|Venue: Starks Park, Kirkcaldy At your place: Friday, January 6 Kick-off: 19:45 GMT|
|Coverages: Watch live on BBC Scotland and follow live text updates on the BBC Sport website & app|
Rupturing the anterior cruciate knee ligament is an injury that strikes fear into the heart of every footballer. So imagine it happening four times in your career. That is the fate that befell Lewis Vaughan.
“It’s unexplainable,” says the 27-year-old Raith Rovers striker. “I sit here and still can’t believe it myself.”
Vaughan has only just returned to action after the fourth of those ACL injuries, one which kept him out for 14 months. Surely suffering such misfortune so many times is some kind of unfortunate world record?
“Craig Forsyth at Derby has done three. Bradley Diack at Blackburn has done two,” he says. “But I’ve searched and I can’t find any footballers that have come back from four ACLs and are still playing at the same level. So it does sit proudly with me.”
So what makes the injury so bad? What does the ACL actually do? Given his experience of him, Vaughan has now become something of an expert on the topic.
“It basically keeps your knee stable,” he explains. “You’ve got a lot of ligaments in your knee but your ACL is the main one. If that goes, then there seems to be a lot of other structures that go with it, just with the sheer impact of the injury.”
Edinburgh-born Vaughan has packed in plenty of highs and lows since first signing for the Kirkcaldy-based Scottish Championship club Raith as a 16 year old.
His first ACL injury kept him out of action for the best part of a year and it was, he says, the toughest one to deal with.
“We were playing Albion Rovers in the League Cup at the start of the season. I’d just scored a penalty. Then I went shoulder-to-shoulder with a midfielder and landed awkwardly on my right leg.
“I was just 18 and it was my first main injury. I didn’t even know what an ACL was so when the physio gave me the bad news I didn’t realize how bad it was. All I knew was my season was over .
“It was difficult. It kind of opened my eyes a lot to what you need to do to be a professional. I was so young and naive. I’d never had surgery before so to go through all that was difficult.”
‘You ask yourself why it’s happened again’
Vaughan eventually made a goalscoring return with the winner in a 2-1 victory over Cove Rangers in the League Cup and began to rebuild his reputation. But, in 2019, the cruel hand of fate would twist the knife a second time.
“I went from scoring my first professional hat-trick in the Fife derby in front of 6,000 fans to lying in a hospital bed a week later. That was difficult going from so high to so low in the space of seven days,” he says .
“It was up at Brechin – rain, snow, wind, the pitch was soft. I remember going to change direction and my left knee just gave way. I knew right away what it was.”
Since that second rupture, Vaughan has endured two further ACL injuries. He has now had his left and right knee operated on twice each. How has he coped with all of this mentally?
“At times you do ask yourself, ‘why’s it happened again?’ Luckily, the fans and the boys in the changing room stuck by me and Raith Rovers went above and beyond for me.
“Loyalty is a hard thing to come by in football but everybody that was close to me just stuck by me and kept on believing in me. It’s a credit to Raith that they have stuck by me for over 11 years now.”
Vaughan is now fully fit after bouncing back once again. He describes the feeling of scoring his first goal after 14 months out against Morton in the Challenge Cup in early December as “amazing” and worth the struggle.
After all he has been through it seems almost unfair to ask, but does he ever contemplate what would happen if they were to rupture an ACL for a fifth time? It is something he has contemplated himself.
“In my mind, I have ticked every box, I’ve not cut a corner,” he says. “In the summer, on holiday, I was in the gym every day, making sure I passed every test before coming back.
“So if it was to go again I’ve got a clear conscience because I have done everything I can.”