ANDY BOOTH will walk out alongside his children for a final home appearance in Huddersfield Town colours tomorrow and admits: "It will be emotional."
The 35-year-old striker is calling time on a career which spans 17 years, 600-plus matches and 182 goals – most of them playing for his beloved hometown club.
Six-year-old Harrison and two-year-old Hermione will be at his side as mascots – and the rest of the family in the stands – as Town take on Brighton in 24 hours and thousands of supporters raise the roof in his honour for one last time.
"It will be emotional because playing football has been part of my life for so long and I’ve had fantastic support from the Town fans," said Booth, who plans to play some cricket for Hall Bower this summer and make the most of a family holiday at their home in Spain.
"I really would like to thank every single person for their support over the years and I’m sure it will get to me a bit as we say goodbye.
"It will be really nice for me, though, to walk out on the field for the final time here with Harrison and Hermione holding my hands and, obviously, it would be nice to go out with a couple of wins and a couple of goals in these final two matches.
"If that doesn’t happen (he needs two goals to reach 150 for Town), I’ll still be very happy about everything in my career, that I’ve been able to play through this centenary season before bowing out and especially that I’ll still be involved at the club – I’m really excited about that."
Booth, who had back surgery earlier this season, will return in July not for the rigours of a pre-season which is promised to be tough by manager Lee Clark but for a place in the office as ‘the face’ of Town in a new era, under soon-to-be-chairman Dean Hoyle.
"I will have a lot of different tasks working with the commercial department and marketing, developing relationships and also being the link between the players and the community," he explained.
"It’s a new challenge and a big challenge, not only because it’s so different but because working 9 o’clock to 5 o’clock is totally alien to me!
"Since I left school at 16 my day has started with training around 10 or 10.30 and then the most intensive part of the day has been over by about 1pm, so this is a whole new ball game.
"I don’t really think it will hit me my career is over until I’m going down there in a shirt and tie and the lads are going out to train, but I do have to say I won’t miss pre-season training.
"Any pre-season is difficult because you’ve got to achieve that basic fitness you need and while all managers and coaches have their own way of going about things, it is always very hard."
Former player Jon Dyson, ex-manager Andy Ritchie and recent coach Martyn Booty were among the first people to contact Booth and wish him all the best for the future.
"I’ll miss the dressing room, I’m sure, but I will still be around the place to enjoy some banter with the players," he added.
"I’m also intending to keep myself reasonably fit, because my registration is being retained in case of dire emergency. I think I’d only be considered if we hadn’t got a striker left in the club and there was no other option, so it really isn’t my intention to play again.
"First up this summer I’m going to enjoy our holiday and maybe play a few games of cricket, and then I’ll be looking forward to getting involved back at the Galpharm again."
Wife Cheryl is delighted with how things have worked out and that her husband will still have the club very much in his life. This is his second spell, of course, returning from Sheffield Wednesday in March 2001 to re-assume his place at the top of the supporters’ affections.
"I’m really pleased for Andrew, especially as the kids are starting to grow up and do things on a Saturday which he doesn’t now have to miss out on," she explained.
"There is no way I’m going to moan because football is a great profession and has given us a wonderful lifestyle – it’s not a hard job to have to put up with – but we are looking forward to doing normal family things, perhaps going on holiday at different times in the year and just having a more stable set-up."
So has the right decision been made at this time?
"I think when you are comfortable with a decision then you know it’s the right one – and we are," she answered.
"I’m sure he could have carried on for another year but, physically, it would have been tough. Playing matches isn’t really a problem but he does struggle to recover from them phycally.
"There were times after he had the back surgery that I wondered if he would ever play again, so it’s been great for him to get back – but I am pleased he’s giving up now.
"It’s the ideal time, too, because he is really excited about the new role he’ll have and the fact it enables him to maintain all his ties down there.
"Had he been leaving football and also leaving the club, then I think it would have been very hard for him.
"With that not being the case, he’ll still be involved and that’s brilliant, because it would be hard to imagine Andrew not going down to the club."
Cheryl views tomorrow’s match – already pinpointed as a ‘tribute’ to the No23 – as a new beginning for the family.
"He’ll finally be able to chill out and enjoy the whole of our holiday, rather than thinking about pre-season training, I’m sure he’ll play a bit more cricket and golf and I know he’ll enjoy doing more things with the kids on a weekend, because he’s a good hands-on dad.
"They will love having him around a bit more as well, especially Harrison at the moment because he’s playing cricket with Hall Bower Under 9s and loves it as much as his dad.
"I think it will be strange for all of us tomorrow, and definitely a bit emotional. While it’s a new start, it will be sad for him to play his last match in front of the home fans, although I’m sure they’ll give him a good send-off because he deserves it for what he’s done and his contribution to the club."
A ‘good send-off’ is probably the understatement of Town’s century. There won’t be a seat occupied, in the nicest possible way, when his name is read out last from the teamsheet.