By Scott Taylor
THERE was far more to Billy Jones’ goal celebration than just equalising for Barking against Maldon &Tiptree last Saturday – it came just three months after he was warned he would never be able to play football again.
Jones was told his career was finished last October after collapsing during a 1-0 win at Ware a few weeks earlier.
It was diagnosed as a first-degree heart block but after staging a miracle recovery, the striker returned to full fitness and subsequently onto the scoresheet in a 2-1 Bostik League North victory last week.
Jones joined Barking at the start of the season as a striker – where he played all of his career – despite briefly turning out as a holding midfielder during an 18-month stint at his previous club Harlow.
But, ironically, in the one game he filled in as a holding midfielder for his new club, the 24-year-old’s day ended in disaster.
“I played the whole game and felt fine but it was around two minutes from the end when I felt a bit faint and dizzy – I just continued to play on,” he told The NLP.
“Then after the game we got in a huddle celebrating because it was a great win, then the next thing I remember is waking up on the floor.
“The ambulance was called and took me to Lister Hospital in Stevenage.
“As I was having my heart checked I was asked the question, ‘Have you been stressed lately?’ Then two weeks later it was diagnosed as a first-degree heart block.”
Jones had just come off the back of a strong pre-season, and his collapse came just as he was reaching his peak in terms of fitness levels for his new side.
Jones was warned he couldn’t play for Barking until his test results were returned in October – and that was when he was told to start coming to terms with the fact that his football career may have been snatched away from him in an instant.
“After my Echocardiogram they said I would never be able to play football again,” he added.
“I was gutted and to be honest it was more frustrating because I was just getting back into my football and I was just starting to be fully fit again!”
It came at a devastating time for the Barking striker as he finally linked up with manager Justin Gardner, who he had always secretly wanted to play for.
Their relationship began when Jones was playing for Harlow while Gardner was managing fellow Bostik League North side Aveley.
The striker then got a phone call from Gardner, who had since moved to Barking, prompting him to join him and make the switch to Mayesbrook Park.
Sadly, the partnership was prematurely cut short after just ten games working together, but the news of Jones’ heart complaint was to affect more than just his footballing commitments.
“Until I had certain tests done I wasn’t able to exert myself at all,” he went on. “I could not return to doing general duties in the warehouse I worked at, I obviously couldn’t play and be around the lads at training.”
Suddenly, after another Echocardiogram, Jones was handed hope when the results revealed the complaint wasn’t as bad as first feared and that he was able to play football again.
But Jones’ hopes of an immediate return suffered an unlikely setback – from Barking chairman Rob O’Brien himself!
“It was very surreal,” Jones explained. “My mum didn’t want me to play so soon and most people I spoke to told me to take it easy.
“Barking were brilliant but the chairman wasn’t letting me train or play until I had a letter of confirmation. Justin, though, contacted me regularly and was desperate to have me back.”
Fittingly, Jones picked up where he left off, returning against Ware on another Tuesday night before making his first start in the goalless draw with Bury Town on December 2.
Just a week later, normal service resumed when he was back amongst the goals, but is understandably focusing on a game at a time, not knowing what the future has to offer.