Being told you may never kick a ball again is every footballer’s nightmare.
A little under five years ago that was the dilemma staring South Shields’ 30-goal Carl Finnigan in the face.
I was told by the doctors that I would not play again. I could not even walk at one stage
And it is for that reason Sunday’s FA Vase final, against Cleethorpes Town at Wembley, will be loaded with emotion for the former Newcastle United trainee.
Having netted for loan club Dundee at Dens Park in a 1-1 draw in March 2012, the frontman was forced off the park with a knee injury.
Little did he know it would take 13 months and three operations for him to return.
At one point, Finnigan was told he was in the last chance saloon by the surgeon who had performed his two career saving procedures.
So, should he get the chance, the Mariners forward is going to cherish every minute he gets on the hallowed turf.
“I never imagined this would happen to me,” he said of the chance to play at the national stadium.
“When I was at Dundee, I had a really bad knee injury. I was out for 13 months. And when I say out I mean that I did not kick a ball for a full 13 months. It wasn’t good for me.
“After the second operation, the surgeon said to me that it was game over. He said ‘I can’t give you another operation’. We left that meeting with the club and physio thinking that was it. I was absolutely devastated.
“Fortunately, I went looking for another opinion. We found a doctor in London and we were considering going down there for another operation. But then the Scottish doctor rung back and said he would give me a third operation.
“To be fair to Dundee and to the medical staff, they stuck with me. They supported me all the way and got me back playing.
“My aim back then was just to have another game of football. I was desperate to just play at least one more time.
“Now, three or four years, later I am back in the place I was born on the verge of potentially playing at Wembley.”
Finnigan faces a battle to be in the Shields starting XI this weekend, despite hitting the magic 30-mark for the club this season.
The form of Gavin Cogdon and David Foley, who have also both passed 30 goals this campaign, could see him settle for a place on the Mariners’ bench.
But having had a battle to save his livelihood in the not-too-distant past, the fight for a starting spot is something Finnigan is far from fazed by.
“It will be emotional,” said Finnigan, looking forward to the prospect on potentially getting the Wembley nod by Graham Fenton and Lee Picton.
“It will all put it into perspective – my career as a whole.
“I was told by the doctor I would not play again. I couldn’t even walk at one stage.
“But we did the third op and I had a few months rehab and was back playing again.
“I was so close to losing everything I had worked so hard to achieve. All I wanted to be was a footballer. And I was looking at having that taken away from me due to injury.
“Now I have the chance to do what every kid wants to do – play and score at Wembley Stadium. Not many people can say they have had the chance to do that.”
His first ever goal in professional football was pretty special, so too was his first goal after returning from injury, but Finnigan thinks a strike on Sunday would surpass anything he has done so far in his 10-year career as a pro.
“I scored for Dundee against St Mirren, a goal that kept us in the league at the time – to do that on my return was pretty special,” he said.
“But I’m sure that will not even compare to scoring at Wembley, if I get the chance to do it.
“Just getting on the pitch will be special with what has happened in my career.”