John Souttar’s injury woe was the stuff of nightmares but the Scotland hero admitted his misery washed away with a moment that was beyond his wildest dreams.
The Hearts ace suffered enough over the years when he was hit by three separate potential career killers and he feared he'd never get back on the pitch again, never mind starring on the biggest of stages.
Countless surgeries on his hip, knee and ankle, the specialists, the scans, the crutches and the dark doubts.
But what a way to complete the most emotional of comebacks. Souttar rose to nod home the opener against Denmark and spark one of the wildest parties the National Stadium has seen for many a year.
There were the tears, the phone calls after the final whistle and a smile that could have lit up the Mount Florida sky.
The jersey might end up in a frame – or it could end up on the wall of one of the surgeons who rescued the defender’s career.
But no matter what the centre back was determined to soak up the euphoria of an occasion where the game finally gave him something back.
Souttar said: “This is the moment, it is incredible.
“The whole of rehab and everything, this makes it all worth it.
“I wouldn’t even have dreamed of this moment.
“When I got injured last time, to think I’d be back here in a year’s time, scoring at Hampden, it wasn’t even a dream. I couldn’t have imagined it.
“I never thought about getting this far and playing for Scotland. I just wanted to get back playing football. That was my only goal.
“So to be here, to score for Scotland at Hampden, that’s unbelievable.
“There’s a surgeon who probably deserves my shirt, although I’m not sure he’d want it. But my mum should really have first dibs on it!”
Souttar could scarcely believe the incredible turn of events and the Tartan Army die hard can barely recall a night like this.
He got the late call to step in when Jack Hendry failed to get passed fit, having been called up after Grant Hanley pulled out.
Souttar would have been in the stands if he wasn’t playing such a key role.
He said: “It’s the pinnacle for me. I come from the North East where most of the Tartan Army are from.
“To score for Scotland is what dreams are made of for me.
“I’ve never seen Hampden like it. I can’t remember anything quite like it.
“Maybe the France game when Gary Caldwell scored.
“But even then I don’t think the nation was quite behind us like they are now.
“It was just amazing out there. I mean, it’s something you can only dream of when you’re younger, scoring for your country.
“It was an unbelievable moment for me. Something that probably won’t sink in for a few days.
“It was incredible and it’s hard to put into words how I felt. Amazing.
“I remember a wee bit – I remember heading the ball – but what happened next is just a blur.
“I remember the noise and the amazing feeling. That’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Souttar was on the phone minutes after the dust had settled to his big bro, Aaron, who was with him during all the dark times.
He said: “My first thoughts were for my older brother at home, Aaron, who has been a big help to me.
“He was the first person I thought of when I scored, I knew he was watching at home. So that was for him – and I FaceTimed him after it.
“It was a special moment and I wanted to share it with him, because he’s a top older brother.
“It was emotional, seeing him so proud of me.”
Souttar’s header sent Scotland on their way and the stunning win against the Danes was a huge step on the road to Qatar.
Reaching the play-offs was good for starters. Sealing a spot among the top seeds was extra special, especially with the likes of Italy and Portugal facing the long road to Qatar.
Scotland will fear no one though.
Souttar said: “It’s not bad company. To play like that against a top team like Denmark will give us confidence as well.
“They’d only lost one goal in nine before tonight so for us to play like we did was something special.
“Yes, we had heart and enthusiasm. But we also passed the ball.
“We have good players and it was just a pleasure to be part of that performance and part of that group.
“It was a complete performance, especially in the first half when we passed it so well.
“Everyone to a man was superb.”
Souttar has been three years away from the Scotland set up but he’s been watching closely and was pining to get involved.
Now he’s back he’ d love to stay around but he reckons the nation has a squad to be proud of.
Souttar said: “It’s a special group. I had read everyone saying it was a great atmosphere and you know what it’s like, sometimes that’s a bit of a token gesture.
“But I can see that really is the case here. There is a great atmosphere.
“There are world stars in there but you wouldn’t know it as everyone is so down to earth.
“They are top guys. There isn’t anyone who wouldn’t put their bodies on the line.”