Oh Gary Gary,
Gary Gary Gary Gary Gary Brown!
Gary Gary Gary Gary Gary Brown!
This was it. The standing ovation that accompanied the end of my playing days. It was emotional, and I didn't want to pack it in, but it was about the right time for me to hang up my boots. I applauded the fans one last time before stepping back over the touchline at the Don Valley Stadium and then that was it.
Admittedly, it wasn't the nicest of grounds to bow out at, it wasn't even in Rotherham, but it was where I closed the book on my second spell at my hometown club and retired from playing.
I grew up in Kimberworth, just a stone's throw away from the old Millmoor ground. I got my first season ticket when I was six years old. I'd watch the Millers on a Saturday and play for my local junior side on the Sunday. It stayed that way until the opportunity of a lifetime arose.
I was offered a trial at Rotherham United in 1992 at the age of sixteen. It was an opportunity I was eager to grab with both hands. I was a striker, and at 6'3 I was a very useful one at that. In the air, I was a defender's worst nightmare, perhaps not so much with my feet but 238 headed goals in my career tells you everything you need to know.
My first year at Rotherham was our first year back in the Third Division (or the Second Division as it became known due to the inception of the Premier League), having returned at the first attempt when we had been relegated the year before.
Our close neighbours Doncaster Rovers had spent a while milling about in the fourth tier, and I was sent there on loan to gain some first team experience. I left quite an impression at Belle Vue, scoring 19 goals in 35 appearances.
When I returned I was raring to go. I spent four happy years at Millmoor, and bagged 89 goals in 152 appearances, not a bad return given that I was constantly labelled by opponents as 'that big dozy fucker'.
Unfortunately, my happy spell with my boyhood club came to a sad end. Rotherham were relegated in 1997, and in an effort to raise funds for the club, the board elected to take advantage of the interest being shown in me. That summer, I moved to Bradford City, who had survived their first season in Division One, under the guidance of Chris Kamara.
I arrived in the right place at the right time. The club seemed to be going places and in 1999, we were promoted to the Premier League. I was excited to get the chance to play at the top level at such an early stage of my career. We beat Watford 1-0 away from home and then disaster struck in our first home game of the season.
We were up against Sheffield Wednesday, and a win would have been special for me growing up as a Rotherham lad despising the lads from Hillsborough. A low ball was drilled into the box, which I struggled to control. In fact, it just seemed to bounce off my ankle and away from me again. I jumped in with two feet and so did the oncoming defender. I came out second best with a multiple fracture to my ankle.
I was devastated. I finally had the chance to show what I could do, I was being touted as the next big star in the English game and suddenly, I was sitting on the sidelines with a knackered ankle.
I was loaned straight to Nottingham Forest on my return, and I joined the former European Champions in the summer of 2000. I enjoyed a good few years at the City Ground, no recurring injury troubles and the team seemed to be on the right track for a return to the big time. We made the playoff semi-final in 2003, eventually beaten by Sheffield United.
We couldn't achieve the same success in following seasons and the 2004/05 season saw us go downhill. I jumped ship for Preston in January 2005, and was part of the team that reached the playoffs a few months later. We were beaten by West Ham in the final and by Leeds in the semi-final in the following year.
After three failed playoff attempts in four seasons, I joined Leeds United in good faith that they'd go one step further than the playoff final. The 2006/07 season was a well documented disaster, and I was a part of the team that was relegated to League One for the first time in the club's history. The club went into administration and had to be asset stripped to stay alive, which brought an early end to my time at Elland Road.
I joined fellow relegatees Southend United in the summer. I stayed for three seasons (the first of which culminated in a playoff defeat against eventual playoff winners Doncaster Rovers), by the end of which the club was relegated to League Two.
Fed up of every season ending in disappointment, I contemplated retirement. I was 34 years old and further away from the top level than I'd ever been. Along came the only thing that would change my mind, a move back to Rotherham. At this late stage of my career, League Two was probably my level, so I decided to give my hometown club another couple of years' service before quitting the game.
Those last two seasons of my playing career were the happiest I'd felt since promotion with Bradford. We didn't achieve anything spectacular in those two years, but it was an honour to be able to bow out of the game with the club I'd supported since I was a small kid.