Fulham midfielder Jimmy Bullard has admitted for the first time he thought his career was over when he first suffered his horror knee injury 15 months ago.
Bullard, 29, dislocated his kneecap in a collision with Scott Parker - then of Newcastle.
His injury was described by the world's leading knee specialist Richard Steadman as the worst he had ever seen. He underwent two operations in a week in Colorado after the initial diagnosis in England was he would be out for no more than six weeks.
Bullard said: "At the start I definitely felt I would never come back. Those thoughts went through my head.
"But you have got to be strong. Everyone who has had a serious injury knows you have just got to keep working at it and you will get there in the end."
Bullard was told on Friday he would play some part in the game at West Ham - and admits it gave him a sleepless night.
He added: "I was like an excited little kid on Christmas Eve - I was very eager.
"I didn't get to sleep until the early hours of the morning. That is the way it is - just thinking about it every day, getting out there and getting as many minutes as I can under my belt and to get back playing as I was.
"My knee feels stronger than ever.
"Obviously I had no problems with it at West Ham.
"It feels brilliant, really strong. I just want to get more match action under my belt. It was just excellent to be out there playing football.
"I'm just so happy being back playing footy with my mates for Fulham."