Scunthorpe v Bradford City: Time is right to hang up my boots says Stephen Warnock

FOR a career that has included a World Cup with England and more than 200 appearances in the Premier League, signing off amid the far from glamorous surrounds of Glanford Park in a largely meaningless end-of-season fixture seems wrong.

Bowing out: Stephen Warnock leaves the pitch after his last home game for City.
 Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Bowing out: Stephen Warnock leaves the pitch after his last home game for City. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

Stephen Warnock, however, insists there is no doubt in his mind that today’s trip to Scunthorpe with Bradford City is the right time to call it a day.

“It was a very tough decision to make,” the 36-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “Though maybe the Blackpool defeat (City were thrashed 5-0 by the Seasiders last month) made it that bit easier. I could have retired on the pitch, there and then, that day.

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“No, seriously, it is tough because you always think: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ But, personally, I think it is the right decision. While I am still enjoying and things are going well – the Blackpool game, apart – then that is a good time to bow out.”

The warm reception Warnock was afforded by the City fans when substituted shortly before the end of the final home game of the season against Walsall last Tuesday told its own story.

His arrival in January on loan from Burton Albion may not have been able to halt the slide that, ultimately, derailed the club’s season. But Warnock’s professionalism has shone through, as has his ability with the left-back’s display against Walsall bringing a deserved ‘Man of the Match’ accolade.

It had been a similar story in Bradford’s previous home game, the 2-0 win over Milton Keynes Dons, and Simon Grayson suggested after Tuesday’s stalemate that, in his opinion, Warnock could play on for another few years.

“Don’t get me wrong,” added the former England international, “there have been times when I have thought: ‘I can carry on’. But while your legs haven’t gone and you can still get up and down, enjoying the game, then I believe this is the right thing to do. If I had carried on but then was not playing next year, I would always be thinking: ‘I should have retired last season’. I don’t want it to end like that.

“I have often heard former players say they knew the right time to retire. Sometimes, others say they left it too late and I didn’t want to be that player.

“I don’t want to be heavy-legged and my body not letting me do what I want it to do. That would not be good.”

Scunthorpe may not be most footballers’ first choice when picking a venue to bring the curtain down on a career. But there is a symmetry to Warnock’s 540th and final appearance coming in City colours, the Liverpudlian having made his first senior appearance when on loan with the West Riding club in 2002.

Back then, he was a youngster who had endured rotten luck in terms of injuries. Joining Bradford on loan from Liverpool brought the breakthrough that, in time, would bring international honours along with stints in the Premier League sporting the colours of his boyhood club, Blackburn Rovers and Aston Villa.

Leeds United and Derby County also appear on Warnock’s career CV along with being part of Fabio Capello’s England squad at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

“I have been very lucky,” he added. “I grew up standing on the Kop so to play in front of those fans for Liverpool was great. As was scoring in front of the Kop.

“To play for England was incredible – and to represent my country at a World Cup, well that was beyond any dream that I could have ever had.

“I look at things like that as my highlights. But when I started out, I had three leg breaks so just having a career has been special.

“So to play any games at all was great for myself. As I was laying there in the hospital bed, I didn’t believe I would ever play a professional game.

“So to manage as many games as I have has been great. I have to thank the doctors for doing such a great job that day. I have been very fortunate.”

As for the future, Warnock is relishing the media work that has made him a regular feature on BBC Radio in recent months. There remains, though, a desire to go into management.

“Whether I would be any good is another matter,” he said.

“But I do want to follow that route. I have done my (UEFA) B-licence so the next thing is to get the A-licence done over the next year or so.

“That will be very time-consuming but, for now, I am enjoying the media side. It can be tough. Without being disrespectful to my team-mates, but I am playing at a lower level and yet watching and commentating on the elite players.

“They are probably thinking: ‘What does he know about it? He is in League One’. But it is an opinion and I say what I see.”

As for today’s swansong, Warnock added: “It is strange that I begin and end at Bradford but, if I am honest, it is one of the reasons why I came back to the club when the chance came up to join on loan in January.

“I felt it would be a nice way to hang up my boots.”