Ashton thanks the fans

Dean Ashton has thanked the fans for their unstinting support as he faced up to the realisation he had to retire.

The 26-year-old has never fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered while on international duty back in August 2006. He has undergone four operations with a fifth due next week as he bids to be able just to walk properly. While he contemplates his future, Ashton was grateful to those who have rallied to his side.

"I would like to thank West Ham as a club for all the time they have spent on me and the fans have been terrific. I'm sad I could not get back and play in front of them."

Ashton's last surgery was in February and there was hope he would be back for pre-season training in the summer. However, an attempt to join in fully with his team-mates after a lengthy spell of personal rehab ended in tears - with his ankle unable to cope with the rigours of training.

"It's a rubbish situation. This news is what every footballer dreads. But at the moment, I just want to be able to walk properly and at the moment, I cannot. My health is obviously more important than football."

"I was told that if I kept trying to play football, I might never walk again. I am going to hospital on Tuesday for my fifth operation. It's unlikely I will ever be able to jog again but right now, I still can't walk properly. Hopefully, this will be my last operation but my left ankle is still very sore."

He has many great memories of playing for the club, not least the 2006 FA Cup final, when he scored in a 3-3 draw before the defeat on penalties. "When I got to West Ham, you could tell there was a great vibe about the place and I rolled with it. It ended in a great highlight - scoring at the FA Cup final. It was sad to lose to Liverpool but it was a brilliant game."