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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Bored and not sleeping, Chris Chantler is desperate to return for Carlisle Utd

The dark smudges beneath Chris Chantler’s eyes are not tricks of the light in Carlisle United’s boardroom. The left-back does not look like he is operating at full power and he is quick to explain why.

Chris Chantler photo
Chris Chantler

At home, largely immobile until his left ankle heals a little more, Chantler is learning some of the unexpected hardships of being injured. Insomnia being one.

“One of the problems I’m having is sleeping,” he says. “Because I’m doing nothing during the day, I’m not expending any energy, so at night I can’t sleep.

“I’ll end up watching the TV at two in the morning. I’m a fan of basketball and that’s on at that time, so I’ll watch that, and then play it on the PlayStation. But then I’ll get bored, bored out of my head.

“Basically I’m sitting there with the Sky remote, and the stereo remote, just doing nothing.” He kills a chuckle. “I’ve just got to find a way of dealing with it, I guess.”

With his season over and his ankle recently operated on, these early days of recovery require the 22-year-old to sit on his sofa with his feet up: the sort of luxury most working people crave but which is proving hellish for an energetic young footballer who has become such a familiar part of the Blues.

With a new one-year contract to comfort him during these hollow days, Chantler is not without his upbeat thoughts. But this still goes down as the most challenging time of his short career.

“It’s got me down a few times in the last couple of weeks,” he admits. “Saturday afternoons, not so much, because I’ll watch Soccer Saturday and it’s quite funny seeing Jeff Stelling’s perspective on stuff. It’s more during the week when I’m not doing anything.

“Certainly in the first two weeks [after surgery] the pain was terrible. I was taking painkillers but it wasn’t helping a great deal. My family have been coming round but I’ve not been the greatest of people to be around – a bit grumpy, not able to do anything.

“I can’t go to the gym, can’t go out, and it’s killed me, because I’m a very active person. I like to be out and about. I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.

“ I’m getting my mates to come around, just so I can interact with people, break the day up, basically.

“Hopefully in another week or so I’ll be able to do more and things will be a bit more positive.”

All this pours out on the day Chantler interrupts his period of nothingness by heading up to Brunton Park, to finalise his new deal. The contract that will take the former Manchester City trainee into a second pre-season at Carlisle has been gratefully clutched. Content, he insists, with a single year rather than anything longer, there is now a clear target which he can aim at over the long weeks (four months is the estimate) until he is ready for action again.

In the circumstances, it seems darkly appropriate that it was United’s desperation to stop conceding goals in this troubled season that led Chantler to his injury and then the operating table.

He describes the moment that would end his campaign as a rather innocuous one, but it still sums up how hard things had got for the Blues in the thick of winter.

“It was in the 88th minute against Hartlepool [on Boxing Day], I think it was a set-piece which went out to the edge of the box, and I did a silly challenge,” he says. “But because we hadn’t kept a clean-sheet in ages, I obviously wanted to do it. I shouldn’t have done it, but I jumped out, and Toddy [Josh Todd] went to block the ball, and I landed on his foot and rolled my own foot. If I’d landed on the floor I would have been fine. But my ankle absolutely ballooned.”

After that much-needed 3-0 victory, Chantler then played through the pain against Bury three days later and at Crewe on New Year’s Day. After missing the following defeat at Swindon he returned to face Coventry on January 13 but then rolled the same ankle in training two days later.

With two early scans failing to reveal the full extent of the damage, Greg Abbott’s hope had been that Chantler could battle through the worst of it – playing one week, being rested the next – and eventually come out smiling. An aborted training session before the visit of Scunthorpe put paid to that idea.

“I couldn’t kick a ball,” he says, “but it was still just pain, and I’m ok with that. The real problem was the week after, when the team was at Tranmere and I was in Manchester shopping. After half-an-hour of walking, I was in agony. It had swollen up again.

“I rang Dolly [physio Neil Dalton] and straight away he said we would have to see a surgeon. I thought he was just going to inject to settle my ankle down but he looked at another scan, then at my ankle, and said, ‘No, that’s not right’.”

In Chantler duly went for the operation which suspended him on 31 appearances for 2012/13, forced to watch as Abbott’s team completes their fixtures without him, left to reflect on a few challenging months in United’s embattled back four, where he was parked since the second league game of the season after unseating Alessio Bugno.

That move aborted a pre-season project which appeared to have Chantler as a central midfield pass-master in the making. There is nothing to say that scheme won’t be relaunched next season but for the moment his main memories are drawn from life in the most battle-scarred part of Carlisle’s team.

“For the team it’s been quite a strange season,” Chantler says. “Obviously we had some results earlier in the season here [at Brunton Park] that weren’t good enough – Notts County, Bournemouth, Leyton Orient. But then we’ve had some good away results and over December we started picking it up a bit, and looking better as a team.

“Personally, it was a disappointment not to start the season, but I got in and then held my position until my injury, which was a positive.

“I’m quite happy with how my personal form was.

“I was loving playing; I always do. That’s why this injury has hit me. Maybe I did wrong by playing with it, but we all thought it was healing. I don’t know. It’s probably something I’ll have to learn from.”

Ask some Blues supporters and they will persist in telling you that Chantler is still a midfielder in waiting, that his quick feet and awareness are wasted on the edge of the defence. Abbott appeared to agree with this last summer until he found he needed his feistiness and tackling even more.

Where does the player himself see his future, on the field? “To be honest, I thought when we came back for pre-season that I might be in at left-back again. Then the gaffer played me as a holding midfielder and that was fine, I can play there, not a problem.

“But after not starting the season, I just wanted to get back in anywhere I could. And I’m comfortable at left-back. I’ve probably played there more than anywhere else in the last four or five years.

“I think I could still do [the midfield role]. If I had a run of games there I don’t think it would be a problem. But left-back is an easier position to come in, because basically you are one-on-one, and when you get the ball everything is in front of you.”

It’s easy to imagine Chantler clinging to those last six words as he targets the distant summer day when he gets his boots back on. When asked to describe his goals now he could not set them out more clearly.

He says: “I just want to come back fit, start pre-season well, get my place again, remind people what I can do, try and play as many games as I can, and hope the team has a successful year.”

And no more sleepless nights, he hardly needs to add.

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