Iwan Roberts: My last kick as a professional – and my last words...

Iwan Roberts now Gillingham days. Photo: Kent Messenger

Iwan Roberts now Gillingham days. Photo: Kent Messenger

Not many people know this, but I played my very last professional game down at Loftus Road, back in 2005.

Sadly, it was for Gillingham reserves against QPR reserves in front of maybe 30 people!

It wasn't the way I'd envisaged ending my career after playing for over 20 years, amassing more than 750 first team games and scoring 239 goals. However, I knew my time was up and the time had come for me to hang up my boots.

It's no secret that my time at Gillingham wasn't the most enjoyable and when you don't look forward to going into work, when your enthusiasm for your job has gone, then it's time for you to try something else and move on with the next chapter of your life.

I remember travelling across London in a minibus with the youth team and my good friend Tommy Johnson, who had also fallen foul of Neale Cooper's reign at Priestfield and who had also been banished to train with the kids, thinking to myself: 'I can't be doing this too many more times at my age.'

Tommy and I were the only professionals on the minibus; all the others were young kids starting off on their careers and they looked up to the two of us because we would try and help them improve as players by talking to them and taking them for some extra sessions after training had finished.

Tommy was a good old Geordie lad who I really enjoyed playing up front with because he was such an unselfish player. We hit it off as soon as I signed for Gillingham and that day we both sat in the away changing room at Loftus Road with a room full of kids thinking, 'what are we doing here?' Tommy had a great career that started at Derby before he moved on to Celtic and Aston Villa – he scored plenty of goals for all three before moving to Kent.

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The one thing we both prided ourselves on was our professionalism, and of course our goalscoring records. It would have been easy for Tommy and myself to go out there and just go through the motions as we both knew our careers were coming to an end. But we didn't.

As we kicked off we both looked at each other and gave each other a nod. We didn't utter a word. I knew what he meant and he knew what I meant. We owed it to those 14 young lads who were on the minibus with us to perform to the best of our abilities and lead by example, and that's exactly what we did.

QPR played two young centre halves and they didn't know what had hit them from the very first whistle. Tommy's pace (he still had a bit) and his movement caused them so many problems and they just couldn't handle my strength and the way the two of us combined together.

Anyway, we won the game 5-1. I scored a brace and Tommy went home with the match ball! Well, he didn't really as you never got to keep the ball if you scored a hat-trick for the reserves!

After the game, Neale Cooper, inset, and his assistant Ronnie Jepson came into the changing room. We had no idea they were coming to the game.

They praised the youngsters, which they had every right to, but never mentioned a word to me or Tommy – not that we wanted them to. Deep down they were gutted that we'd gone out there and given an exhibition of how two forwards should play together, even if it was against two teenage defenders.

After the two of them had left the dressing room and the reserve coach had gone, I decided to give the youngsters a word of advice, something I'd learnt a long long time ago.

I asked them who knew that the manager and his assistant were coming today? No arms went up, of course, none of them knew they would be at the game and so I told them what someone had told me when I was their age: 'Always try your hardest and give your best as you've no idea who could be in the stand watching you.'

It was a great piece of advice which I still use today.