BIG INTERVIEW: Tommy Spurr on life after Preston North End as injury forces early retirement
Before Preston’s League Cup game against Bradford City this week, there looked nothing out of the ordinary as Tommy Spurr mixed with the North End squad.
Except that Spurr was not decked out in a PNE tracksuit and was walking with something of a limp.
Not too long ago, he was a team-mate of those who were soon to step out on to the Valley Parade turf to take on the Bantams.
Spurr is now a former footballer, calling time on his career this summer at the age of 31.
He has a new right hip, the old one damaged to such an extent that football was no longer a viable job.
Speaking with Spurr, you don’t pick up any sense of bitterness on his part.
Instead there is a sense of relief that for the first time in 10 months he is moving around pain-free.
Spurr and myself talked in the press box ahead of PNE seeing off Bradford 4-0.
He was there as a pundit for the commentary on Preston’s website, the stint behind the microphone a chance to look from a different angle at the game he had done plenty in since starting his career with Sheffield Wednesday.
The Yorkshireman played bang on 400 competitive games, taking in stays with Wednesday, Doncaster, Blackburn, PNE and Fleetwood.
Spurr can tell the story of scoring for the Owls in a Sheffield derby, one of 12 career goals.
He won League One with Doncaster, came over to Lancashire and continued a solid career with Rovers and North End.
The defender will be the first to admit he never quite established himself at Deepdale.
He played 25 games in a PNE shirt and scored once in a defeat to Norwich at Deepdale.
Spurr had a season under Simon Grayson and a second under Alex Neil.
For the third year of his contract, he was loaned out to Fleetwood and it was there that the hip injury reared its head.
“I went in for a tackle in a game for Fleetwood against Barnsley last September,” said Spurr.
“At first I just thought I had pulled my groin but the scan showed part of my hip cartilage wasn’t in great shape.
“The surgeon tried to repair it but that didn’t work and he told me the only way to not be in pain was to replace the hip.
“So in the summer I had a full hip replacement which is quite unusual at my age.
“The operation went well and after 10 months I’m not in pain which is a relief.
“I’m moving around a lot better, swimming a lot to exercise.
“I miss the routine of doing exercise every day which I took for granted when I was playing – I got paid to stay fit and play football.
“Over the next three or four weeks I will start doing a lot more things.
“They don’t recommend going road running but I’ll be able to do cycling and lead a normal life.
“Preston have been great with me. They sorted out the hip replacement and agreed to help me get back to some sort of fitness.
“Matt Jackson and Tom Little have been brilliant in coming round to see me and checking I’m all right.
“That is not something they have to do because I’m no longer contracted to the club.
“But for them to take that extra bit of care has been good and has been very much appreciated.
“When you are involved in football, you see it as a little bit of a job but when it gets taken away from you do miss it.
“Coming to watch a game again, you get a bit of a buzz seeing the lads and seeing them go out to warm up.”
Now that his career is at and end, Spurr can look back with satisfaction at parts of it.
Finding the net in the first minute of Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane in 2009 is a highlight.
Said Spurr: “Playing as long as I did for Sheffield Wednesday, the club which I supported, was good.
“I played more than 200 games for them and scored in a Sheffield derby.
“Winning League One with Doncaster was special.
“The season I started here playing at centre-back was a big thing for me.
“I’d done a lot of work in the close season but came back not really thinking I’d be in the manager’s plans.
“But I did well during the pre-season and the hard work paid off when Alex Neil played me in the team.”
Spurr is studying for his ‘B’ Licence coaching badge and is not far off finishing a degree in sports science.
“I’ll finish the degree this year, it’s a four-year course and will be a good string to add to my bow,” he said.
“I started the degree as I wanted to have options for when I finished playing – that has happened sooner than I wanted to.
“It’s a direct learning course organised by the PFA through the Manchester Metropolitan University.
“They send you work to do, there are tests online, while there are residentials in the off-season.
“Having the degree will give me the chance to go down the teaching route if that is something I fancy.
“I’m doing my ‘B’ Licence and will be starting my hours with that.
“I don’t want to be limping around doing that, I want to go at full throttle and give it my best.
“A coaching career is an option going forward.”