By Colin Byiers
At the start of the 2021/22 season, Lewis Vaughan suffered an ACL injury, the 4th time in his career that this has happened. Not many people come back from 2 ACL injuries, let alone 4, but the Raith Rovers man is determined to make another come back. I spoke with Lewis recently about his latest set back and his career to date.
Firstly Lewis, where are you in terms of your recovery from your latest ACL injury?
I had the operation 12 weeks ago now. It’s getting there slowly, but with this type of injury you need to take your time. I probably have another 6 months to go, so maybe be back for the start of next season missing the League Cup, but hopefully after that I should be fine and ready to play again.
It’s not the easiest of injuries to deal with, whether it’s the first one or the fourth one, but from an experience point of view, I know what to expect because I’ve done it before. The rehab and the gym stuff has been getting harder every year because they come out with new and different exercises every year. It’s interesting but it does make it a bit harder. For me having the experience has made it easier but the work you have to go through to get back on the pitch is incredible. I know if I don’t do the hard work then I won’t get back playing again.
Because this is your 4th ACL injury, did you know instinctively that it was the same injury again?
Yeah, I knew right away the last time it happened. After what happened the first time, the next 3 times I knew exactly what it was and I had doctors accessing me, but I already knew what was wrong with me.
“It’s still hard to take when you get the scan results confirming what it is, but it’s part of the game unfortunately.”
Let’s move onto happier topics. You have been with Raith Rovers since you were 14 years old. How did the move to Raith come about?
I was at Hearts to start with. I was at Hearts for 6 or 7 years and I left Hearts and went back to a Boys Club called Leith Athletic, mainly because I wanted to enjoy playing football again. I wasn’t really enjoying it at Hearts, and I left when I was 14 and played with my mates from school. I played for Leith Athletic for the last 6 months of the season and Raith Rovers came and watched me and I’ve been there ever since. I always wanted to play professionally, and I had to get back playing for a professional team and I just felt, even after the experiences at Hearts, it was the right fit for me and wasn’t too far to travel. It was a good place to go and play football.
Not long after joining Raith, you make your debut at 16. What are your memories of that game?
I had signed my first professional contract back in the January, signing a 2-and-a-half-year apprenticeship contract and at the end of that season (2011/12) I made my debut. Funnily enough it was John McGlynn who gave me my debut. It might have only been for 3 or 4 minutes, but it was amazing. I had my family in the stand watching me. It was brilliant to play in the last game of the season. I had no idea I was going to play. I knew I was part of the squad obviously but as far as I knew that was it. It was an amazing feeling to play that final few minutes, to make my debut at 16, I was just delighted. I was nervous, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
You make a few more appearances the following season, so were you always part of the first team even at that young age?
I always trained with the first team. When I first signed there was only 6 or 7 full time youth players, so we always trained with the first team players. I felt that was more beneficial for me because I felt it developed me quicker training with men. Playing with men who are bigger and stronger than I was day in and day out made me ready for the first team quicker than I maybe would have had I been just with the youth players. I really enjoyed it, the 2-and-a-half-years, I was always involved with the first team, being on the bench and coming on as a sub. It was a good first few years at Raith.
Another milestone in your career was your first goal in August 2013 against Queens Park.
It was a game at home against Queens Park in the League Cup, and it was 6-0 in ended up. I remember coming on and we were all over Queens Park and I thought it would be my time to get a goal. Thankfully I did, and again, my family were in the stands at the time to see my first goal. It wasn’t a bad goal either to be fair! I don’t know why, but I always seem to score at that home end at Starks Park, so maybe it was a sign of things to come.
“If you had asked me back then what I would go on to do I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Under new manager Grant Murray, where you concerned about how your development was going?
I was concerned, aye. I wasn’t improving. I was coming on as a sub, but I wanted to play first team football. I felt I was ready, and I felt like when I came on, I was changing games, scoring a few goals here and there. I managed to get a run in the side in Grant Murray’s last season at Raith, I managed to score 9 or 10 goals towards the end of that season. I had a really good end to the season, but that was when Grant left and Ray McKinnon came in. I got on really well with Ray. He spoke to me pre-season and said he wanted me to be part of the team and build a team around me.
He had been watching from a far and liked the way I played. I played the first 2 games, scoring in both, and against Albion Rovers I had just scored a penalty and when I went to press the center back, I went to change direction and that was the first time I done my ACL on the right side.
“It was my first ever injury. I was 18 at the time and didn’t know what it was.”
I actually tried to come back on the pitch. I didn’t want to go off! I tried to take a step back onto the pitch and the physio told me off. A couple of days later, I got a phone call from the physio with the results of the scan and said it was my ACL. The physio was called Stuart, and I remember saying to him “Stuart, I don’t have a clue what that means.” Once he explained it to me, I couldn’t believe it. I thought he was kidding me on. I had been playing football all my life up until I was 18, and for it to be taken away from me was hard to take. I felt like that that season was going to be my breakout season, I believed I was going to score double figures, I was going to play every game. I was ready to kick on that season, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to do that.
