September 3rd 2022. Meadowbank Stadium. Wanderers inaugural season in the National League is still in it’s infancy, a competitive and memorable opening few weeks to the campaign hitting a reality check on this particular afternoon with Wrexham making the visit down to Surrey from North Wales. Eventually going on to win the league, The Red Dragons produce a clinical display in front of a bumper crowd at Meadowbank to ultimately hand Wanderers their biggest defeat of the campaign. The result, however, is over-shadowed by an injury suffered in the first half to Alfie Rutherford. Thoughts among the home crowd quickly turn to the injuries sustained by the likes of Sami El-Abd and Matt Briggs on home soil over recent years; that same motion of boots getting caught awkwardly in the surface reoccurring once again, and the subsequent emotions of agony and dread for the player, as he lies prone on the floor in the aftermath. It was confirmed not long after the game that, as initially suspected and feared, Alfie had ruptured his ACL.
Signing for Wanderers in July 2020 from Havant & Waterlooville and reuniting with a few of the colleagues he had played alongside on the south-coast in the likes of Ed Harris, Wes Fogden and Jason Prior, Alfie’s first season in red and white got as far as the midway point before all football was brought to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With the controversial decision taken for the National League South season to be voided, and Wanderers leading the table five points clear at the time, the desire for the new campaign to get under way was feverish. And not only would it go on to be a historic, truly memorable campaign in the end for Wanderers, but a personal best for Alfie. Finishing the season as the division’s top scorer with 32 goals, Alfie’s prolific form in front of goal that year included scoring 5 hat-tricks and concluded, fittingly, with the match-winning goal in that dramatic play-off final win over Ebbsfleet United which secured Wanderers place in the National League for the very first time. And as if that wasn’t enough for the 21/22 season – who could forget the day Alfie also donned the goalkeeper’s jersey and gloves after Dan Lincoln was sent off very early on in the home league fixture against Hemel Hempstead. With no sub goalkeeper named on the bench, Alfie bravely positioned himself between the sticks, and turned in a brilliant display, earning himself a place in the Vanarama and Non League Paper ‘Team of the Week’ as Wanderers picked up three points with a 2-1 win.
Alfie had opened his goal-scoring account in the first away game of the 22/23 campaign at Oldham Athletic, heading home a consolation goal late on in front of the biggest crowd Wanderers had played in front of at the time, not just inside Boundary Park but through the game being televised live on BT Sport as well. He netted his second goal of the campaign and first at home in the 1-4 loss to Boreham Wood on the Bank Holiday Monday which proceeded the fateful game against Wrexham the following Saturday. On a personnel level, Alfie would have no doubt been relishing the prospect of another crack at non-league’s top tier having suffered relegation from the division previously with Havant & Waterlooville in 2018/19, yet still managing to score double figures worth of goals in that campaign. The opportunity to have another go at leaving a mark in the National League Prem would have to wait.
With the acceptance of now being ruled out of the game for a substantial period, the decision was taken for Alfie to undergo a due operation for a heart-related problem doctor’s believe Alfie was born with; aortic stenosis. Reflecting on how he became aware of the problem, Alfie said:
“Growing up I was asymptomatic and I lived my day-to-day life like anyone else. When I was offered a scholarship by Portsmouth at 16, my heart issue was flagged up at the medical screening. Portsmouth had said I would not be able to sign for them or play football again, but the FA doctors were fantastic and told me nobody can stop you from playing. I never used to think about it, apart from getting a letter in the post every year inviting me for a check-up.”
A scan taken not long before Alfie’s ACL injury showed that his valve was shrinking, confirming the requirement of an operation. Becoming the youngest National League cardiac patient in the process, Alfie underwent surgery at Southampton General Hospital, and had to adhere to a three month period of rest as part of his recovery. The remarkable story of Alfie’s recovery garnered the attention of the national press and media, with the striker telling The Mirror newspaper in September:
“Knowing I was facing a long lay-off, I decided to kill two birds with one stone by getting both my knee and heart sorted. If I hadn’t had the valve done, it would have narrowed and it wouldn’t have been able to pump enough blood around my body. I would have been struggling to breathe.”
Grateful for the treatment he has received, Alfie adds:
“These surgeons are incredible – I can’t thank them enough. When you hear people say doctors and heart specialists should be paid more than footballers, I agree with them.”
As the end of last season finished and preparations for the new campaign soon came around again, Alife was becoming more visible on the grass in training and around matchdays, gradually working his way towards making a return to playing. The build up back to match fitness took a major step forward last month, with Alfie re-joining the club he played for near the beginning of his senior footballing journey, Bognor Regis Town. Alfie’s story would produce another remarkable moment on his ‘second debut’ for Bognor on October 7th; netting the winning final goal within just two minutes of coming off the bench as The Rocks defeated Hayes & Yeading 3-1 in the FA Trophy. Going on to make five appearances in all on his return to Bognor, which coincided with Wanderers team mate Jimmy Muitt also spending loan time at his former club, Alfie would come on a sub in all games expect for his final appearance this past Monday night, starting in the 3-0 win over Gosport Borough in the next round of the Trophy. Looking back on his brief spell back in West Sussex, Alfie says:
“I just want to say thank you to Bognor really. They were brilliant in allowing me to get some crucial minutes under my belt. I wish them the best of luck for the rest of the season”
14 months and 1 day on from his last appearance in Wanderers colours, Alfie will complete his extraordinary return to the field this Saturday afternoon.
Looking ahead to Alfie’s return, Wanderers manager Marc White says:
“It’s the greatest football comeback I’ve ever seen. It’s so easy to dismiss what he has been through as a young man; open heart surgery, an ACL, he has handled it all amazingly, it’s an incredible comeback. He’s been such a loyal player to this club, such a nice lad, from such a nice family, and we are really excited to have him back.”
With a taste for competitive football back following his loan spell over the past few weeks, Alfie cannot wait to return to action in front of the Meadowbank faithful this weekend:
“It has been a long time coming, I can’t wait to be back in the side and hopefully get some minutes in front of the fans again. They have been fantastic and most importantly I hope we can get 3 points for them’
November 4th 2023. Meadowbank Stadium. Welcome back, Alfie.
We would also like to say a special thank you to Parklane Landscaping for their continued sponsorship and support of Alfie since his injury.