ONE call Jack Butland picked up during his injury hell had Gordon Banks’ voice at the end of the line.
It was the type of chat he needed during dark days, after operations had not fixed his fractured ankle and he felt at his lowest ebb in football.
Perhaps hearing from an England legend, a World Cup winner and fellow Stoke keeper reminded him of the light at the end of the tunnel.
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Butland said: “He called me up and explained times when he had injured his ankle and he was jumping over bags of sand.
“There is probably a lot more health and safety involved these days!
“But that sums up how brilliant they were, it was about hard work and putting in the hours.
“It’s an honour to speak to guys like that and hopefully I can be thought of, down the line, with similar thoughts.”
Butland, 24, is ambitious and says Stoke are aware of that.
He wants the England No 1 shirt and is ready to compete with Joe Hart, just like Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence used to.
Champions League football is another ambition — but all of that seemed miles away when nursing his injury.
It was sheer relief when he returned and played in the last four Potters games, putting him in the frame for a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad to face Scotland on June 10, and France three days later.
Butland said: “It’s a lot of relief. A lot of frustration has been lifted off my shoulders. I thought I was good for pre-season, I was fit for six weeks then only for the original operation to prove unsuccessful.
“So it’s been a long time and sheer joy getting through a training session, then finishing a game with no pain and no issues
“I knew I would get there but there were a lot of downs and a lot of tough times.”
From within football there was support from the likes of Banks, but Butland’s family bore the brunt of his frustration on a day-to-day basis.
His partner Annabel would see the misery, while his parents were on the end of a phone.
He said: “For Annabel, she felt it first hand really, that whole experience of coming home from training and being down.
“Another setback. So I’ve got to get on a train and see another specialist. She’s had to shoulder a lot of that. I’ve always been one to bottle things up, always been a bit of a bottler. I’m not really a sharer.
“There were times Annabel got it, or my mum on the phone, or my dad.
“You have those moments when you break down a little bit, when you need to let it go.
“I’ve always taken the pressure on myself and that is just the way I am.
“It’s massively important to talk. Being a footballer is the best job in the world for me but maybe not for everyone else. The pressures that come with it have been made clear with high-profile cases of depression from players not just after retiring but still in the game.
“Fortunately I had some good people around me and, as a character myself, pulled through.
“But it was certainly a struggle for me. That amazing thing you love doing — it’s tough when you can’t do it. Everyone is entitled to their own struggles no matter what they do.”
The toughest time for Butland was the period before he went under the knife again in December.
After that, he went away to the Maldives to take a break from football and returned ready to step up his comeback.
He said: “There were scans here there and everywhere. But I wasn’t pleased with the results or the words of some surgeons.
“I was thinking, ‘That can’t be right, it doesn’t feel like that’.
“There were a lot of times between that period of September and December where it was really tough.
“I wasn’t quite sure who to believe and who to listen to. There was a lot of relief when we managed to put our finger on it and get it right.”
Inevitably, he has been linked with the big clubs now he is back from injury. At a Kick It Out event at Stoke On Trent College, one pupil asked where he would be next season.
He said: “You take it with a pinch of salt. If they are asking those questions then I must be doing something right.
“I’m not interested in ifs and buts. The fact is I’m at Stoke and I’ll continue to give everything I’ve got for as long as I’m here.
“The club is well aware, as every player is, that they want to play at as high level as they can do.
“But I’m also aware that it’s not going to happen if I’m not playing well enough for Stoke and ultimately playing for England as well.
“I’m contracted here, I’m happy here and what will be will be. But I’m looking forward to finishing the season well and coming back into pre-season, having a good year and putting the injury behind me.”
Despite injury he met up with the England squad for a recent meeting at St George’s Park.
He said: “To be able to meet up with the guys and Gareth and just feel part of it again was huge because it is where I want to be and ultimately what I want to represent.
“I want to be England’s No1. It’s always been a target of mine and it’s the sheer enjoyment I get from putting on the shirt. I want to be back there.”
l Jack Butland was at Stoke on Trent College to deliver a Kick It Out anti-discrimination workshop to students.