Former Eastbourne Borough skipper Ben Austin called an end to his successful playing career this week.
Austin, 36, enjoyed 16-years in senior football and represented, Eastbourne Town, Eastbourne Borough and Lewes.
Most fans will associate Austin as one of the key figures in Garry Wilson’s and Nick Greenwood’s Eastbourne Borough side that rose from the County League and progressed to the National Conference - the top tier of non-league football.
Last season Austin performed at the Dripping Pan for Lewes in the Ryman Premier.
Despite comfortably falling into the veteran category, he made more than 30 assured appearances in defence but injuries began to slow Austin down and he was forced to miss the last seven games of Lewes’ campaign.
The aches and pains, coupled with his teaching at Chailey School and a desire to spend more time with his 18-month-old son and soon-to-be-wife, brought him to his decision.
“It just felt like the right time,” Austin said. “I’m getting married later this year, my boy is 18-months-old now and I want to be able to spend more time with them.
“I had a decent season with Lewes last year. I was happy with my performances and I wanted to finish off feeling that I had played well.
“I spoke with Danny (Bloor) and Garry (Wilson), there was a chance of playing a reduced a amount of games and getting involved in coaching for next season but I decided against it for now. I would never say never about coaching or management but at this stage it was not a good fit for me.”
What made Austin’s career quite remarkable was that he performed at a high level for so long with two stress fractures in his back.
Dealing with pacey wingers and nippy strikers in the Conference Premier is hard enough, but do it week in week out and rarely miss a game despite a serious back problem epitomized Austin’s commitment to the teams he represented.
He added, “Many of the injuries I had all stemmed from the back. I have had it most of my career to be honest.
“There was no one incident that triggered the problem. I was quite small as a 16 and 17-year-old. Then I grew very quickly in a short space of time. I think that coupled with the amount of football I played was the cause of the problem.
“I remember playing in a cup final at Stevenage and I felt serious pain in the back. I later went for an MRI and it showed two stress fractures.
“I was told I could still play, it was not going to get any worse but it was always going to be uncomfortable.”
Austin began taking his football seriously when he attended the Brighton Centre of Excellence and played Sussex County under-16 football.
He was released from Brighton and had a brief spell away from the sport until Chris Pincher enticed him to play at the Saffrons with Eastbourne Town.
Austin recalled, “I had a few games for the third team, then the ressies before breaking into the first team. I remember making my debut at rightback for Town against Hailsham. There were some decent players then and I remember being up against their left winger Steve March (father of Brighton player Soli March).
“It was a tough learning curve in adult football and made me grow-up pretty quick.”
Austin signed for Borough when he was 22 and soon helped Wilson’s side progress through the divisions culminating in three incredible seasons in the Conference Premier.
“All the ingredients came to together at the right time. The club was well run, we had a good manager and there was a core of local players that could step-up and compete at higher levels. It was such an exciting time and very difficult to top that.”
Austin’s decision to retire arrived soon after Darren Baker, Matt Crabb, Matt Smart and Andy Atkin reached the same conclusion.
All were part of that amazing era at Priory Lane and although no doubt the quintet would still make a cracking five-a-side team, Austin has no regrets about stepping away from senior football and was proud to play his part alongside those players.
He rated Stevenage’s winger Mitchell Cole, who recently died from a heart condition, as the toughest opponent he faced in the Premier and the main reason why he was forced to switch from rightback to central defence.
He pointed to the 1-1 home draw against Darlington in September 2010 as one of the highlights of his playing career.
“It was just a crazy game. We were 1-0 down, we were down to nine men and had our midfielder Matt Smart in goal but somehow we fought back to draw 1-1.
“There was a big crowd that day, John Terry was in the crowd as his brother was playing for Darlington and it was a game that just had everything.
“If there’s one game that summed up the spirit of that Borough team, then that was it.”