The Saturday Interview - this week with Chris Casper

"I KNEW as soon as I went into the tackle, that was it!"

"I felt it snap and then it was agony."

It was the sort of injury every footballer fears.

And Boxing Day 1999 almost signalled the abrupt, painful and premature end to a promising career for Chris Casper.

His leg was broken in two places and his cruciate ligament was damaged too.

"The ball was in between me and Cardiff's Richard Carpenter.

"I immediately feared the worst," said Casper.

The 25-year-old, the son of former Burnley manager Frank, had just established himself in the Reading first team following his £300,000 move from Manchester United in November 1998.

"I'd made the move and I'd just started settling in at the club and into life in Reading.

"It had been a massive decision to move because it was a huge time in my life," he admitted.

"I was getting married in the summer and I had to move down south with my wife and leave all my family and friends.

"I was sad to leave United but I knew I had to leave for my career and I was pleased to move to Reading.

"It's a great club with a new stadium and facilities that are second to none."

Chris's move seemed the right one as he started playing first team football regularly for the first time in his career.

"Tommy Burns (the then Reading boss) was quite a new manager and he was trying to stabilise the club," he added. "It was a transitional period.

"I remember in the first year we went from second-off-bottom to mid-table.

"And I was just starting to play well and then came the injury.

"It was a massive shock and disappointment."

Dad Frank -- whose own playing career at Turf Moor was brought to an end by a cruciate ligament injury sustained after a Norman Hunter challenge at Leeds -- and mum Brenda took time to help but it was wife Karen who shouldered the main burden following Chris's injury blow.

"My mum and dad came down to give us some support but my wife was unbelievable.

"She took a lot of time off work.

"Some days I couldn't get out of bed as it hurt so much and she had to dress me and things like that.

"Life was a real struggle.

"I had four operations in Reading and I was looked after really well.

"Then it was just a case of getting on with it.

"Initially it was a worry for my career but I wasn't going to give up. That's what kept me going."

The setback meant a cruel look at the opposite side of the coin for a lad who seemed to have everything at his feet when he joined Manchester United in 1991.

At the time dad Frank was the manager at Turf Moor but there was no doubt that he would start his career at Old Trafford.

"I was always going to go to Manchester United so it never really sunk in when I was there how big the club was," Chris said. "I'd been having trials for two or three years before I agreed to sign so it was always going to happen. My dad obviously put me first and foremost.

"He took care of my interests and with the facilities and coaching available at Manchester United I was always going there."

He showed his potential in the 1992 FA Youth Cup final with a win over Crystal Palace when he played alongside the likes of David Beckham, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt.

"We were all just lads growing up together.

"The Youth Cup win was a high point. It was my first big trophy and it was a great time.

"I still keep in touch with Gary Neville. He hasn't changed at all.

"They are no different except they play for Manchester United. That's what football clubs are like."

Chris made his senior bow for the United aged 19 against Port Vale in the Coca Cola Cup.

"My League debut was against Tottenham," he continued.

"I also played in the Champions League in 1996 when I was 21 against Rapid Vienna in the group stages.

"That was fantastic. The atmosphere and just the whole occasion of playing in Europe.

"We won 2-0. I came on for last 10 minutes, just to sample it all. "I played about seven or eight games for United. I loved my time there. It was always great to play."

Chris almost broke through to the first team on a more regular basis -- and things could have been different now if not for an unlucky injury.

"I got close to the first team in the 1994/95 season," he added.

"I was doing quite well. I was in the first-team on the pre-season tour of Ireland and in the squad for Charity Shield.

"Then I got an ankle injury and was injured for two to three months and others came in, did well and I was back down the pecking order.

"It was hard but football is like that. It is one of those things and you can't dwell on it.

"I was in and out of the squad and I did get back to a decent standard.

"I played a few games in 1996/97 but there was initially Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce in front of me then Ronnie Johnsen and then the gaffer went out and signed Jaap Stam.

"He showed his intentions by spending £10m on a defender but you keep hoping that you may get a chance and then you have got to take it."

But it didn't happen and that prompted the move to Reading.

Now Chris is on the comeback trail and, with one year left on his contract, is out to impress new boss Alan Pardew, who has guided the Royals into the thick of the Second Division promotion race.

"It was a career-threatening injury and it is such a short career that to miss more than a year is a huge chunk," he admitted.

"But I have played two reserve games now -- 45 minutes and then a full 90 -- and am keen to get back. "It's only natural at first that you cringe at the first tackle. It takes a lot of getting used to.

"But it's just a case of rebuilding your confidence. That's important.

"We have about seven reserve games left so the aim is to play in them and get back my fitness and look to next season, that's more realistic.

"I don't feel though I have anything to prove to anybody. I will just take it in my stride. There is no point worrying about it.

"I will just do what I can."