Ostracised by Queens Park Rangers last season, Rob Green was at a loose end on match days for the first time in 20 years.
And yet, when the trend of empty weekends set in, he found himself strangely enthused by a normal family life.
Football causes contrasting emotions in Green. He plans to play for “as long as I possibly can” – well into his 40s if his body allows it – and says his career is an “amazing gift”.
But the treatment of him at QPR taught him that life goes on beyond the game. Now 36, Green is halfway through a business degree with the Open University.
“You put the kids down at night and you get them up for a late-night wee,” he says. “In between it’s a couple of hours’ work. Sometimes in hotels at away games. Business is something I want to do but only after staying on the pitch as long as I can.”
Through periods with Norwich City, West Ham United and much of his four years at QPR, Green was rarely away from the thick of it. He played throughout the first half of last season, appearing in QPR’s 1-0 win over Leeds United in November, but promptly became a victim of circumstance.
A clause in his contract promised him an extension after a set number of appearances, a deal which would have tied him to Loftus Road beyond this summer. QPR realised by Christmas that they would not win promotion from the Championship and decided that Green’s salary was one they had to lose. After playing in a 2-1 defeat to Hull City on New Year’s Day he was never seen again. Not even on the bench.
“Initially it was frustrating and very difficult,” he says. “But after that, oddly enough, it was quite liberating to realise that 99.9 per cent of the world don’t actually go and watch football matches. There are lots of people in football grounds on a Saturday but more people aren’t watching.
“It was a change, an enforced change that I had to get my head round, but from there you realise what a good opportunity it was to get to know my kids. They’re at school or nursery all week and I’m at work. Then at weekends I’d been off playing. So I spent time with my wife, spent time being part of the family and I did stuff that ‘normal’ people do.
“It was the first time I’d had that in, what, 21 years? In the end it gave me a break physically and mentally and it meant I could come to a club like Leeds with renewed vigour and enthusiasm. It actually came along at a good time. And my motivation is higher than ever.”
What better start for Green, then, than a trip to Loftus Road with Leeds on Sunday, the first game of United’s Championship campaign. He says he is not bitter about his demise at QPR and hopes to be warmly welcomed this weekend.
“Whenever I’ve gone back to Norwich in the past I’ve had a nice reception,” he says. “Whenever I’ve gone back to West Ham I’ve had a nice reception. Hopefully that will carry on, but it’s not for me to decide. I could get booed for 90 minutes.”
It must have been a relief when he finally left QPR, though? “That’s one way of putting it,” he says. “But that’s football. I’m too old and I’ve been in football too long to kick off about things like that.
“If you spend a year in football you see a lot. Times it by 20 and you see an awful lot. The club wanted to give it a go last season and it didn’t work out. It was fairly evident come January that it wasn’t working out. They made a decision and from then it was out of my hands.
“It was a strange time and there were awkward silences when you were sat round the table with people. You’re looking at each other with them saying ‘you’re still here then?’ And me saying, ‘yeah. It’s still my job, apparently!’ But I don’t need to give it much more thought.”
Green agreed a 12-month contract with Leeds while the club were away on their pre-season tour of Ireland last month, brought in by head coach Garry Monk as a replacement for Marco Silvestri. He flew to Dublin immediately but the following week, in glorious sunshine, he got his first taste of the Yorkshire countryside.
“Driving around in the sunshine was amazing,” he says.
Relocation was never an issue for Green, despite having two young children. “It’s beautiful up here. A bit different to the Isle of Dogs. As people say, everyone’s very friendly. I’ve had a really good introduction to the place.
“Logistically or strategically it can be more difficult at my age. My kids are at school so we can find them a new school and my wife’s always been very supportive. She left me to do what I needed to do and then as soon as I said the opportunity was arising at Leeds, she got on Right Move and got looking. That’s the nature of the beast. In a couple of weeks we’ll be settled and adopted Yorkshire people.”
Green says Monk sold him an “exciting proposition” at Elland Road. Green also knew the history of Leeds, good and bad. He and Rio Ferdinand, the former United captain, talked about it while they were together at QPR. “The manager spoke about what he had in store and it sounded like an opportunity I could get my teeth into,” Green says. “A couple of seasons ago I spoke to Rio about the place. I didn’t need much persuading.
“I want to play as much as I can now and I want to go on for as long as I can. It’s an amazing gift, to be paid to play football, so you’re not going to turn it down in a hurry. As long as I’m physically capable, I’ll give it a go.”
Green has borne the brunt of jibes from United’s supporters in the past, though the teasing of opposition keepers is an established sport among the club’s following. “Ah,” Green laughs. “I thought it was just me.” The crowd warmed to him during a friendly at Peterborough United last month, chanting ‘England’s number one’ at a player who was capped 12 times.
Public praise or criticism is not one of Green’s worries. “I play for my own enjoyment and for my own drive,” he says. “Anything beyond that is on the periphery,
“My parents have watched every game I’ve ever played in so if I’m ever going to turn to anyone for feedback it’s probably them. The motivation never changes. Things on the outside – I don’t concentrate on them in the slightest.”
A move to Leeds and a move to the north will ask more of his mother and father this season.
“Home games used to be Surrey to Norwich,” he says. “QPR and West Ham were a bit closer again but they’re back onto doing the yards now. This will test their dedication!”