Introducing Liam Gibson
Liam Gibson has been named as a substitute for Newcastle United’s Premier League game at Everton on Tuesday night – the first time he has been part of the Magpies’ matchday squad for almost four years.
But the 22-year-old’s return to the fold marks a significant milestone in his career so far. Gibson, who joined United at the age of 11, has overcome plenty just to reach this stage once more, and his story is one of immense character, resilience and perseverance.
Gibson, from Stanley, rose quickly through the ranks at the club’s Little Benton academy. At left back, he impressed sufficiently to make the step up to what was then the under-21 side when he was just a teenager.
But in January 2015, the youngster was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis – inflammation of the bowel, or more specifically the colon and rectum. His symptoms worsened and he was prescribed steroids, before suffering a blood clot in his calf. Football took a back seat as Gibson battled both conditions, returning action nine months later.
He had a brief loan spell at Gateshead, before Steve McClaren brought him into the first team picture. He was named on the bench alongside fellow academy products Dan Barlaser and Callum Williams for a 1-0 win over West Bromwich Albion in February 2016, and McClaren then handed him his first team debut in a friendly win over Lillestrom in La Manga later that month.
Towards the end of the following season, though, the symptoms returned. He had to have his large bowel removed and another operation on a twist in his small bowel.
“My body had changed, I was stuck in the hospital and I felt like even though everyone was around me, I felt alone at that point," he told nufc.co.uk. "I would look at Facebook on my phone and I’d see the under-23s had been playing matches here and there and training, and that put me even more down. I just wished I could have been back playing with the boys.
“When all that’s taken away from you, and physically you’ve lost so much weight, with your appearance… I just felt like a nobody. I just felt like nothing, like no one would be bothered about us any more, that that was me done.”
Gibson in action during his loan spell at Grimsby Town
Gibson returned to training in December 2017, with a belt protecting his stoma bag, before two further bouts of surgery and months of gruelling fitness work. His return, in a pre-season friendly at Barrow in the summer of 2018, came 425 days after his last outing – and he gave an emotional interview to nufc.co.uk about his illness and recovery following his comeback, which you can read here.
Since then, the full back has re-established himself in the under-23s side, and also spent part of the 2018/19 season on loan at League One side Accrington Stanley, where he made five appearances and contributed two assists.
More recently, Gibson played 22 times for Grimsby Town during the first half of the current campaign, impressing for the Mariners before returning to St. James’ Park at the end of his loan spell at Blundell Park.
And when Gibson takes his place on the bench at Goodison Park tonight, he may spot a familiar face in the crowd. His younger brother Lewis – who also came through the ranks at Newcastle – was named among the substitutes for Carlo Ancelotti’s side in their last outing at West Ham United, but misses out this time around.
A Premier League bow, should it come after such a remarkable journey, would be a thoroughly merited one for Gibson.