MARK Came still bears the scars of the tackle which cruelly robbed him of his shot at the big time.

The former Wanderers skipper had his leg badly broken at Chester City in a Littlewoods Cup tie on a wet Tuesday night on September 7, just three games into the 1988 season.

Came immediately knew he was in trouble but what he did not at the time was how close he had come to joining one of the country’s leading clubs.

It wasn’t until months later, laid up in bed and facing a gruelling two-year convalescence, that he learned that Everton manager Howard Kendall and his Arsenal counterpart George Graham were at Sealand Road that night with the intention of signing him.

Shortly after, Martin Keown joined Everton while Steve Bould moved to Highbury from lowly Torquay. Came can be forgiven for thinking what might have been.

The centre-half, who made more than 260 appearances for the Whites between 1984 and 1992, walks around Winsford Constitutional and Conservative Club, where he is now steward, with a slight limp and, when standing straight, his foot is clearly at angle where his leg failed to set correctly.

“I never saw him coming,” said Wanderers’ original captain fantastic. “I was clearing it down the line and Ian Benjamin took my standing leg. I heard it crack and I knew straight away I was in trouble - I’d never felt pain like it.

“There were a lot of complications and at the time I feared I might lose my leg. I still need an operation to sort it out properly.

“I was in hospital in Chester for three or four days and then was transferred back to Bolton. The surgeon took one look at it and said it would have to be re-set.

“At one point I feared I might lose my leg.

“Benjamin came to see me and said he never meant it but you never know. People who saw it said it was a bad challenge and, when we asked for the cameras from the game, Chester said they hadn’t work that night. It does make you wonder.

“It was only after that I heard Arsenal, Everton and Ipswich had been interested. I was right at the top of my game at the time and you never know.

“What I do know was I was never the same after that. When it finally healed it was a bit bent and I ran a bit funny. It was so frustrating and I was out for two years. It was an absolute nightmare.”

It was a devastating blow for a player John McGovern, then in charge at Wanderers, had signed while playing for Winsford in the North West Counties League in 1984.

Came, now 48, was working in a factory making wallpaper paste when he caught the eye and joined the Division Three club in Christmas 1983.

“I had trials with Stoke and Port Vale but not got anywhere and, ironically, Bolton offered me one but because Stoke was the team I supported and I had set my heart on playing for them.

“I’d lost interest in football really and was just playing for Winsford. It was just fate that I got spotted.

“I was playing against Wayne Biggins in a cup game and he had four or five teams were watching him. I did well against him and after the game my manager phoned me and said there had been a lot of inquiries.

“Blackburn, Burnley and Bury were all interested. Bolton were the last club to contact me but they wanted me to play for the reserves at Hillsborough, which was one of the best grounds about at the time, a few days later.

“Walter Joyce picked me up and I had quite a good game and I was offered terms. John McGovern was manager and he had a reputation for bringing in players from the non-leagues – the likes of Tony Caldwell and George Oghani - because he had to keep finances down.

“I made my debut at the start of 1984 season. We were home to Lincoln and John Fashanu was playing. John McGovern and his assistant, Charlie Wright, were going on about him and said this lad was going places.

“I had a good battle with him and ended up battered and bruised, but we won 1-0 and I kept him pretty quiet.

“The following Tuesday we played at Stoke and we won 2-1. I had another good game and Denis Smith, who was in charge of Stoke and was my boyhood hero, said I’d played really well. I was over the moon.

“In my third game, they made me captain. I couldn’t believe it. Less than a year before I’d been working every day and getting up at six in the morning. I think it helped I was a bit older. I was 23 or 24, married with a child.

“I just looked at it as a job to start with, a way to pay the mortgage while doing something I enjoyed. I’d been used to working every day so to be playing football for a living was unbelievable.”

Came certainly didn’t give the impression he was playing football fun. The defender’s committed approach made him a fans’ favourite at Burden Park and saw him lead the team out at Wembley against Bristol City in 1986.

“We went there three times but it was never as good as the first time,” recalled Came, who was to play no part in 1989 Sherpa Van Trophy success over Torquay after breaking his leg.

“I loved being captain – I thrived on it. I was never bossy but I always knew what I wanted and tried to lead by example.

“At 2.30pm every Saturday I’d just shut off. I’d work myself up into such a state I’d make myself sick before every game.

“I was always up for a battle - I had stitches everywhere and broke every bone in my body. I was quick, good in the air and strong, but I’d be the first to admit I was not the best on the ball.”

After the injury, Came did return and enjoyed some good times before Bruce Rioch replaced Phil Neal as manager and told him he was free to leave.

“I was just forging by way back in when Phil Neal was sacked,” he said. “It was a funny time for the club; we made it to Wembley three times and had promotion and relegation. The truth was we had the players but our away form was awful.

“Alan Stubbs and Jason McAteer were on the verge and we had the likes of Phil Neal, Asa Hartford, Peter Barnes and David Cross.

“We ran Southampton close in the fifth round FA Cup before losing a replay at the Dell. Alan Shearer was a just about to sign for Blackburn at the time but he didn’t score in either game.

“I played against some top players and always did well against them; Shearer, Tony Cascarino, who broke my nose in an off-the-ball incident, but the best I played against was Teddy Sheringham. He was just such a clever footballer.”

Came returned to the scene of his career-threatening injury when he left Wanderers for Chester at the end of the 1992 season.

He suffered relegation and promotion with the Cheshire club before moving to his home-town club Exeter in 1994.

“Trevor Morgan was assistant down there and he invited me down there,” he said. “I was born down there until my family moved to Winsford when I was four.

“I had the best two years of my life at Exeter. I was living in Dawlish, a lovely beachside resort, and in the second year there they offered me a two-year contract to carry on playing and be reserve team assistant manager.

“But I was having problems with my marriage at the time and I turned them down to move back up north. It was my biggest regret.

“That was my chance to do my coaching badges and stay in football.”

Came rejoined Winsford, the club where it had all began for him, in the UniBond Premier League and took on a window cleaning round.

Halfway through the 1998 season, and at the age of the 36, the defender’s bruised and battered body finally gave way for one last time.

“My knee just collapsed,” said the father of four. “I went to see specialist and he said I should never play football or any other sport again.

“Because my leg had never set properly it had put a lot of strain on my knee. I need a new kneecap now.

“I managed Winsford for the last six games of that season but I didn’t enjoy it. After playing professionally, I could never really come to terms with part-time football and lack of dedication.”

When Came walked out on Winsford at the end of the 1998 season, he walked out on for football for good.

“After living and breathing it while I played, I’m just not interested in it any more,” said Came, who is now living happily with new partner, Sharon Oakes, who is the niece of Alan Oakes, the former Manchester City stalwart who holds the record number of appearances for the club, and cousin of former Aston Villa and Wolves goalkeeper, Michael.

“When I was a window cleaner everyone knew who I was and wanted to talk about football but I just wasn’t interested.

“I think I knew deep down I’d made the wrong decision moving away from Exeter and it was my way of coping.

“I saw a job advertsied as steward of the Conservative Club two-and-a-half years ago and just went for it. I had no experience of doing anything like this and they pretty much told me at my first interview I had no chance of getting it.

“But I managed to convince I was the right person for the job and I’ve not looked back since. It’s been great.

“We show all the games - we had Manchester United, City and Chelsea were all playing the other day but I only watched for 10 minutes before there was something else to do.”