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Spurs stories | Off The Shelf | Ledley on being told it was time to call it a day

Wed 10 July 2024, 14:00|Tottenham Hotspur

The first series of our official podcast Off The Shelf delivered a library's worth of Spurs stories from legends of our Club. In this summer series, we've returned to those 30 episodes to bring you some of those stories as our legends told us - their Spurs life in their words.

Kicking off this series, we go back to Episode One of Off The Shelf and modern-day legend, former skipper and one-club man Ledley King, who talked us through the heartbreaking moment when he knew his battle against a chronic knee problem was over and he'd have to call it a day, at the age of 31...

Ledley King | Off The Shelf, EP. 01

323 appearances, 1999-2012, captain 2005-2012

"In that last season (2011/12), I played 21 league games, so it wasn't as if I played two or three games, and was totally finished. I still managed to play 23 games (21 league, two in the FA Cup), but the quality was dipping. In the first half of the season, I felt fine. I played the first 12 games or so and we hadn't lost. Luka had stayed, he started playing, I started playing, Adebayor, Scott Parker had come in and once we all started playing together, 12 games, we hadn't lost, and I felt good. So good, I was training the day before a game and buzzing. But then I clattered into one of the young goalkeepers, landed awkwardly, and after that I was out for three or four weeks, came back for a game against Man City, was nowhere near ready, to be honest, but it was a huge game, both near the top of the table, so I came back for that game and from that point, I never really felt the same. I gave away a penalty in that game and we lost 3-2. That was the beginning of me struggling. I felt like I wasn't the same, couldn't move how I wanted to move, but I always felt at the end of the season I would find a way to come back again. I'd go in in the summer, do rehab, I went to Barcelona one summer, so I always felt I'd go away, come back and go again...

"However, when I sat down and spoke to my surgeon, he said I'd end up in bad way in my 30s if I kept pushing it. I had to take that alongside how I felt - for the first time I wasn't enjoying my football, because I couldn't move - so I had to think about that, how I felt, because it was easy to forget sometimes what I felt like a few months back. And I wasn't enjoying it. So, I took what he said, and how I felt, and felt like the time was right. I always said that I'd retire when I felt I wasn't helping the team anymore. Could I have somehow taken a month off and found a way to get back playing again? Maybe, probably... but would the quality that I wanted be there? No. So, it was time for me to let the next group of players come through. It was tough. It was a shock. Even though I was struggling, I still felt I would find a way. It's crazy. I should have been thinking about retirement, but I was always thinking about prolonging it, keeping going, even though I should have been thinking about what I was going to do with myself when I stopped. So, even though I finished the season struggling, it was the off season and I could spend some time to get right and come back again. But after that chat, and the way I felt, I didn't want to do myself any damage in my mid-30s, early 40s. It was tough, but luckily the club offered me a new role and that was important, not to have too much time on my hands to go into a new world, to concentrate on doing something new. I'll always be grateful for that.

"It was tough, hearing it and realising that was the time I had to stop. I didn't have any inkling it was going to happen because I always found a way. Put it this way, my knee was always bad, my surgeon would always tell me it was bad, but I always judged it on how I felt. He could have told me, 'it's impossible for you to play football', but I would say, 'no, I can do it'. It's my knee and I judged it on how it felt. Knowing how it felt this time, and listening to him and that fact that I could damage myself (longer term)... coming out of there, I spoke to my agent and it was tough, but life goes on. I've been waiting ages for you guys (speaking to Off The Shelf host Michael Dawson) to retire as well, but you all went on into your late 30s! You, Crouchy, Keano, Jermain... I waited a long time!"