Darren Anderton, cruelly nicknamed "Sicknote" in his early days for hogging the injury table, was a picture of health and contentment as he finally brought the curtain down on his 18-year professional career with a wonderfully executed winner for Bournemouth against Chester City.
Just 4,154 hardy souls attended the Fitness First Stadium at Dean Court in Dorset to witness the club's famous substitute signing off with a 20-yard low drive to provide the only goal of the game, one which not only gave the home team renewed hope that they can escape relegation to the Blue Square Premier but made others doubt Anderton's decision to retire at the age 36.
One of them was Mark Wright, the Chester manager and Anderton's former England colleague, who happened to be on the receiving end of the graceful midfielder's 60th and final league goal in a career that took the Southampton-born player from Portsmouth to Bournemouth via Tottenham, Birmingham and Wolves.
Wright was 35 years old when he was forced to retire injured at Liverpool and he made it abundantly clear: "I still miss playing the game and that's why I would like to see someone like Darren have a change of heart.
"Bournemouth will miss him because he is a player who can still unlock a game. It took a wonder strike to break the deadlock and trust it to be Darren but there again he's been doing that all through his career.
"When retirement was forced on me at Liverpool you think you can handle it–but you can't. He will miss the banter in the dressing room, those cold morning training sessions – everything to do with the game."
The Bournemouth manager, Jimmy Quinn, who left his star player on the bench for 55 minutes, has cannily kept the player's registration on file just in case Anderton gets cold feet at home by the fire and fancies another run-out.
Anderton insists he is not tempted right now, even if the League Two side survive their tricky FA Cup second round replay trip to Blyth Spartans tomorrow week to earn the right to entertain Paul Ince's Premier League strugglers Blackburn in early January.
"I have played Blackburn many times but maybe if it was Tottenham away I could be tempted," added Anderton who enjoyed the best part of 12 years' service at White Hart Lane where he collected a Worthington Cup medal in 1999 and the majority of his 30 England caps.
"You can never say never in this game and maybe I will get bored but at this moment in time I won't be changing my mind. I will still pop in to cheer on the lads because they are not just my colleagues but my friends, too."
This match between two clubs fighting for survival on and off the pitch came alive only when Anderton was summoned off the bench to replace Joel Ward. The visitors instantly became distracted by the player's acute awareness for a pass and shot and on 82 minutes City substitute Tony Dinning was sent off for a straight-arm foul on Danny Hollands.
Anderton completely mishit one shot before he sent a long-range free-kick inches wide. Chester may have thought they had got away with it but two minutes from time Paul Linwood's clearance was smacked straight back into the net by the veteran.
Wright added: "My goalie said sorry to me but I told him don't be as there is no shame being beaten by a goal like that. Full credit to Darren for coming down to the lower leagues to play the game because I don't think you will see many more ex-England stars doing that in the future."Reuse content