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Kieran Higgs talks ACL injuries, playing with Cantwell and fighting back

Kieran Higgs has been on a journey unlike any other in football and his story is an example of grit and determination.

It was like a pang. Kieran Higgs felt the slightest contact, and then a twinge of pain in his knee. He went tumbling down to the ground in agony. His knee throbbed and the Norwich City medical team came rushing out towards him.

At first there was cause for optimism. The pain subsided. Kieran was able to stand. He hobbled off the pitch feeling frustrated, but not entirely devastated.

Even he could not fathom what would come next.

‘You see some challenges on the TV and you go oh that’s nasty, but mine was standard – I was just running and my knee overextended and locked up straight,’ Kieran remembers the memory exclusively to First Time Finish.

‘It was just a simple thing – no crazy challenges or anything.’

Injuries are a part of football. They are a nasty curse. One which can wreak havoc on any player. Worst of all they are unavoidable. No matter how hard you train or how good you are. An injury can strike you down at any moment.

They are particularly dreaded at the dawn of one’s career.

Kieran’s sentence of one year and his verdict of an ACL injury would be a damning blow in his fledgling career.

‘When I got told driving back to the club about the timeframe – I remember sitting in the changing room. I was flying at Norwich before that. It hit me so hard, all those extra hours I put in, was going to be taken away and everyone was going to catch up.’

His injury would send him on an unprecedented path and a journey of perseverance. One which is so many others have incurred. But perhaps none as unique.

Early promise

Like many others, Kieran’s dream began at grass roots level, in parks and pitches around his local area.

‘I remember my dad took me to a local team. He became a coach there and I ended up up staying there for quite a long time,’ Kieran recalls.

‘The management was very qualified and we played at quite a high level so I didn’t really think about academies.’

From a young age, Kieran stood out from the rest. His passion for the game and winning spirit gave him the hunger to get better and better.

‘I was always really competitive, at my local team I played an age group above and we won all our leagues and I just loved playing in the tournaments.’

His talent was evident. It was spotted by a plethora of clubs. But Kieran resisted the move.

‘We played in a lot of tournaments and I had interest from a few clubs but we held off for a couple of years.’

In the end it would be Norwich City who won the race for his services.

‘When I went to Norwich I was an U14s. I went there for a summer camp and I signed on from there.’

A professional start

Norwich City are renowned worldwide for their player development . With elite level coaching and a strong ethic for promoting their young stars into the first team, Kieran could not have picked a better team. And it did not take him long to realise just how tangibly close he could get to achieving his dreams.

‘When I went there, I very quickly realised there way a pathway for me to move up and getting closer and closer to academy football.’

It took some adjusting at first. The games were more intense than at grass roots level. He remembers his first game and the new challenges which faced him.

‘My first game was against Tottenham, I remember playing against this centre-back who was like 7 foot and all these wingers. And I just thought Jesus this actually really mad now.’

But in the end it was nothing to be fazed about. Kieran took the academy by storm.

‘It was quite a jump up but to be fair I just hit the ground running and I really enjoyed. ‘

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Academy life

Norwich City didn’t just offer a professional environment, it gave Kieran new opportunities and indelible experiences. Memories which will stay with him for a life-time.

‘I’ve never been abroad before football. Travelling with Norwich to all the different tournaments, football just became your entire life.’

Kieran was part of a team that has gone onto perform at the highest levels. His age-group and the age-group above included a particularly talented crop and reaped Norwich City’s ‘golden generation’ of academy products.

‘I was a year below Todd (Cantwell), Ben (Godfrey) and Jamal (Lewis) but I moved up a year so I played with them a lot from U15s,’ Kieran remembers.

‘We had a really good squad in and out of the changing room,’ he admits.

And to have shared the dressing room with players of the above ilk does not only inspire Kieran. It makes him proud.

‘Seeing them now doing their thing and makes me realise I was part of something special.’

It has also given Kieran an impetus to fight back. Before his ACL injury, Kieran had been on par with his now Premier League peers. And it gives him hope that a journey back to a professional level is within his reach.

The setback

ACL tears are dreaded in football because of the long recovery time. It is a tedious process and one which requires a lot of meticulous work.

‘With an ACL there are so many different steps you have to make, you just have to keep yourself motivated.

It’s a tough one to take, thinking about the time out of the game where you can’t improve. But you just have to focus in front of you.’

Norwich City and the staff at the club made sure Kieran had access to the best treatment and facilities as possible.

‘Being in a professional environment helps, because they guide you through all these small progressions.

‘When you’re at a club everyday you go in, you see the physio, they’ll tell you what to do. But when you are out of that professional environment. Having those people around makes such an enormous difference. With all the small things you don’t notice. ‘

Even just having teammates around you and watching them train motivated me to want to go back out there.’

However, despite all the small positives and encouragements. It was also a difficult time. Kieran’s recovery became complicated and his time away from the pitch stretched from one year to almost two.

‘It was hard,’ Kieran admits. ‘But because there were so many people around the club who supported me, it definitely helped.’

