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Thinking of the future

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Michael Gray | 10:45 UK time, Thursday, 26 November 2009

It was nice to get back on the pitch last Saturday after four weeks away from first-team action. I was out injured for a fortnight and then we had the two-week international break. I was really pleased to complete 90 minutes at Ipswich and I felt stronger, more comfortable and more confident as the match, a hard-fought 0-0 draw which could have gone either way, went on.

It was end-to-end in the second half but there weren't too many clear-cut chances. It was nice to get a point though because it was the kind of game Wednesday might have ended up losing late last season by giving away a silly freak goal or something. Credit has to go to our goalkeeper, Lee Grant, and our back four because they did a tremendous job in difficult conditions.

We had a card-happy ref and three of our back four were booked in the first 20 minutes. It was a bit of a concern with three defenders on a yellow card but the lads showed real discipline to make sure they stayed on the pitch.

Having seen them up close, I'm sure Ipswich won't finish in the bottom three, despite their difficult start to the season. They have some good players like Grant Leadbitter, who was a youngster when I was at Sunderland, and Carlos Edwards, who was my team mate at Wolves briefly last season. When you've got players like that in your team the opposition fears you and once they get their confidence up, Ipswich will be a hard team to beat.

The result has certainly given us a bit of confidence going into this weekend's match against West Brom at Hillsborough. They are one of the best teams in the division this weekend so we'll have to be tight at the back and take our chances. The festive fixtures will soon be upon us so if we are to go on a bit of a run there's no time like the present to start it.

For some reason we often seem to play better against the top sides in the Championship. Maybe because they play a more open, attacking game that suits us better. But we lost against Newcastle and Middlesbrough earlier in the season despite playing well, so we're hoping make up for that by getting one over on West Brom this time.

Somebody asked last week whether I had considered playing abroad. You might think at this time of year with the cold, wind and rain it would be attractive to play in Australia or the USA but it's not for me.

Over the last couple of years I have had opportunities - people phoning up to ask if I wanted to play in Australia, Abu Dhabi, Dubai or America. Those approaches tend to come along more when you're in your 30s. They can be tempting but as soon as I've thought about it for a bit I've said 'no' because I learned my trade in the Premier League and the Championship and this is where I want to finish playing.

English football has been very generous to me over the years and hopefully I'm giving a bit of payback to English football now because I enjoy my football here. I think the fans here are the most passionate from around the world and it's great to be a part of that.

I have had friends go out and play in other countries and I'm still in touch with Andy Todd, who is now with Perth Glory in Australia. He's thoroughly enjoying himself out there with his family but I know pretty much every game involves a four-hour flight and that's not something that appeals to me.

A general view of Perth's skyline
Perth provides beautiful weather but long away trips

Last time I spoke to Andy he'd had a flight and a two-hour coach journey to get to a game. Yes, the weather must be nice and family life sounds fantastic but I don't like aeroplanes or long coach journeys so that has put me off a bit.

All I've known since I was a kid is English football. I used to go to watch Sunderland at Roker Park and because the north-east is a passionate place, the football is just instilled into you. This is my bread and butter. I love to visit every away ground and see the passion in the different sets of fans and I love playing at home too. I've been very fortunate over the years to play for some great clubs with very passionate fans and that's no different now at Sheffield Wednesday.

In places like Sheffield and Sunderland the first thing people speak about when they go into work on a Monday is the game at the weekend and I'm no different. I've got football in my blood.

I'll still have the same appetite for the game when I finish playing too. I've made some good friends in football and those friendships won't stop when I hang my boots up. I expect I'll be coming back to Hillsborough or going to Molineux on a regular basis even when I'm no longer playing. I love watching football; it's not the same as playing but I will certainly be a fan again one day.

Now I'm 35, I've been asked quite a few times about what I plan to do when I finish playing but I still feel that I have plenty to offer on the pitch. I am playing for a great club and I enjoy being a part of it. I am reminded by my team-mates at least three or four times a week how old I am and I don't mind it one bit because it's just a bit of dressing room banter. All I say is that "you'll be my age sooner than you think", because it does come around very quickly. That banter helps make you feel young and that's why I still love putting my boots on every time I go out to train.

I know that I don't want to move into coaching when I do eventually hang up my boots. I was on course for my Uefa B badge when I was at Blackburn but I had to stop that because the guy coaching us at the time, Neil Bailey, ended up going to Sunderland with Roy Keane. That put a stop to it and I've never been interested in picking it up again, to be honest.

A lot of my team-mates now talk about coaching when we're at the training ground and most of them are nowhere near as old as me! James O'Connor is one of those lads and he's not far off finishing all of his badges. He's very dedicated to the management pathway and I wish him well because he's a really good guy and I think he'll make a good coach or manager one day.

Thankfully, as a player, other opportunities tend to present themselves and I've got some ideas about what I want to do when I retire. I've already got a car business with Nick Summerbee which is doing quite well, but it's not something I want to be my sole focus when I finish football, it's just something I can enjoy doing while I'm still playing.

In the meantime, I'd better get back to concentrating on getting three points this Saturday...


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