An amateur footballer is awaiting facial reconstruction after being repeatedly kicked and beaten as he lay unconscious after an attack during a night out.
Richie Robins, first team goalkeeper for non-league Wivenhoe Town FC and former Colchester United youth team player, stepped in to protect a woman when he was set upon by half a dozen men.
The 21-year-old University of East London student was punched and knocked unconscious but the attack continued as he lay on the floor, Essex Police said.
Mr Robins, who was on a night out but had not been drinking as he had a match the next day, said he had suffered short-term damage to his eyesight which is likely to stop him playing football for the rest of the season.
He had recently been offered work with a modelling agency which he will now be unable to take up and he is worried his studies on a sports development course will suffer.
"I saw the group inside a club earlier in the night, pushing a girl about because she didn't want to dance with them," he said.
"I went over and told them to leave her alone and after a while it calmed down. Later in the night I left and was waiting for a friend outside.
"They came over again and one of them punched me. I don't remember much after that because I hit my head on the pavement and was knocked out.
"People who were watching said they carried on kicking and punching me for quite a while as I lay on the ground."
A group of three men helped Mr Robins to safety and called an ambulance. He remembers waking up at Colchester General Hospital but not how he got there.
"It's going to keep me out of football for a while and may ruin my chances of modelling," he added.
"I have some important university work to do but haven't been able to get on with it because I've hardly slept and have been eating through a straw.
"I'll find out on Monday what surgery I need but I'm counting my luck that it wasn't worse and I didn't end up with brain damage or something.
"It wouldn't stop me helping somebody out in the future. I couldn't have left her because who knows what might have happened."
Detective constable Seff Manesh appealed for people who witnessed the attack outside a Subway store in Queen Street, Colchester, at 3.30am on December 21 to come forward.
He said: "This young man had been out with his friends after returning home from university for the Christmas holiday.
"We are aware of a disturbance involving a large number of young men and are examining CCTV to establish what happened and who was involved.
"This student has sustained some very nasty-looking injuries which will affect him for the foreseeable future.
"We're looking to speak with those bystanders who saw what happened and what started the melee."
A spokesman for Wivenhoe FC, who play in the Eastern Counties League Premier Division, said Mr Robins suffered "severe" injuries including fractures to his eye socket and cheek bones.
He added: "Naturally, everyone at Wivenhoe Town FC sends Richie their best wishes for a speedy recovery and hope that the people responsible for attacking him are quickly brought to justice."
Essex Police said there were about six attackers who were described as black and in their late teens and early 20s.
Officers have arrested a 19-year-old man from Colchester in connection with the incident. He has been released on police bail.
Witnesses should contact detectives at Colchester police station on 101.