HE has accumulated nearly as many battle scars as appearances.
But Nick Montgomery, who kisses Sheffield United goodbye tomorrow after more than 12 years of service at Bramall Lane, will always wear the bumps, bruises and broken bones as badges of pride.
“This isn’t just a football club,” he said. “It’s a huge part of me and a club that I’ve been honoured to shed blood, sweat and tears for.
“I’ve had chances to go in the past and I’ve turned them down because I appreciate what United and the people here have done for me. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
“You don’t stay somewhere as long as I have if it’s just ‘work’. Without developing a really strong emotional bond.
“Things change and now I’m moving on but United will always be in my heart and my life.”
Montgomery, who made his debut for the South Yorkshire club in October 2000, views United’s League One fixture against Bury as an opportunity to thank former teammates, coaching staff and fans for their backing before moving to Australia on Monday.
But, as he watches the action unfold from the stands, the midfielder will also reflect upon the highs and lows of a career which has encompassed 13 seasons, two cup semi-finals and three excruciating play-off campaigns.
Montgomery, who has elected to join Central Coast Mariners rather than another English club, told The Star he has collected “many brilliant memories” since that autumnal evening at Norwich City’s Carrow Road.
“To see how we’ve grown on and off the pitch since I came into the youth team really is something else. The experiences I’ve had have been great,” he said.
But there have been painful ones too. Not least United’s controversial relegation from the Premier League in 2007 which, he unashamedly insists, hastened their slide into the third tier.
“The manner in which we went down still hurts now,” Montgomery, referring to the ‘Carlos Tevez Affair’, said. “It didn’t feel fair then and it still doesn’t now.
“To work so hard for something and then have it taken away from you like that, well, I can’t tell you how bad that makes you feel.
“If we’d have stayed up then I think there’s a good chance we’d still be there.
“We effectively lost players like Jags (Phil Jagielka) because of what happened and that was difficult to take.”
With the likes of Leeds, Blackpool and Burnley among those interested in acquiring his services before last month’s transfer deadline, Montgomery’s decision to head Down Under raised eyebrows in some quarters.
But, he explained, a combination of factors meant it was impossible to resist the southern hemisphere’s charms.
“My wife has got friends in Australia and so have I. That should help us settle in,” he said. “Really, though, I’ve always fancied playing abroad.
“I could have earned more money by staying in this country but it’s a great chance to sample something new and also, most importantly, give our children the opportunity to have a great new way of life.”
With Graham Arnold, previously head coach of the Socceroos, now in charge at Bluetongue Stadium, Montgomery is excited about what the future holds.
“I spoke to a lot of people whose opinions I really value and they told me to go for it,” he revealed.
“The Mariners might not be the the biggest name in the competition but they are one of the most well-run and professional clubs.
“The facilities there are absolutely superb and they’re very serious about what they do. There are some really good players going out there now, Alessandro Del Piero has just joined Sydney, and Mariners are involved in the Asian Champions League.
“Being able to travel to places like China, Japan and Korea and play football is something I’m really looking forward to.”
Montgomery’s departure marks not only the end of an era at United but, quite feasibly, the existence of a certain type of footballer too.
The former Scotland Under-21 international’s readiness to prioritise professional obligations over personal gain has often been detrimental to his standing among supporters - not least during last season’s play-off final defeat by Huddersfield Town - but it has commanded their respect.
“I probably shouldn’t have been involved in that one,” Montgomery admitted. “I’d had a really hard year with injury and some things that were going on in my private life but the gaffer didn’t have many options left.
“When Kevin McDonald was declared unfit I felt I had to play. Looking back, it might have been the wrong thing to do because I didn’t have a very good game but I did it for the right reasons. I just wanted to help out.”
“I know I’ve got my critics but it doesn’t bother me. You are never going to please everyone. It’s impossible.
“But what I will say is that everytime I’ve set foot on that pitch for United I’ve given absolutely everything.
“Yes, sometimes there have been times when I’ve played and probably shouldn’t have done., when the sensible thing would have been to sit a match out. But I’m not one of those players who has ever wanted to do that.”
Montgomery, who has not played since May’s outing at Wembley, confirmed he has parted company with United in amicable fashion.
A point the midfielder emphasised by revealing he will watch Danny Wilson’s tomorrow surrounded by friends and family, from a specially-donated executive box in the stand.
“I’ve been here for so long it would have been awful if I’d left under a cloud,” he said.
“And, although we’re going a long way away, I’ll always come back whenever I get the chance and will continue to help the club in any way I can.
“It’s going to be strange not being here but I promise there aren’t going to be any tears.”
Other Clubs: Millwall (loan)
International honours: Scotland Under-21 and Futures