Diss Town’s James Wilson bouncing back after an injury that ended his career in America
In June 2022, as he stepped off the plane onto home soil, a 20-year-old James Wilson returned to England after playing some of his best football to date in America.
It was scheduled to be a fleeting visit back to his home in Taverham, near Norwich, as he had already lined up a move to take his career to the next level back in the States – with a scholarship at Auburn University at Montgomery.
Prepared and determined, with a mature mindset on his young shoulders, Wilson met up with former Ipswich Town striker Tyreece Simpson for a summer training session to keep himself ticking over upon his return to America.
“In that one session I twisted my knee and it blew up like a bowling ball,” said Wilson.
“I tried to go to work the next morning and couldn’t put any pressure on it and I fell over in the car park.
“They doctors told me my meniscus was completely ruined and that my ACL was hanging by a thread. It was ‘really badly damaged’. Those are the exact words they used.
“It was just horrible. There was no chance that an American college would wait for me. I’m just another person, I’m always replaceable. I was thinking ‘what am I going to do in England?’ because I had nothing. I had nothing here.”
Football can change in an instant, whether that be a last minute goal or a horrific injury. Wilson’s ‘American Dream’ had been brutally cut short.
A year down the line, now 21-years-old, Wilson is a key cog in Garth Good’s well oiled Diss Town machine that find themselves fifth in the Thurlow Nunn League First Division North table.
Since Wilson’s arrival at Brewers Green Lane in September, he has played seven games in all competitions, registering five assists and two goals in the process.
Striker? Attacking midfielder? Both guesses would be incorrect.
Seven goal involvements in seven matches, from right-back.
The youngster has made a fantastic start to life at the Tangerines but his journey to the Thurlow Nunn League was far from straight forward.
In January 2020 – masked up because of COVID restrictions – Wilson made the trip over to the States to join Coastal Bend College.
Wilson said: “It was scary. When I arrived I got given the number 14 shirt and I was wanting to play as a right-back. I thought ‘I’m coming here to play and I haven’t been given the number two shirt’. I pushed my way through and got in the squad.”
In his first season, Wilson and his side were absolutely flying. They were ranked fifth in the nation, won the league for the first time in the college’s history and during their triumph they did the double over Tyler Community College, a powerhouse in America.
He was presented with a diamond ring that had ‘Wilson 14’ engraved on its side, as a token gesture of thanks for the history he had made at the college.
However, football’s ephemerality made itself known to Wilson during his second year abroad where his team struggled to replicate the success’ of the season before due to an influx of new players.
The 21-year-old also suffered multiple hamstring problems which kept him out of the side for the majority of the year.
It was then the following summer that Wilson suffered his shocking injury.
“If I didn’t do that training session, I would still be in America now.” he said.
Despite his inability to play football in July 2022, Wroxham manager Jordan Southgate took a gamble and signed Wilson to help him in his rehabilitation.
Wilson said: “I was working with Becky Squire, the physio at Wroxham, and she was brilliant. I had my surgery at the end of July and I actually came back at the end of November, it had only been four months.
“I didn’t train my leg fully which meant I had a re-occurring problem with my hamstring and it eventually tore on the same leg that I did my knee on.
“That set me back again, I had more knee problems and everything started to go to my head.
“I said to Wroxham in January that I was going to take until the new season to not play football, take a step back and get everything right mentally.”
To go from training every day in the baking American heat to a year of rehabilitation at home was a massive culture shock for Wilson but – to occupy himself in the months he had off – the attack-minded defender was given a new lease of life by the Tangerines assistant manager, Dan Goffin.
At 16 years-old, Wilson met Good’s number two when he was coaching at Future Football Elite – a private football academy in Norwich now partnered with Diss – and Goffin offered him the chance to take over his under-11s side.
“I can’t thank Dan Goffin enough, the coaching role saved me. It got me involved in the sport I loved and it kept my mind occupied.”
After talks between Goffin and Good, Wilson transferred to Brewers Green Lane where he has enjoyed his longest run of games since his injury just over a year ago.
You would have the thought the last few years would have meant Wilson had enough on his plate, but his dedication to the beautiful game does not stop there.
Using the hundreds of contacts he accumulated during his two years abroad, he has set up his own scholarship agency to help get 17 and 18 year-olds out to America.
“I’ve got about 25 lads coming over for a taster day. I’ve written a massive word document pack which each player can take home to read and learn about America,” he said.
“They’re going to play a 90 minute game with proper officials, two coaches, and a recording of the whole game will be sent off to America.”
A player, coach, scholarship owner, and primary school teacher by day, all at just 21-years-old.
Diss’ number two, James Wilson.