Few Darlington fans would have expected to see Graeme Armstrong in action yet this season and his return to action has surprised everyone including himself.
The forward finished the previous campaign with an extended stay in Newcastle’s Freeman hospital and looked set to be out of action for some time. The former Whitby Town man, who joined Quakers in the summer of last year, was flattened by Bamber Bridge’s goalkeeper in the closing stages of last season’s play-off final and eventually diagnosed with a split pancreas a few days later.
With a lengthy operation in May to repair the damaged organ and time to heal it appeared likely that Darlington would have to do without a player who proved crucial the previous term.
Amazingly however Armstrong has was involved from the bench in the season opener at Buxton and has gone on to make eight starts and score five league goals. Its a return which has has surprised everyone connected with the club.
“I feel like I’m almost getting there in terms of fitness and match sharpness. I’ve worked hard on my fitness but its two different things being fit and being match fit. But I feel really good in myself and bit by bit, week by week I’m getting there,” he said.
“It was such a strange injury that I didn’t know when I would be back. Even the surgeons didn’t really know how long it would take. Scoring some goals and playing some minutes has been a massive bonus this early on in the season.”
Graeme hit 26 goals last season for Darlington. One of them coming in the 2-0 win against Bamber Bridge which sealed Quakers promotion to the EvoStik League Premier Division.
As well as his goals his no nonsense, rough and tumble approach in the opposition’s final third have made him a hit with the Darlington faithful. Indeed it was that approach which led to him picking up his injury.
The forward went chasing after a ball forward in the closing stages only to be hit by Bamber goalkeeper Lee Dovey. With the game effectively in the bag Armstrong would have been forgiven for letting that one go.
He admits there were a few nerves stepping out onto the pitch for the first time since the injury but feels the freak nature of the injury, a split pancreas isn’t something you’ll read much about on the back pages, maybe went someway to helping his return.
“I took part in the first game of the season and that was beyond my wildest dreams. I’m not going to lie, it was hard coming back. The day I walked on the pitch against Whitby in pre-season was probably one of the most difficult times I’ve had to step onto a pitch,” he said.
“It was physiological more than physical. It did take me time and it took me getting a few whacks. Once you get those couple of knocks you know you’re going to be alright. I just had to take them and get back to the way I play, which unfortunately for me, is a physical type of game. Other than that I feel fine now.”
Graeme continued: “I’ve played football for 20 years and ran into keepers. It was just an unfortunate incident in terms of how hard the keeper hit me and the angle. It was one in a million so hopefully it’ll never happen again.”
Armstrong’s last appearance for Quakers came in the 1-0 defeat against Marine. The forward came off the bench but couldn’t help change the course of the match. The forward though says the squad will bounce back the setback at the weekend.
“It was always going to be more difficult this season. We knew that,” he said. “Every game is going to be a battle. Even when we played Ramsbottom at home who have struggled it was a very difficult game. There are going to be times when things just don’t go your way.”
“Saturday was perhaps one of those days. There was nothing in the game. We know we weren’t at our best and can do better. However it was a soft penalty. Once they scored that they held onto it and shut up shop. Fair play to them but one mistake can be the difference at this level.”
“We’ll move onto the next game with a positive mindset. We’ve bounced back before and we’ll do it again.”