EVEN when Jake Cooper dislocates his shoulder he does it right.
Cooper, 25, is known for his dedication, his work in the gym, the way he looks after himself off the pitch in every way to have the best chance of being ready on match-days.
That was a big reason he clocked up 136 consecutive league games over more than three years, not missing one second of Championship action in that.
That incredible run came to an end after he dislocated his shoulder at Birmingham and missed the trip to Blackburn four days later.
But, remarkably, he was back in the side against Derby, just seven days after being in “a lot of pain” at St Andrew’s following a posterior dislocation of his right shoulder. Posterior dislocations are caused by external impact to the front of the shoulder.
Millwall boss Gary Rowett has not yet had a full squad to choose from this season, and could ill-afford to be without one of his most consistent players long-term.
Cooper, though, tried to convince his manager that he could play at Blackburn, despite still being in pain on the Monday and Tuesday after the Birmingham game.
Former Reading defender Cooper knows there is a “high risk” of another dislocation and he will need surgery at some point, most likely next summer if he can get through this season without a setback.
He describes how he suffered the injury.
“It was a set-play at Birmingham and I’ve gone steaming into a group of bodies,” Cooper says. “I’ve gone in full pace and to break my run I’ve put my arm out into the group of players. My arm’s gone into them and jolted my shoulder right back. It came out the back of the socket.
“When Paul [Tanner], the physio, came on to the pitch I was in a lot of pain. He grabbed my arm and asked how it felt, he moved it and it went ‘pop’ and went back in.
“I was able to finish the game, though I couldn’t move my arm very well. I’ve got some treatment on it and I hope it holds up. I’m doing some strength work on it.
“The aim is to get to the end of the season. If you read up on the posterior dislocation there have not been many people who have had it under 60 that have not needed surgery.
“It will be worth it to get it all done when I can so it doesn’t cause me any more problems in the future. It’s not something I want to be worried about for the rest of my career.
“It’s one of those ones I’ve just got to get on with and hope for the best.
“Obviously in [a sport like] rugby it’s a lot different. I’m not using my shoulder as much. There’s not a lot of force on it. I popped it out backwards, which is quite rare. You don’t see many.
“I’ve done quite a lot of research and it’s only about three per cent of dislocations that come out the back like mine did.
“It’s a rare one so there’s not a lot of information out there on it. But I’ve been able to keep the pain gone, basically, and that meant I could play.
“I’ve got a high risk of it dislocating again but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Obviously the gaffer has spoken in the press about it. The only thing that would cause it to re-dislocate would be if I were to fall funny or put pressure on it in a way that would make it come out the back again, which is a hard thing for someone to try to do to me.
“It feels pretty good actually. It isn’t really on my mind, I got rid of most of the pain so that wasn’t really a factor. That was good.
“It’s going to be a long-term thing getting it sorted, but for the moment it’s all good.”
Cooper was set for game number 137 at Blackburn but his absence meant he had to be satisfied with being sixth on the all-time list of consecutive league appearances for Millwall.
“I was a bit gutted that I couldn’t persuade the gaffer more to play me [at Blackburn], after how I got through [against Derby] with no pain at all. I could have maybe played, though I was in a lot of pain Monday and Tuesday.
“Even doing normal actions like running was difficult for me. I didn’t want to go out there not being able to play my best. The advice that the medical staff got persuaded them that I needed to have a bit of a rest.
“If it had been a week, a Saturday to a Saturday game, I would have been okay. But my focus is purely on playing well and improving each week.
“Basing it on that and on my performances rather than how many games I’ve played is more important.”
A recent tricky period has resulted in Millwall dropping out of the top six and into the bottom half of the table.
But Cooper is positive they can go on another good run.
“I don’t think you could say we’ve had a bad season yet,” Cooper insists. “There’s a long way to go. Yes, we’ve had a difficult period recently, but it’s strange because it happened quickly with how the games have come in a short space of time.
“We’re positive, we believe we can turn it around and we’ll be back on course getting things moving forward. We’ve just got to knuckle down and be difficult to beat in the way we know we’re good at.
“We believe in ourselves and the manager and that we can get the results to push us up the table.
“You’ve got to take your chances when you create them and stop goals the other end. If you get one or two of those things wrong it has an impact on your season. We have to turn that around, take our chances and stop the poor goals we’ve given away.
“It will turn for us. Individually we all have to be better and show more quality.
“Our success over the last few years has been built on being hard to beat. We need to get those minor things right again.”
Image: Millwall FC