There was no big party, no meet-up with mates or a slap-up meal. Instead, Ryan Porteous celebrated his 21st birthday at home with his mum and dad, watching television.
Such are the limitations imposed by the on-going coronavirus lockdown.
“It was not the way I wanted to celebrate my 21st birthday – trapped in the house with my mum and dad! Some 21st, that! ”
If the Hibernian defender had enjoyed a wish while blowing out candles on a cake, it would have been for the return of football and the chance to see out a season that had served up an enticing finish for everyone at Easter Road.
While everyone in the Scottish game has been sidelined since 13 March, Porteous’ footballing purgatory extends further back than that. A knee injury sustained against Dundee United in the Scottish Cup tie in January prompted a prolonged period of rehabilitation but he was on the brink of a return when the shutters were pulled down on the campaign, with no-one sure if or when they will be raised and normal life resumed.
“As soon as I got the injury and I was told that it might end my season, I was determined to work hard and when I found out that I could be back before the split and, potentially, have a game at Hampden against Hearts [in the Scottish Cup semis], that is all I was striving for. So, for that all to be taken away is a bit frustrating.
“But if we are going to play the season out, I would welcome it because I worked hard to make sure it wasn’t a season-ending injury and we still have a lot to play for. If we finish in the top six, there are games against Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen to look forward to, European football is not too far away if we can get a good few results, and the Scottish Cup is within our grasp, so there is no reason why we can’t still make this a really good season. We just have to see what happens.”
So, now, instead of getting back up to pace alongside team-mates at East Mains, he is trying to complete his fitness fightback, on his own, in his back garden.
“It is surreal. I don’t think any other footballers have ever gone through this before. Before the Prime Minister said we were all to stay in the house unless it is absolutely necessary to go out, I was quite fortunate that I was still going in with the physio, got some things to keep my rehab ticking over and I was gently easing myself back into running.
“I pinched some stuff from the training centre so I can still get out in the back garden and do most of my rehab. I can do lower limb strength work, upper body strength. It is not to the same extent as if I was in at the training centre but at least it is something. And I get out to do runs on any bit of grass I can find. It is about ticking over and trying to get that core fitness up and that way, if we do get back soon, then hopefully I can be back not too far away from everyone else.”
A Scotland Under-21 cap who was called up to the first-team squad by Steve Clarke, inset, for the final Euro 2020 group qualifiers in November, he admits that the lure of play-off matches and the possibility of major tournaments also proved a powerful incentive on the long road back.
“It has been a bit of a carrot for me. I thoroughly enjoy playing for the 21s and I really enjoy playing under Scot [Gemmill] as well. I think he is a great coach and I think he is the one who gets the best out of me as a defender and as a team player. Hopefully this lockdown gives me a chance to get back fit and get back in there when the games are played and you never know, depending on other injuries, I might be able to push for selection in the first team again.”
Staying in touch with the rest of the Hibs squad and staff via group chats, Porteous has refrained from challenges like the toilet roll keepie uppie phenomenon that has hooked in even the likes of Lionel Messi but he has been sucked into some online jousting with Martin Boyle, who has been keen to break the lockdown monotony with some gaming match-ups.
“I’m watching challenges, not doing them because can you imagine if I injured my knee again doing keepie uppies with a toilet roll? The gaffer wouldn’t be happy! So I’m basically just watching TV, playing Playstation, and trying to keep myself entertained. I’ve been involved in a couple of Martin’s livestreams when he’s been playing FIFA or Call of Duty but I try to stay well away most of the time because he’s a bit of a headcase online – he starts to lose the head. To be fair, he’s a bit of a headcase in general!”
• Ryan Porteous was speaking as Hibernian launched season tickets for the next season. Find out more at seasontickets.hibernianfc.org.uk