Philip Carson: Injury made me doubt if I'd ever even attend another game, says ex-Glentoran ace
Philip Carson - ring any bells? Following a battle with injury which the former Glentoran ace told himself was career-ending, he's edging towards a reprieve from the four-year nightmare.
Portadown boss Niall Currie has now given him a route back to the fold, having torn up Carson's last contract just weeks after bringing him to Ards in 2012.
Carson's world was turned upside down when, during the first match of pre-season against PSNI, he sustained a cruciate knee injury which would eventually exile him for years.
Complications during rehabilitation compounded his misery andm shelving his dream of a comeback, Carson binned his boots - which, to this day, he is yet to replace - and cancelled his contract.
"There was definitely a point where I never thought I would come back," he said. "The surgeon at Musgrave Park Hospital didn't tell me I'd never play again, as players do come back from injuries such as these, but I wasn't sure.
"After the operation, I was furious. If I could have, I would have kicked over anything I saw out of anger. I threw my boots out because at that point I never thought I would have a need for them again.
"I phoned Niall and cancelled my contract. I had only just signed and only just come home from a fortnight's holiday in Mexico.
"In fact, I had texted Niall the night before and asked if I could sit out the match, as I had jet-lag and didn't feel very fresh. He said he wanted just half an hour from me, which was fair enough. Five minutes in, I had jumped for a header and that was it."
Having already pocketed an Irish League winner's medal with Glentoran in 2009 and earned a reputation for himself as a tenacious midfielder, Carson was looking forward to embarking upon a new phase in his career - and life.
He and wife Kelly had become parents for the first time, welcoming son Charlie just two months prior to the injury.
"I was looking forward to Charlie being old enough to come to a game. I started telling myself I'd never be able to play in front of him."
The lifeline came via his childhood friend and fellow Portadown midfielder Robert Garrett.
"Ribs messaged me to say Niall was interested in signing me and I couldn't believe it. I rang Niall, just for a chat really and without any expectation, but it was all sorted within days.
"To think there's a chance I could play another senior game again, with what is in my eyes probably the biggest Irish League club outside of Belfast, and to have my son watching, is so exciting."
Reporting for senior duty once again, however, is not as straightforward as it sounds.
Blowing his cheeks out and rolling his eyes when asked if he's nervous about playing after such a hiatus, the prospect of making a return to the white line is clearly a daunting one for Carson.
"I'm terrified, thinking of that just makes my stomach flip. I know I will be the most nervous I've ever been," he said.
"I can imagine myself probably throwing up before it. Will I cope with it, will I be able to keep up, will I still have it, and I'll be questioning myself right up until I go out there and get my first touch. After that, I am sure I will settle, but I am genuinely worried about the first game back.
"At the same time, I'm desperate to get back out there. I went to see Portadown play Glenavon a few weeks ago and I wanted so badly to be out there with everyone."
While his contract says he's a Portadown player, Carson admits he will not truly 'belong' until he's called into a squad.
"Even though I was at the game, I couldn't bring myself to be a part of it. There's a line between what you can do simply because you're now part of the set-up, and one thing I couldn't bear was watching them warm-up, chat with the coaches and applaud the fans.
"When I arrived at the ground, hearing the music from the dressing room really cut deep.
"It's amazing when I think of how long it's been since I even watched football. I'm a Glentoran and Liverpool fan, and love the game, but I couldn't face going after the injury. I went to the Oval a couple of times to watch the Glens, but I didn't enjoy it.
"I really struggled with that, trying to make the most of a bad situation just made it feel worse.
"I'm good friends with Gary Haveron too and am so pleased he's in charge there but, before having a chat with Niall, I still never thought I would have the inclination to go to an Irish League game again."
Shamrock Park physiotherapist Chris Loughran is the man tasked with assessing Carson's progress and assisting him on the road to recovery.
"I have a four-week programme with Chris and the big thing will be trying to develop my hamstring as I had part of the muscle cut out in the operation.
"After some strength and conditioning, I should be in a position to take in some drills and when Chris says I'm ready for a game, I'd like to break myself in with an under-20s match first.
"I might not be chasing shadows like I used to be for a while, but I can't wait to give it a try. I just need to buy some boots!"