18-year-old Harry Baker has progressed all the way through the Iron academy since joining at Under-8 level, with the Winterton-born defender receiving his first professional contract in January 2020.
After a lengthy knee injury ruled him out for last season and a proportion of this term so far, Baker has since secured an initial one-month loan to Pickering Town to recover from the set-back.
Baker spoke in-depth to Scunthorpe-United.co.uk about the injury and the events which unfolded around it.
“I had a period of about two or three weeks where I didn’t really know what I’d done because I was waiting for the swelling to go down. I waited for a bit and went to see a specialist who straight away said I’d torn my ACL (anterior cruciate ligament which helps stabilise the knee joint) and my meniscus."
The youngster admitted that he felt all kinds of emotions as he dealt with the news of his injury, he said: “At first it was really tough mentally. I think it’s an injury where it’s as tough mentally as it is physically. During it all it feels like it’s one step forward, two steps back. You feel like you’re making progress and then you stall, I had to have a second operation when I thought things were going well.
“I had a lot of doubts and worries, I feared that I might do it (the injury) again and that I might feel it when I get back playing. I thought that I might lose my ability, fitness, aggression, and stuff like that. After getting over the initial disappointment, seeing the recovery process, and how dealing with it would be like I felt better."
After the initial disappointment, the defender opened up on the long process he endured to get back to full fitness.
He continued: “Early on we made sure to set goals so I stayed motivated and focused on things I could actually do. Even though I couldn’t run or kick-a-ball, I’d do stuff in the gym like upper body strength and psychology mindset.
“For the first two or three months it was then all about trying to get movement back into the knee, like learning to straighten and bend the leg again which was probably the most boring part of it!
“Then it gradually picks up; you start to walk, jog and then as it goes on you build more strength and fitness. Then you get to move to non-contact football and then you move into contact football and that’s when you’re finally ready to get back into it."
The right-back claimed it wasn’t long ago when he thought he was ready to be back involved in football again. He said: “I was probably ready when I first got back involved in training. To be fair I surprised myself at how fit and good I felt whilst I was training. I thought I’d come back and feel really rusty, not fit and be blowing after half-an-hour but once I got back into the sessions it didn’t feel long and I felt back into it.
"I played a game for the Under-18s (versus Lincoln City just before Christmas) and then went out on loan. In those games (with the U18s and Pickening) and training I’ve felt fit and probably in the best physical/mental shape I’ve ever been in and that’s all down to the work I did when I was off.
“I’ve got to thank Ben Palmer (Assistant First Team Physiotherapist), Michael McBride (Head of Medical Services), Kev Hornsby (Part-Time Sports Massage Therapist) and Scott Johnson (Head of Physical Performance) for all the work they did with me because they worked hard with me and it was a long process but we got through it."
Baker also spoke at the frustration of missing pre-season, where youngsters are usually given a chance to showcase themselves as they did this season with opportunities from Dan Gallimore, Cameron Wilson and Finley Shrimpton.
He said: “It was really frustrating. Normally pre-season is the time when everyone is given a chance and early in the season there is the cups too (Carabao Cup and Papa John’s Trophy) where you can get a chance to play and show what you can do.
“When you don’t have that period and come back midway through the season when the team is settled; it’s hard to come in and make an impact. It’s especially hard when you’re a first-year professional who hasn’t played before and has been out for 12 months, so it was difficult and frustrating but you’ve just got to focus on what you can do to try to improve and get better."
On New Year’s Day, Baker made his debut for Pickering Town in a 2-1 victory where ex-Iron Under-23s winger Omar Sanyang netted the winner.
Speaking about the initial one-month move, he said: “It was a fairly quick deal. Because I was out for so long I just needed game time. You can train as much as you want but the only thing I hadn’t done was play a game where it’s going to be competitive, where I get into tackles. I needed to play games to get fitness and sharpness and going out on loan was the best option for that.
“I asked the club about going out and they agreed. They put my name out to a few clubs and Pickering said they were looking so at the moment I train and play with them."
On making his debut last weekend, Baker said: “I was very grateful to just play football again. I got through 90 minutes with no pain, no injury or anything like that so I was just glad to be back on a football pitch doing what I enjoy. It helps that we got off to a really good start by winning the game too, and I feel individually I did well."
For Iron supporters who haven’t seen Baker play live to know his style, he described himself as “a very attacking right-back. I’m very fit and like to get forward a lot and put crosses into the box, but also love to defend, tackle, get stuck in and be aggressive".
Speaking about the difference between academy football to men’s football, Baker stated: “It’s tough and it’ll be a challenge but I need to be challenged and I need to be out my comfort zone so I can improve and learn a different way of doing things.
“On Saturday, there was a big striker who came over to my side and I had to mark him but it’s about learning to use your body and be clever with it. You don’t always need to compete, if he’s going to win it, you could drop off and win the ball that way. It’s going to be a big learning curve and challenge but something I’m looking forward to."