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Knowing when to hang up your boots

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Michael Gray | 09:37 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

So, after over 500 games as a professional footballer, I am officially retired. Even though I have made the decision to stop playing, saying it out loud still sounds strange.

The decision to hang up my boots is not a knee-jerk reaction to being relegated from the Championship with Sheffield Wednesday or something I have taken lightly. I made my mind up six months ago.

I have had a great career, but when it got to the stage with the Owls where we were not winning, the enjoyment just went out of it for me.

Not enjoying something you love is a strange feeling and it was getting on top of me.
It is frustrating because you are giving it everything every week and each defeat hits you hard and it is not only the football that suffers but your family life and everything else.

I told my closest friends at Sheffield Wednesday a while ago but didn't tell the manager or make an announcement because, with the club fighting a relegation battle, it never felt like the right time.
I kept those things to myself because I wanted to keep Wednesday in the Championship so much.

Sheff-Wed_getty_595.jpgHeartbreak for Sheffield Wednesday fans relegated to League One (getty images)

Losing the enjoyment was the mental reason to stop playing but the other reason I decided to retire was that my body was not recovering as quickly as I would like after games. The effort really took its toll.

Being a footballer is so different to any other career. I always said to myself that I wanted to get to 35 and still be playing. That was my target when I started out as a young footballer, so I have no regrets.

I'm 36 in August and I would be lying if I said that I wasn't sad or disappointed to be finishing, because football has been great to me. It is all I have known since starting off as a schoolboy at Manchester United.

The thing I have to get my head around is that a huge chunk of my life has moved on. It is a matter of opening new doors now.

I have really enjoyed doing this blog, it has been a bit of a relief writing about the whole season and how it has panned out - although it would have been better to write more pieces about us winning!

I have also really enjoyed reading all of your replies, whether they were good or bad, I didn't mind. I hope my replies were OK.

So I guess the question is what does a professional footballer do when they retire?
For me, I have done work for BBC Radio 5 live and thoroughly enjoy that and the media side is something I will pursue because football is all I have known so I would like to stay involved.

Over the summer I have got the World Cup to keep me busy and I will watch as many games as I can. It would be nice to work over there, so if there is anyone reading this blog I am open for enquiries!

The other thing a lot of retired players tend to go into is coaching, but that has never been for me. I started doing my badges when I was at Blackburn with one of our coaches, Neil Bailey, but then he left to join Sunderland.

I do enjoy the day in, day out of training and will really miss being with the lads, but I am not the sort of person who can do coaching exams for four years plus I do not think it is necessary. Surely if you have been in the game for 20 years you know most things already.

Some people decide to leave the game altogether when they retire - that won't be me, I will go to as many games as possible. I look forward to going to watch Sunderland because I have missed visiting the Stadium of Light over the years.

I will certainly miss playing football but, with the season only recently finished, it has not really sunk in yet.

However, I do know that when the 1 July comes around and I am stuck at home, that is when it will hit home - that is when I will miss it.

Everyone talks about pre-seasons and it is true they do not get any easier but I was very fortunate throughout my career with injuries and never missed a pre-season from the age of 15.
Having said that, I spoke to Wednesday manager Alan Irvine and he told me they will be having a very tough pre-season. I had to be honest and tell him I would not miss that part.

gray_getty_595.jpg>Happy days: Scoring for Sunderland against Birmingham in 1997(getty images)

I wished Alan all the best, though. He is a great man and I really hope he gets Sheffield Wednesday back up into the Championship. They deserve to be there and Alan should be there too because he is first class.

Deciding to retire does make you cast your mind back to the good times - and the bad.
It is hard to pick out a few high points as there have been so many.

The promotions to the Premier League with Sunderland under Peter Reid were extra special - we got the new stadium and were playing in front of 48,000 every week, which was incredible.

My three England caps were really special and will live with me forever, no-one can take them away.

With Blackburn we got into the Uefa Cup for three years in a row, at Celtic I played for an amazing club in the Champions League and then there were the other fantastic clubs I played for - all of which were a privilege.

The lows were missing the penalty for Sunderland against Charlton in 1998 in the then First Division play-off final against Charlton at Wembley. It was 6-6 and I had the penalty to keep us in the competition and, being a local boy, the pain of missing that was huge. But I would like to think I came back a better person because of that.

The other low is relegation with Sheffield Wednesday. It was such a shame because I loved working there and although the rapport I had with the fans will live on, it was a really sad way to bow out.

Just finally I would like to say I have really appreciated the support I have had from all of the fans over the years, at every club I have been to.

I would really like to thank everyone for reading this blog and all of the replies you sent.
I have had really good time writing for you this season and the money I have been paid for the blog has all gone to the Children's Hospital charity so hopefully it will have helped youngsters too.

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