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INTERVIEW: To get that kind of reception was beyond anything I thought would happen

Defender Clint Hill on an enjoyable time with Carlisle United

15 May 2018

You could be excused for thinking that many of those connected with first team football will either be in front of back-to-back TV game and talk shows or sat on a beach right now, but that definitely isn’t the case for former-United defender Clint Hill, as he continues to plough his way through his Diploma in Football Management.

Promises of an interview with the popular centre back had to give way to the needs of completing two written assignments, and the even more daunting prospect of a 5,000-word essay.

Choosing to use the short period between signing off the assignments and sitting down to tackle the essay to look back at what was an eventful season with the Blues, he spoke very fondly of his recent nine-month stay in Cumbria.

Talking first about his contract offer, he explained: “I went into the meeting with Andrew Jenkins and Keith [Curle] and they very kindly made me an offer.

“Out of respect for the chairman, the manager and the fans I thought the correct thing to do was to tell people as quickly as possible that I felt the time was right for me to move on. To be honest, I think this was the right time both for myself and for the club.

“All I can say is that I’ve had a fantastic time in Carlisle. I came just after pre-season, initially to take a look at the place, as much as anything else, and I had a really good couple of weeks with the lads and the manager.

“There were other offers and other clubs to talk to at that time, so I went away for a couple of weeks to do all of that. That gave me the room I needed to consider things and I have to say that the dressing room up there is brilliant. Everyone went out of their way to make me feel welcome and that does mean a lot.”

“One of the big things for me was that the manager and the club knew how to manage an old fella like me,” he continued. “Obviously you have to train differently at my age, but everyone understood that and I was never made to feel awkward because of it.

“I went on to play over 40 games and that was exactly how I wanted it to be. It was what I’d spoken to Keith and the chairman about when they were thinking about signing me, and they were true to their word in helping me to achieve it. I’m very, very thankful for that.”

Having met every game and training session with a smile on his face – a trait which immediately endeared him to the Blue Army – he said: “It was just a fantastic year for me. You can’t help but smile when you’re in a dressing room with lads who want to do things properly, but who also know when it’s the right time to see the lighter side of things as well.

“Every day in Carlisle was enjoyable and it’s another club where I’ve made new friends. It’s been such a great experience. The biggest surprise from all of it is how much the fans took to me. I think I’ve said before that I’ll never understand that because I’m just an ordinary bloke who kicks a ball for a living.

“I knew there’d be a few eyebrows raised about my age when I first got to the club, and you have to work hard to show that you are worthy of the shirt. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done in your career, the club you’re at right now is the one that matters.

“My first aim was to show people how much I enjoyed playing for the club, how much the opportunity to do that meant to me, and how much I respect the fact that I’m given the shirt to wear on a Saturday. Hopefully they saw that and appreciated it.”

“I’ve heard one or two of the lads say they’ve learned from me over the past few months, and you have no idea what it’s like to hear that from people you work with every day,” he admitted. “These lads are very good players in their own right, so to say they’ve taken something from me is massive.

“I’ve never had the legs to run around at 100 miles an hour every week – that’s even more the case now – but I do use my voice and I do talk to people as soon I see things happening out on the pitch.

“I think I’ve always been a good communicator so it’s good that my constant mouthing off has been taken in the right way. That’s a big thing for me.”

Having scooped three Player of the Season accolades, including the News and Star, season ticket holder and CUSAT awards, he told us: “That was just a great way to finish the season off.

“It was a bit emotional, because I’d almost got to the point where I’d made the decision that I was moving on by the time the awards night came around and, as I said before, it’s been such an enjoyable season.

“I’ve somehow managed to come through it all in one piece and thankfully I have a bit of time now to step back to think about what I’m going to do next.”

Another nerve tingling part of his farewell to the United fans was a standing ovation as he left the field of play with 15 minutes left to go of the final fixture of the season against Newport County.

“Keith spoke to me before kick off and he asked me how I wanted to do things, because he knew I wanted to thank everybody,” he explained. “I told him that ultimately it came down to how he saw the game going. If there were no injuries and things felt right, I mentioned that it would be a fantastic send-off if we did do it that way.

“To get that kind of reception was beyond anything I thought would happen. Both sets of fans joined in and the players were superb. I never thought it would happen like that, and I want to thank everybody very much for making it feel special.”

The days following the game brought speculation that the former Tranmere, Rangers and QPR legend had sent the boots out to pasture, but he confirmed that isn’t yet quite the case.

“No, I haven’t decided anything as we speak,” he told us. “When you enjoy doing something as much as I enjoy playing, you have to be absolutely certain with every decision you make.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be in this industry for over 20 years, so giving up something I love is going to be one of the hardest things I’ll ever have done. I don’t want to rush it because I don’t want to get it wrong.

“There are options, so I’m going to take a few weeks just to see where I’m at. So many players who aren’t in the game any more will say the same thing. Every one of them talks to you about it and they say, ‘get it right, because you’re a long time retired and the best thing you’ll ever do is play.’ I think that’s excellent advice.

“Look, there’s a fine balance, because the last thing I want is to go into next season and be a hindrance to a team. I’d hate that. One thing to consider is that it might not get better than the way it finished at Brunton Park. It isn’t easy this, I can tell you that for nothing.”

“The good thing for me is that I do have options,” he concluded. “The funny part of it all is that I’ve seen some of the links that are supposedly there for me, and they just aren’t true, but that’s football for you.

“There are points in your career where you wonder if something will drop your way, so I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few phone calls. The important thing for me now is to work out what my best next step is.

“Whatever I do, I’ll definitely have one eye on what’s happening with Carlisle United. My past clubs are always the scores I look for first, and it’s more interesting for Carlisle because this is going to be a transitional period for the club.

“Hopefully they’ll get the right person in and that will galvanise the team towards a promotion push next season. The way the fans get behind the team home and away deserves that, and I sincerely hope it happens.”

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