Former Hibs defender Darren Dods today revealed he’s about to take the advice of his wife Lisa by getting himself a “real job” at the end of his 19th season as a professional football player.
Now 39, Dods is turning out for Forfar and is on the brink of making his 600th first-team appearance – a landmark he should achieve when he faces Morton next Saturday – in a career which has taken him from Easter Road to St Johnstone, Inverness, Dundee United, Falkirk and on to Station Park.
But, while he’s contemplating hanging up his boots, Dods won’t make that decision until this time next year after taking take some advice from Tannadice legend Paul Hegarty.
He said: “I think this, finally, will be my last season. I’ll be 40 next summer and Lisa has been telling me it’s time I got myself a real job. Paul, though, said not to announce you are quitting at the end of a season, give yourself six weeks, go back for pre-season and if you are not enjoying it then that’s the time to go.”
Having joined Hibs in 1992, making his debut three years later in an away win against Kilmarnock where he counted the likes of Jim Leighton, Willie Miller, Graham Mitchell, Andy Millen, Michael O’Neill, Pat McGinlay and Keith Wright among his team-mates, Dods admitted he couldn’t have envisaged he’d still be playing all these years later.
He said: “As a youngster I probably thought some of them were a bit on the old side – now the boot is on the other foot. I’d never have contemplated still playing at the age of 39. Back then I’d imagine I’d have looked at getting to 30 or so. But I’ve just kept going and I’m enjoying my football as much as ever. Obviously there’s a bit of banter from the younger guys in the dressing-room but that’s what keeps you going, seeing if you can match their energy, to use your experience to get one over on them, to show them you can still play, that’s the drive.”
As if to underline the fact he can still hack it, Dods notched Forfar’s second goal in their 2-0 win over Dunfermline last weekend, but the former Hutchison Vale player conceded he’s been lucky to enjoy a relatively injury-free career, during which he’s only found himself unemployed for a few weeks.
He said: “I’ve only had two major injuries, a dislocated shoulder which required an operation, and then surgery for a torn cartilage and chipped bone which put me out of most of my last season at Dundee United.
“Apart from the usual wee strains and knocks, I’ve stayed fit and, apart from that season with United, managed to average 30 matches or more every season. I knew I was there or thereabouts for my 600th game and I think that’s a fair achievement, one that may become more rare in future with clubs cutting back and running younger squads.
“I’ve played under a lot of managers, from Alex Miller at Hibs to Dick Campbell here at Forfar, and that’s also kept me fresh as they all have their own ideas. When I left St Johnstone I didn’t have a club for a month but then I went to Inverness which gave me a new lease of life. I enjoyed three seasons there.”
Dods did so well at Caley Thistle that then Dundee United boss Craig Levein signed him at the age of 32. He said: “Craig wanted some experience at the back and gave me a two-year contract. The first season I played 40 games, the next I was in and out of the team a bit but I got another contract. In my third season I played more than 30 games but in my last year at Tannadice I had that injury and only made a handful of appearances.”
Steven Pressley came calling when he was released by United, signing a 36-year-old Dods for Falkirk, the big stopper going on to play nearly 80 matches for the Bairns over the following two years, only to be freed after Gary Holt had taken over as manager and opted to run a younger squad. Dods said: “I felt I had another year of full-time football in me but when that happened I felt that was maybe the time to hang up my boots. However, Dick Campbell was keen to sign me. I enjoyed last season, Forfar’s a well-run club, we’ve got a good squad and then Dick wanted me to play on again this season.
“Having been full-time all my career, going part-time was initially strange, hanging around all day waiting for training two nights a week, meeting up with the other Edinburgh boys at five o’clock and not getting home until after ten. It took me a while to adapt, but I’ve found it really enjoyable.”
Dods has combined part-time football with going back to university, where he has completed three-quarters of a degree in sports science and will graduate next summer. He’s also been honing his coaching skills, helping out former Hibs team-mate Greg Miller at the SFA’s performance school at Broughton High.
If he does finally call it a day next summer, Lisa may just find his “real job” remains in football. He said: “I’m doing my coaching badges so I’d hope to get a job in football, perhaps a development officer with the SFA.”