Drew Talbot’s football career didn’t end the way he wanted it to but he walks away with medals, memories, pride, gratitude and no regrets.
It was his willingness to throw himself whole hearted into every challenge the game sent his way that brought him his success, but perhaps also brought his time as a professional to an end.
The 32-year-old continued to give his all for his beloved Chesterfield FC, despite a knee problem flaring up in the early stages of last season.
Eventually, surgery was required and a post-op infection left him and his knee in a bad way.
Despite his best efforts to rehab and get back to full fitness, Talbot has taken the difficult decision to retire.
“It wasn’t a decision I’ve taken lightly. I’ve been putting it off for weeks to be honest,” he said.
“The statement we put out has been written, changed, written, changed.
“It’s tough, it’s not nice to think about really, but it is what it is and I have to accept it and move forward.
“I’ve been in over the summer and tried my best. I had conversations with the physio Claire and my wife Charlotte and there’s progression, but it’s not progression to get back to playing football.
“The knee just simply won’t take it.”
With well over 400 professional appearances under his belt, he was getting to that stage in life when a footballer begins to think about how long he’s got left.
Talbot had been planning for another year or two in the game before calling it quits.
His knee problem accelerated the decision making process.
“Obviously I’m devastated it’s now, but it was getting to that stage where I’d be thinking of what I’d be doing next,” he said.
“We went away for a holiday and came to a decision. The decision is purely because of my knee not taking the stress of being able to play football.
“Could I come back? I don’t know. Could I keep playing? Well I don’t know.
“It was better to look at the bigger picture.
“I’ve got a young family and a life to continue living.
“Hopefully coming off the knee in training and the stress of doing football activities will aid its healing because it’s sore and a bit of a mess still.
“It’s a decision I’ve made myself and with my family and I wouldn’t say I’m happy with it but I’m content.”
No player wants to leave the game before he’s ready, so in that sense Talbot is desperately unlucky.
But few can boast the kind of career he’s had and many end their playing days without medals, play-off final goals, Wembley appearances or memories of playing at Anfield under the floodlights, in front of 41,000.
He modestly credits those around him who played a part in his best moments on the pitch.
“I’ve been fortunate.
“That’s down to clubs, managers, players I’ve played with that have helped me achieve those things.
“Winning titles, playing at Wembley, captaining clubs, those are things people dream of.
“I’m grateful for the help of everyone throughout my career. Without the people around you, support from fans and clubs and managers, your career is impossible.
“I never really set any targets. The older I got I would have loved to have played 500 games, but I’m short of that.
“Apart from that you always want to win titles and I’ve been able to do that, which is awesome.
“I remember being (Chesterfield) captain against Bury, away, first game of the season and I think it was my 200th or 250th game - that was a big moment.
“Just being captain of the club in general, I’m not the most outgoing person in the world but to be a captain is a huge honour for me.
“Playing at Anfield was massive, even though we got battered.
“It was amazing to see some of those players play, it was a great experience and my family was there.
“To score a goal at the Millenium Stadium was surreal. I remember it via video and things, there’s a lot of that day I don’t remember, it was just a complete blur.
“There’s a lot of top, top footballers who’ve never played at Wembley or won anything and I can retire and think, you know what, I did accumulate quite a few medals and I’m proud of that.”
It wasn’t all smiles and celebrations.
There were injuries, some of them serious, and difficult periods like the 18 months he spent away from the family home as a Pompey player.
Those were the times when family and friends proved invaluable.
“Moving away to Portsmouth was a tough time. Charlotte was up and down the motorway with two young kids after school.
“The support I’ve had from her, I’m eternally grateful for it.
“My friends and family have always been great, kept me totally grounded and realised it’s a job.
“It goes to people’s heads sometimes but my family have always kept me grounded.
“My career was purely to provide for them and to make them proud. I did it for them.”
Many of his career highlights came while wearing the crooked spire on his chest.
Talbot’s 312 games as a Spireite have given him legendary status at the Proact and, fittingly, both a 2020 testimonial and an ambassadorial role he vows to fulfil to the best of his ability.
His playing days are over but his love affair with Chesterfield is not.
“I‘m really grateful for (the testimonial). It wasn’t something I was expecting,” he said.
“It shows the club have gratitude for what I did for them, as much as I have for them.
“It’ll be a very proud day for me.”
“I’ve played there for so long, played so many games and they’ve always been great to me and my family during the good and the bad times.
“It’s not always been plain sailing.
“I’ve got two young children who are mad Chesterfield fans.
“I’m going to the game at Staveley, my little boy wants to go and watch.
“It’ll be a regular thing for us I think. If I can go and support the lads and even be around sometimes if people want to chat, it’d be great to offer that.”
When he’s not cheering on the Spireites, Talbot will be attempting to build a new career for himself.
He’s adamant he’ll take to whatever life throws his way with the same commitment that made him a success in his first job.
“I might even make a clean break from football, try something totally different.
“I love football, I love playing football but it’s still raw. Being around it while you’re not able to do what you love to do is quite difficult.
“I’ll have the same attitude I had in football, I’ll give everything and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, if it does then great.
“I’m going to keep myself busy and do something as soon as possible.
“You’ve got to move on.
“I’ve certainly got no regrets that’s for sure.
“I couldn’t have put anything else into my football career, everything I had I gave so I suppose I can hold my head up high.”