After a long rehab, you were back for the start of the following season under new manager Gary Locke, but you ended the season on loan at Dumbarton. Was that something that you felt you needed to do?
I actually started well under Gary Locke, because I scored 2 goals in my first 2 games back and played the first 10 to 15 games, but then I hit a dry spell. I don’t know if that was a backlash to my injury, but I struggled with my fitness when I first came back. I found myself out of the team and I went to speak with Locke, saying I wanted to play first team football because I had already missed a whole year of my career. I didn’t want to be sitting on the bench every week.
When the chance to go to Dumbarton came up, believe it or not, Raith were sitting 3rd in the table and Dumbarton were in 9th. It shows you how quickly football can change in a matter of 3 or 4 months. Raith obviously didn’t see Dumbarton as a challenger, but as things turned out they were in the end.
I loved Dumbarton. Steve Aiken was manager and Ian Durrant was assistant, and we had a really good squad from January onwards. I feel if Dumbarton had that squad for the whole of the season, they could have been top half easy. I ended up scoring 4 or 5 goals for Dumbarton and the goals were always to either win a game or draw a game we were getting beat in.
“Ultimately, the goal I scored against Dundee United at Tannadice was the one that saved Dumbarton but put Raith into the relegation play-off unfortunately.”
You must have had mixed feelings about how that season ended.
Of course. I was still training with Raith Monday and Friday, because Dumbarton were still part-time then. It was really awkward for me to be fair. I was only 19 at the time and it was difficult to get my head around it. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I had been at the club since I was 14, I wasn’t playing, so I went out on loan, and I had to be professional and do my job as I was a Dumbarton player for those 6 months. It was hard going into training on a Monday and Friday with the boys, and still trying to be professional while playing for Dumbarton.
After the relegation, it wasn’t a nice place to be at the time. A lot of players had to move on, but that’s part of the game. I still had another year left on my contract so I knew I would still be at Raith for the new season.
That first season in League 1 was your best on a personally level in terms of the number of goals you scored.
It really was. Barry Smith was the manager at the time, and I felt like I wanted to take the club back up to the Championship. I scored a number of goals and assists and played every game bar one. Everything I touched that season turned to goals and I played half that season in center midfield as well so I could have a few more goals. Unfortunately, we fell at the last hurdle, when we were at home to Alloa in the last game of the season and all we had to do was beat Alloa at home. It was in our own hands, but we never done it and I missed a sitter in the last minute from about 2 yards out. We lost in the play-offs, and it was hard to take. I always felt that we were going to bounce straight back up and Alloa never beat us all season, we just needed to beat them in the final game, and we’d have been promoted. I still can’t believe we never won that game. That’s football though.
Since 2019, you’ve had 2 ACL injuries in the same year, we’ve had the Covid pandemic, a shortened 2020/21 season, and now going through your 4th ACL injury. How difficult has the last 3 year been for you?
I’ve had so many highs and lows; it’s been difficult to take. John McGlynn came in, he managed to get us up and before my second ACL I scored a hattrick against Dunfermline in the Scottish Cup, which was probably my best game of my career to be fair. That was January 19th, the best day of my career and then 7 days later, we are away to Brechin and I do my second ACL.
“So, from the highest I’ve ever been in my career to 7 days later sitting in a hospital bed waiting for an operation, it just shows how quickly your life can be turned upside down in a matter of days.”
The injuries certainly take it out of you, and it gets harder to come back from, but there can’t be many players who have come back from 4 ACL injuries and still played at a high level. I’ve still got loads of time left, I’m only 26, but maybe if I was older, I’d have to rethink it. I want to get back playing again. The club have been amazing with me. I owe it to the fans as well for sticking by me. When I go to Starks Park, there is flags there for me and things like that, and it doesn’t go unappreciated. Hopefully, I can get back and score more goals against Dunfermline! If it wasn’t for Raith, I’d be a joiner working for my dad! If it wasn’t for the fans and everything that Raith have done, I don’t know where I‘d be to be honest.
“I owe the club a lot and especially John McGlynn. You know, he signed me as a kid and gave me a chance, so I don’t want him to feel let down.”
Finally, a word on Raith’s season so far. How do you see things going at the moment?
We’ve made a few good signings in January. I think we’ve kicked on from where we finished last season just missing out on promotion, losing to Dundee in the play-off. We’ve signed Jamie Gullan from Hibs, Sam Stanton and Ethan Ross, so hopefully we get a run of games and push up the table again. The Championship is so open. Everyone can beat everyone, and there is no clearer winner at the minute. It’s the games against the teams round about us that are key. It’s the games, as a player, you want to play in, you know the big games. There would be nothing more I’d love than to see Raith Rovers back in the Premiership . It’s been a long time since they’ve been there. On a personal level, I’d love to come back from injury as a Premiership player. There is no pressure on us, we’ll enjoy it, but at the same time we want to win every game of football we play in. The boys are pushing to get as many points as they can before the end of the season, and we’ll see what happens.