospital for a scan. 

It turns out I had testicular torsion, which basically means the scrotum had twisted and there was no blood flow to the tissue. I was told that I had six hours to have surgery or I would lose my right testicle. 

At first I thought it was a gee up, but I soon realised how serious it was when the doctor sent me in for emergency surgery. Luckily, it all went well and I healed quicker than expected. In my first game after surgery I had to wear a cricket box to protect my testicles. That was one of the weirder experiences I’ve had.

It’s scary to think how close I was to losing one of my balls. I got married two and a half years ago, and my wife and I are looking forward to starting a family. This injury, which seemed so minor at first, could have stopped us having kids.

To be honest, I only got it checked out in the first place because I had read about players like Dylan Tombides and Brendan Gan, who both had testicular cancer. Usually, I’d just be a macho man and try to soldier on through the pain, but after reading about their experiences I felt more comfortable asking for help.

As a professional footballer, I’ve always loved hearing from other players, because we have such a different career and lifestyle to most people. 

Last week, I listened to the PFA Players’ Journey webinar with former Arsenal defender Tony Adams, who spoke about his struggle with alcoholism. I’ve been lucky enough not to have any addiction problems, but I did resonate with Tony’s reflections on going through injuries.

He spoke about how he had no one to go to when he was injured, and how isolated he felt during those times. Every athlete has injuries throughout their career, and I know from experience how vulnerable we are when we can’t play. 

We all love playing football – it’s the best job in the world – but it’s a relatively short career. My dad played 600 games in England before we moved to Australia. He’s from the old-school of football, just like Tony Adams. When he retired as a player he had no education behind him, so he became a builder and went into coaching. I know dad wasn’t passionate about building, but that’s what he had to do to make a living.

I’m 32 now, and I’m sure I’ve got a few good years left in the game. But when it comes time for me to retire, I want to have as smooth a transition as possible. I take inspiration from guys like Chris Harold, who left football on his own terms and became a lawyer.

I started my study journey with the help of the PFA after I tore my ACL a few years ago. I’m doing a Bachelor of Business and Sports Management at ACPE (Australian College of Physical Education), and I own a cafe in Brisbane with two local guys who have nothing to do with football.

I’m back to full fitness now and ready for the season, but there are a few things that I’ve been thinking about since the injury. 

The first is how important it is to have minimum medical standards. When I started my career, we probably wouldn’t have had a doctor present at a friendly game, so I wouldn’t have got things checked straight away. In the end, having a doctor there was probably the difference between me keeping the testicle rather than losing it.

The other thing is the importance of having something else going on in life apart from football. It was good to have my study and my cafe to keep me busy while I house-bound for a week recovering from surgery.

Most importantly, the injury was a reminder that if something doesn’t feel right, just get it checked out – it doesn’t matter how awkward it is.