Jon Stead thanks Harrogate Town for 'whirlwind' end to 19-year career
The 38-year-old former Premier League star, who enjoyed 19 seasons in the professional game, made his 700th senior appearance against the Robins at the weekend and then immediately announced that he was hanging up his boots.
His decision comes off the back of two successful campaigns at Wetherby Road, during which he won both the 2019/20 National League play-off final and FA Trophy final at Wembley, while also helping Simon Weaver's side achieve promotion to the Football League for the first time in their 107-year history.
"I've had two fantastic years at Harrogate Town and I honestly can't thank the club enough," Stead told Town's official website.
"It's been a whirlwind and a magical way to end your career with two trips to Wembley, two wins a promotion and a great set of lads. I'm very, very thankful.
"When I look back on it all once the dust has settled I don't think I could have wished for more, really."
Stead hinted earlier this month that it was more than likely that he would call time on his playing career once 2020/21 reached its conclusion, though his excellent form in recent weeks left him with a decision to make.
Having not featured for three months, the veteran goal-getter returned to lead Town's front-line with real class during the latter stages of the season, prompting calls for him to stick around for another year.
But, ultimately, he opted to go out on a high, just five days after lifting the FA Trophy - the very first piece of silverware he was won.
"I think I knew at the start of this season that this one was going to be my last," Stead added.
"You always feel that you can carry on, but I didn't want to get to a stage where I was turning up on a Saturday afternoon and not doing what I need to be doing for my team-mates or for the club you're employed by.
"I didn't want to get to that stage and I feel like I'm hanging up the boots on a bit of a high."
Having racked up his milestone 700th game on Saturday, Stead was substituted late on to a big ovation from both his own team-mates and Cheltenham's players and staff.
And he admitted that he felt extremely emotional as he departed the field for the final time.
“I was delighted to play the game and reach that personal milestone, but I don’t know when it will all really sink in," he said.
“I was quite emotional coming off the pitch when I got subbed and the reception I got from all the players, not just our lads but their lads as well, was really nice.
“It’s been a special career, there have been ups and downs but I've loved every second. I am so thankful and grateful that I've had the opportunity to do everything that I have done."
Stead made his debut aged 19 when he came off the substitutes' bench for hometown club Huddersfield Town in a 2-0 defeat to Brentford on August 10, 2002.
He then made the move to Premier League Blackburn Rovers before going on to play for Sunderland, Derby County, Sheffield United, Ipswich Town, Coventry City, Bristol City, Oldham Athletic, Bradford City Notts County and then Harrogate.
He scored 165 goals during his time in the game and was capped on 11 occasions by England under-21s.