The return

There was light at the end of the tunnel. Coming back from a lengthy spell was nerve-racking, especially with a professional contract on the line and at such a crucial age in Kieran’s fledgling career. But Kieran took it in his stride.

‘When I came back, I was flying, I felt fitter than I ever have. I missed all my scholar days, I played like fives games at the end. So I was still trying to find my feet and I just needed time.’

Despite the optimism. Kieran’s future still hung in the balance. Especially with all that was happening to Norwich City behind the scenes.

‘The club was changing a lot, there was a whole new management, new staff and there were not a lot of people left at the club who remembered me from before. So I had no idea what was going to happen but in the end I got offered a new contract.’

It was the lifeline Kieran needed and he took his chance to impress.

‘I started really well during pre-season, I was told all the right things. It looked like it was going well.’

However after pre-season his chances dried up.

‘During the actual season I wasn’t actually playing in the games.’

And then came the huge blow. The one every academy player wishes they never hear. The nightmare blow.

‘A few months in I was told that because they didn’t see me getting near the first team, I wasn’t going to be offered another contract.’

Kieran made a bold decision.

‘At that moment, I spoke to my agent, and he told me to leave. I followed his advice.’

A dark time

‘When I left, I completely lost my head. It was during the middle of the season and I ended up not playing for a good 8 months. I got so out of shape and I fell out of love with the game. It was close. I was considering never playing again.’

Kieran was in such a dark place. He lost contact with many of the people closest to him. He became a person he hardly recognised.

‘My family thought I was still playing for Norwich for a long time after left the club. But in reality I didn’t train. I didn’t go to the gym. Which was so unlike me. Because normally I was the one putting in extra hours.’

In truth Kieran was not alone. His reality was and is the reality of many other teenagers. But when you grow up with such a tangible dream, being told you are not going to make it can be a huge mental challenge and isolating. Especially when you see your team mates progressing further. It can trigger feelings of injustice and abandonment.

‘In my head I felt like I was being mistreated. I was annoyed at the game. So I just hid away,’ Kieran continues.

‘I had opportunities to go to conference clubs, but at the time I just didn’t want to do anything so I didn’t bother.’

In circumstances like that, many go down a dark path. Especially without the right support. Thankfully, Kieran had something outside of the game which kept him motivated – Youtube.

He had always had a passion for making videos, and during the months he spent inside his Youtube channel H1GGSY where he would share clips and streams of him playing video games burst into the spotlight. He currently has a subscriber base close to 300k.

‘Youtube helped keep me sane and from stopping things going super super bad,’ Kieran remembers.

Redemption

In the end, the months sitting idle took its toll. Kieran wanted to get back into football. Mostly out of guilt. His parents had sacrificed countless hours during his footballing journey and he wanted to repay them.

He decided to join a team in the 7th tier of English football.

‘I went to Lowestoft I had a few mates there but I was so unfit, I still hated football.’

One thing he did not anticipate was the level of quality which struck him by surprise.

‘When I went to Lowestroft , it was a completely different type of football. It’s actually still quite hard and it’s easy to get lost, because of the pitches and the different playing styles.’

Despite playing well and showing flashes of his quality, Kieran still felt his passion had withered away from the game.

Until.

It happened again.

The same injury which had blighted him. This time on the other knee.

But this time the injury did not hold him back.

Paradoxically his second ACL ignited his passion for football again.

‘When I got injured a second time I started to become motivated again. Not being able to play really changed my mindset and made me miss football.’

The future

Kieran’s second ACL comeback has not been easy. Unlike with his first one, he no longer had the professional support and advice of physios and nutritionist that were there to guide his journey along.

Through no fault of his own he gained weight and he had to bide his time.

The pandemic hasn’t helped either. It’s not been a smooth transition and there have been many stop-starts along the way. However, Kieran is enjoying football again. And he’s also playing well scoring goals and running past opponents like the Kieran of old back at his local club, Lowestoft .

‘I just want to be back playing close to my full potential as possible.’

At 22 years of age, Kieran still has plenty of time to develop and improve and he admits he doesn’t feel like age is a barrier.

‘I still feel like I’m so much younger than I am because I missed so much time.

Footballing wise I feel 19. I don’t have too much experience so I just want to play and score goals. I’m not expecting anything.’ Kieran admits.

‘I know I can play at a higher level but first I still have a lot to work on. So I’m just focusing on playing as much as I can.’

Kieran has also been able to combine his two passions – Youtube and football. He has started a second channel where he documents his football journey.

‘I just love sharing my journey, and seeing people relate to my content. You never hear the stories of people who don’t make it, and I just want to share my journey.’

Kieran’s journey is poignant in the cut-throat environment of football. He concludes with pertinent advice to all the thousands of academy graduates released annually.

‘Football is a game of opinions, there will be a club who will eventually take you, it’s just hard because it might take time to find the right club.

You have to be honest with yourself, take on the advice that you get given and work on the areas you need to improve on and eventually you will find a club that will want to take you on.’

One thing for sure, Kieran Higgs’ story is proof there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is never too late to give up.

With Kieran’s attitude and mindset he will go far. Meanwhile his videos will hopefully inspire many others to follow in his path.

For more check out Kieran’s channel here:

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