Ashton gearing up for return to fitness

Hammers striker Dean Ashton is spending the summer battling his way back to fitness after nearly a year on the sidelines with an ankle injury.

The England international reflected on how tough the last year has been and how much he is looking forward to completing his rehabilitation.

"It's difficult to describe how difficult it was," he said. "It's everything you've dreamed of and the next minute it's gone. It was hard to take but I felt like I dealt with it as well as I could.

"I've always worked as hard as I could have done every single day since I've been injured. Now, to be close to getting back, it's exciting to be outside and working. But the hard work's nowhere near over. It's going to take a long time before I feel fantastic but I'll be grateful when I do.

"There were many low points. Some days I was fine, other days it wasn't nice. Coming to the games was very difficult, because you get people asking when you're back and I wasn't sure. It's hard to watch football when you're injured and I found it really difficult."

Dean broke his ankle training with the England squad on the eve of last season.

"There was no real remedy for it," he said. "Terry Venables, Steve McClaren and all the players, they all called me up to make sure I was ok and that gave me a lift. But other than that it's just one of those things you have to deal with yourself and be strong. You just have to believe you'll get back.

"The break itself was as good as could be expected, it was a clean break but because it's the ankle joint there's a lot of structures around there. You're taking the full weight of your body on it and there was a lot of build up of scar tissue over the months.

"It could have been many reasons but it wasn't be as easy for me as it might be for somebody else. But you just have to take the injury as it comes and deal with it at the time."

Dean is enjoying being back in training, working hard to get his fitness back and strengthening his ankle, and is focused on returning in time for the new season.

"I could start doing ball work, but that's not really the priority at the moment," he said. "It's to get my base of fitness up. So it's just a case of running as hard as possible every day and keeping my upper body strength there. I'm running freely, that's not a problem. It's just a case of getting myself fit and used to the work.

"I can definitely say that by the start of pre-season I'll be easily the fittest I've ever been and the strongest I've ever been and I'm excited abut how I'll feel."