Oil rigs, injuries & a dead person's tendon - Lee Wilkie's footballing journey

Lee Wilkie celebrates scoring for Dundee United
Lee Wilkie now works offshore as a roustabout

"The first time, I got a bit of my patella tendon put in as a graft, then I got a dead person's donor Achilles tendon."

Former Scotland defender Lee Wilkie spent much of his 12-year career battling serious knee injuries, working through painstaking weeks and months of rehabilitation only for the joint to let him down again.

Now retired from football and working on an oil rig, the centre-back's career took in lengthy stints with both Dundee and Dundee United, as well as Notts County, Plymouth Argyle and Falkirk.

Here, Wilkie discusses "throwing pipe about" offshore, receiving an Achilles tendon from a deceased donor and becoming a better person since hanging up his boots.

'The banter is really similar'

Wilkie, now 39, retired nine years ago after finally succumbing to the knee problems that blighted him.

He works as a roustabout - or labourer - spending three weeks offshore, then three weeks at home. But he says life on the rig is not as far removed from the football dressing room as you might think.

"You work alongside roughnecks, drillers, mechanics, electricians, we are part of a team, and you have got your own boot locker, and the banter and everything that goes with that is really similar to the football side of things," Wilkie says.

"I think it is a bit strange for them to see somebody they maybe watched playing in the Premiership in Scotland to then suddenly be sitting next to them in a boiler suit, and throwing pipes about a pipe deck."

Dundee United's Lee Wilkie tackles Russell Latapy of Falkirk
Wilkie captained Dundee United, for whom he played over 80 times

While he rejects the notion he was "injury-prone", Wilkie suffered the first major damage to his knee at the age of 23 during his eight years at Dens Park. It marked the start of a lengthy fight to stay fit, one he would eventually lose.

"I went through three different injuries with the same anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)," he explains. "The first time, I got a bit of my patella tendon put in as a graft, then I got a dead person's donor Achilles tendon the second time, and the third time, I just tried to really work on the muscles surrounding my ligament, and that seemed to have the best results.

"Potentially you are more than nine months before you get back to what you would class as match sharpness, even a year-and-a-half before you are firing on all cylinders.

"When you have setbacks, which I did a few times, and your knee goes again, it is really difficult to get yourself back in the mentality that you have got to do it all over again for another year, year-and-a-half. So it was quite tough to do it three times."

'I have become a better person'

Wilkie was a Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup runner-up with Dundee and Dundee United respectively, captaining the Tannadice side in their 2008 penalty shoot-out defeat by Rangers in which he missed from the spot.

He also had a stint as a football agent, as well as spells coaching at Montrose, Lochee United, and in Dundee United's academy.

"I think I have become a better person since I finished playing," the 11-cap former defender adds. "People see the training that you do, and the games on a Saturday, but there is a lot of pressure that goes with it that they sometimes don't see, and it can have a negative effect.

"It is a tough job what I am doing now, tough for different reasons, but I think I am more relaxed as a person because you have not got the worries of football and how you are going to be playing in front of the fans and stuff like that.

"It is potentially a worry for some players, if you are going through a poor spell or injuries as well."

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