JACK'S BACK: EXETER YOUTH PROSPECT ON HIS RETURN FROM INJURY
A cold layer of mist succumbed St James Park on a bitter Boxing day afternoon, a day removed from Christmas and the festive football was in full flow.
Newport County were the visitors that day and found themselves a goal down against Exeter City thanks to a first half strike from Lee Martin.
There was just five minutes to go and the visitors were pushing hard for an equaliser, you’re defending resolutely, the ball comes your way, you challenge for the header and on the way down land awkwardly.
And just like that your season is over.
That was the unfortunate situation for Jack Sparkes who suffered an avulsion fracture to his knee which cut short his breakthrough season for boyhood club Exeter City.
Undoubtedly a number of months on the side-lines would not only impact a footballer’s physical condition but also their mental condition, and Sparkes admits it was no different for him.
“It was tough, a lot of days in the gym when you’re looking out and seeing the squad train just wanting to be there on a matchday it’s difficult, but it’s made me stronger and I’ve learnt a lot about my body as well,” said Sparkes.
While there were some tough moments in his recovery, the City academy graduate reveals him and another first team player found something to keep them busy.
“It was long days when I was injured, I was in at half nine and leaving at three or four after double sessions, me and Jonny (Maxted) were injured at the same time, so went and played snooker quite a bit,” said Sparkes.
Fortunately, his recovery time was shortened to the end of March and it looked as though Sparkes would be back for the gruelling end of season run-in, but luck was certainly not on his side.
Sparkes said: “I was due to come back to training the week that we were told we were going to be off for a while so in a way it was frustrating but it gave me time to build some more fitness.”
Ten months down the line though and the 20-year-old is back playing consistently in the red and white of City following a lengthy absence on the treatment table.
Initially however, that wasn’t the case as Sparkes found himself playing second fiddle to summer signing Lewis Page in the opening weeks of the season, but rather than being disheartened by the decision it only motivated Sparkes to get back into the starting XI.
“I think because of the quality of player he (Lewis Page) is; it’s made me up my game as well, so I think it’s only positive that Matty’s brought him in and it will just improve both of us,” said Sparkes.
Since the last time Sparkes had a decent run of games in the team, Matt Taylor has opted to change from a back five to a back four, a decision that heavily affects the role he would play in the team.
Despite this, Sparkes feels he would be more than capable of adapting his game to play anywhere on the left-hand side of the team.
“I think I’ve proved in the last few years growing up I can play on the left wing, wing-back and left-back,” said Sparkes.
Although the versatile left-footer didn't get much game time in the League, Sparkes did get the opportunity to lead out the Grecians as captain in the EFL trophy fixture, against Swindon Town.
“It was a proud moment for me and my family, I’ve been at the club for such a long time and when I got told I was the captain it was a good feeling,” said Sparkes.
Sparkes got himself an assist on the way to helping Exeter come out 4-3 winners over Swindon, delivering a very impressive 90-minute performance.
Now in his second season playing for City in League Two, Jack will be hoping he can take his game to the next level, putting the injury problem behind him and emulating some of the paths previous Academy players have taken to reaching the very summit of English football.