AN amateur footballer broke his neck after diving across the field in a copycat goal celebration of German legend Jurgen Klinsmann.
But as his jubilant team-mates piled on top of him top celebrate the last-minute winner, stricken Dennis knew immediately something was drastically wrong.
When his team-mates, including his brother Mark, realised he was injured they quickly rushed him to hospital where x-rays revealed he had cracked two vertebrae and badly damaged four discs in his neck.
He underwent emergency surgery and medics feared he may never walk again.
But he miraculously defied the odds, and just six weeks later he is back on his feet after his horrific accident playing for the Catholic Club.
Striker Dennis, 27, said: “We were playing Gaiety’s Bar at Grayfields and I’d just scored in the last minute to make it 3-2.
“It was pouring with rain and the pitch was muddy, so I just thought it would be a laugh to do the Jurgen Klinsmann celebration by diving through this massive puddle.
“I’ve done that celebration a few times before, but I’d never imagined I’d end up breaking my neck doing it.
“Basically as I slid, I caught my chin on the grass and my body weight crushed against my neck.
“It was terrifying laying there. I was horrified of the thought of not being able to hold my kids, play with them and take them to the park.”
“I lay there for about five or six minutes unable to move, then I felt this feeling which i can only describe as being like an electric shock and the lads were eventually able to get me into a car.”
Dennis, a former Dyke House School pupil, was taken to One Life Hartlepool after the accident on Sunday, January 6, where medics placed him on a spine board and whisked him to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
There, surgeons performed a risky six-hour operation, cutting through his throat to gain access to the damaged bones, muscles, nerves and ligaments, and to replace his broken discs with plastic ones.
Just 15 minutes after he came round from the anaesthetic, Dennis said he could feel his legs and he was eventually allowed home on January 14, where his parents Margaret and Dennis Swales, both aged 47, have been caring for him.
The freak injury means football-mad Dennis will not kick a ball again, though he admits he is relieved he hasn’t been left paralysed.
Dad-of-three Dennis, who is now on the sick from his job as a chef, added: “The doctors told me they didn’t know how I was sitting up and feeding myself after the operation. They told me I could easily have been paralysed.
“I’ll never kick a football again which is gut-wrenching for me because I’m a good player and I’m captain of my team. I’ve played football since I started to walk as a baby, one of my first words was ‘football’.
“God knows when I’ll work again because if I can’t stand on my feet for longer than an hour then I’m no good to anyone am I.
“I’m up and walking again now but if I stay on my feet for too long I get a pain which tells me that I’ve got to sit down. I can’t lift anything heavy and I struggle playing with the kids. It’s ruined my life really. Everyone keeps telling me to think positive and be patient so I’m going to try.
“It’s been a nightmare and it is still a nightmare but I’ve just got to be patient and hope I improve with time.
“I can’t thank the doctors enough for putting me back on my feet.”
Dennis is taking nine tablets a day for pain relief and swelling and he has to endure physio treatment for the next two years at least.
His football club manager Derek Brown said the whole team, and the footballing community, is thinking about the popular player.
Derek, 56, who has been manager of the Catholic Club for 12 years, said: “Dennis Swales was the first name I would put on the top of any team sheet. He was an absolutely marvellous player and an inspiration on the pitch and we’re devastated that we’ll never get to watch him play again.
“I would never be able to praise this kid highly enough on the field.
“He’s an absolute leader and we all sincerely hope he recovers to the best he possibly can.”