Harrogate Town's Jon Stead admits 'sailing off into the sunset' after a Wembley win would be ideal way to bow out

Jon Stead hasn’t yet decided if the 2020/21 season will be the last of his long and illustrious footballing career.

Thursday, 29th April 2021, 10:56 am
Harrogate Town striker Jon Stead at Wembley Stadium with the 2019/20 National League play-off final winners' trophy. Pictures: Matt Kirkham

But, Harrogate Town’s veteran striker has admitted that bowing out at Wembley would be the perfect way to round off 19 years in the game.

The Sulphurites tackle Concord Rangers on Bank Holiday Monday in the final of last season’s FA Trophy, with the former Premier League star very much in contention to start the match given his excellent recent form.

And should he feature, 38-year-old Stead is hopeful of finishing the day in a position to hang up his boots in fairytale fashion, should he choose not to carry on playing.

Jon Stead takes aim at the Notts County goal during Town's 3-1 play-off final success back in August 2020.

“If I do end up retiring this summer then a Wembley final would be a magical way to finish,” he told the Harrogate Advertiser.

“If I’m selected to play, for my last or one of my last games to be in that stadium would be a massive buzz.

“I’m closing in on a bit of a personal milestone with me being on 698 professional appearances, so the perfect scenario would be to make it 700 at Wembley, score a goal and us win the Trophy.

"That would be amazing and the best possible way for me to sail off into the sunset.”

With his contract at Wetherby Road up this summer, Stead has revealed that it is a very real possibility that we will call time on his playing career once the 2020/21 campaign reaches its conclusion.

“If I’m honest, I think it is looking like this will be my last season, but I’m not ruling anything out just yet,” the ex-Sheffield United, Blackburn Rovers and Huddersfield Town forward added.

“I’ve had a few discussions recently and there’s a few people still wanting me to carry on, so I’ll wait until the end of this season and then make a decision.

“When I signed a two-year deal at Harrogate Town at the age of 36 I knew that I would have a decision to make at the end of that contract.

“I don’t want to go on too long and end up being an embarrassment. Some players keep playing longer than they should and you don’t want to drag the life out of it and have people saying you should have packed in a long time ago.

“In terms of the physical side, I’m confident that I would be okay for another season and because of the fact that I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well and contributing these last few weeks, there’s that little bit at the back of your mind telling you that you could still do a job next year.”

That Stead has indeed been contributing so much in recent weeks is something of a surprise given the fact that prior to a substitute appearance against Bolton Wanderers on April 10, he hadn’t even made it as far as a match-day squad in three months.

But having forced his way back into boss Simon Weaver’s plans, the experienced striker has been nothing short of a revelation up top, providing the kind of link-up play that Town have been crying out for for some time.

Had he not managed to re-claim his place in the team, Stead does however believe that opting to retire would have been a far more straightforward call.

“After a three-month spell of not really playing and me thinking that I would end up watching the FA Trophy final on a lap-top, the decision about whether to retire or not was looking like being a much easier one,” he said.

“But now I have come back into the team and I’ve really enjoyed it – as I have all the time I’ve been here when I’ve been playing.

“I do feel like I’ve contributed and if I end up deciding to hang up the boots then I can do so with my head held high and with a lot of satisfaction.

“Harrogate Town have been good to me. I’ve had an unbelievable time here and making the decision to sign for this club was probably the best one I made in my career.

“I’d never made it to Wembley before in all the time I’d been playing and I’ve got there twice in the space of a year with Harrogate and also won promotion alongside a brilliant group of people.

“I literally couldn’t have wished for any more.”

That he was able to hit the ground running at the age of 38 after not playing a competitive game in 12 weeks came as a surprise to many, but not Stead himself, with the former England Under-21 international pleased to have been able to prove his worth to the team.

“I backed myself to come back in and be able to perform, I’m confident in my ability and I know my body well enough now to know how to exploit to my strengths,” he added.

“I’ve been in the game a long time and you learn that things change very quickly in football. I wasn’t playing, but I knew that I had to keep myself in shape and be ready in case I was called upon because when you get your chance, you have to take it with both hands.

“Obviously I was gutted not to be involved, it was a tough time sat at home watching the lads playing on a lap-top. I did find it difficult and hopefully I have proved to the manager that he shouldn’t have left me out.

“I don’t mean that in a spiteful way, I don’t think I’m any different to any other player, you always want to play games, to contribute and to prove your worth to the team.

“It’s just a case of wanting to be valued and for the manager to see the same things that you see in yourself.

“At the end of the day, football is just a game of opinions and that is what it comes down to sometimes. I’m just really glad to be back playing again with the prospect of a Wembley final to look forward to.”