Retiring former Mansfield Town skipper Johnny Mullins said he would always be grateful to the Stags for kickstarting his career.
He also admitted he was shocked a side with the quality it had ended up being relegated to the Conference in his second and final season in 2008.
Mullins has announced his retirement at Cheltenham Town at the age of 33, and spoke fondly of his time at Mansfield where he was the shining light in two years of struggle that ended up in relegation.
The Stags squad that went down in 2008 included players of the calibre of Mullins, Alex Baptiste, Jake Buxton, Jon D’Laryea, Stephen Dawson, Nathan Arnold, Matt Hamshaw and Micky Boulding.
“It was amazing to see that side get relegated,” said Mullins, who went on to join League One Stockport that summer after picking up Stags’ Player of the Year award.
MULLINS ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT AT 33
“When I signed for Mansfield coming out of Reading, I genuinely looked at the club and thought we’d push on and it would be nice to move back up the leagues, especially looking at the the squad.
“You look at those players and what they have achieved since.
“The potential we had was unbelievable, but football is a funny old game and things don’t always go to plan.
“I now look back at it as a very good grounding for me.
“I have always had a nice feeling when I’ve come back to the club and I thank Mansfield for putting me on the map in the Football League, so to speak, and giving me a platform on which to go and perform.”
He added: “My memories from those two seasons are a bit of a mixed bag, though I met some really good people I still keep in contact with.
“It was one of my first experiences of real men’s football after playing in reserve and academy games at Reading, which is not the same.
“At Mansfield, I thought this is what it’s all about. This was what I wanted to do and for as long as I possibly could.
“The end of my time at Mansfield was very bitter-sweet but thankfully the club is now back near where they should be, though they should be a division higher in my opinion.”
Mullins knows that, at 33, it’s a young age to be hanging up his boots, but is glad to bow out on his terms when he is not being found wanting.
“I have had a really good run at it and I loved my time. It feels a bit weird to say I am retiring at 33 but I have got to move on to the next part of my life,” he said.
“I wanted to go out on my terms, finishing in a way that I was happy with what I’d achieved instead of pushing and pushing and reaching a point where I could no longer do things.
“I am really pleased to put my career into a box and move on to the next thing.
“I don’t really know what that looks like yet. There are a few opportunities that have come my way.
“My family have got a business I’d be interested in looking at.
“At the minute it’s all a bit too new. I am just having a look at one or two things and seeing where life takes me. It’s quite exciting. I am excited about the future.”
Would football management interest him at some stage?
“You never know what’s going to happen or what’s round the corner, so I’d be crazy to rule anything out,” he said.
“You never know – that could be a long way away or it could be 20 minutes away. You never quite know with life.
“It’s not something that’s in my immediate thoughts, but if something crazy was to happen then I would never say no.”
Mullins admits he could find himself missing football by the time the 2019/20 season roars back in.
“It’s slightly easier as I think I knew in the back of my own mind last season that it was coming, so I enjoyed the last few games and the training sessions more than I ever would,” he said.
“It’s off season at the moment anyway so I am not really missing it like mad.
“But I would be stupid to say that come 1st June when the lads report back for pre-season or when the first game of the season comes around I won’t miss it.
“But I just feel this is the right time to move on. I’ve given what I can give and it’s now time to move on to another chapter.”
Mullins has always kept a close eye on Mansfield’s fortunes and could not believe they ended up missing out on promotion for a second successive year.
“I was surprised they didn’t make it,” he said. “I know a few of the players there and I have come across the previous manager before.
“They were so close. But this season in League Two everyone was beating everyone and it was a difficult one to predict. Hopefully next season they can go again and get promoted.”
On the appointment of new boss John Dempster, he added: “It’s good to see John coming in rather than the usual merry-go-round and good luck to him.
“He will have a fresh approach – a different way of doing things – and I know he’s highly thought of.
“Hopefully for him he can go in, hit the ground running, and Mansfield can be successful and get that promotion which is much wanted and needed.”