"I felt used": Matt Hamshaw opens up on his "disappointing" release from Sheffield Wednesday
Car still running, suitcases packed and ready for the airport, Matt Hamshaw skipped up the stairs and through the doors of Hillsborough with all the joy of a 23-year-old who had just been promoted to the Championship.
It was the morning after Sheffield Wednesday’s 2005 playoff final victory over Hartlepool and he was ‘nipping in’ for what he thought would be a routine conversation before jetting off on holiday.
A number of players had been called in for meetings with Owls boss Paul Sturrock to discuss whether they would be kept on the following season. Hamshaw, who had been celebrating in Sheffield with his teammates just hours earlier, had moved his forward in order to be able to catch his flight.
He emerged from the stadium a broken man in floods of tears.
“I didn't think for one minute it was going to happen,” Hamshaw, now 38 and a first-team coach at Rotherham United, told The Star in a candid interview.
“I came out of the meeting with Paul and saw the laundry lady. She said 'oh, see you in a few weeks'. I told her what had happened and she started crying, she'd known me for seven or eight years. Well, that set me off!
“All the guys behind the scenes that you don't see, I went round and said goodbye to them all. I'd known them for years, it was the toughest bit. It didn't bother me telling family or friends, it was not seeing those people again.
“I didn't make any plans at all. I didn't speak to any other club and I didn't want to speak to any other club. I had my agent ringing me saying 'we should speak to people'. I said no. I didn't want to leave, I was happy there and even if they'd offered me reduced wages I'd have taken it.”
What stings is that it could have been so different. A former England youth international who had impressed in some of the Owls’ darkest days following relegation from the Premier League, injuries had robbed him of large portions of his young career.
Jon-Paul McGovern and Chris Brunt claimed the bulk of the minutes out wide in Sturrock’s 2004/05 campaign but in the final throes of the season, lively Hamshaw leapt ahead of the Northern Irishman.
He started both legs of the playoff semi against Brentford and had it not been for a hamstring tweak picked up in the second clash, he would have started over Brunt at the Millennium Stadium.
Brunt played a starring role, later earned a £3m move to West Brom and in and out of the Premier League built a 13-year international career. Hamshaw was released and spent the rest of his career at clubs across the football league before retiring at the age of 30.
“I still remind Brunty that he's had my career!” Hamshaw joked. “It is what it is.
“You never know and you can't have regrets - I was lucky enough to have been a professional for many years and I'm still in the game now. The game owes me absolutely nothing.
“But you do look back a little bit and think I could've been playing Championship that year and who knows? I'd done well in the Championship before.
“I was released because of that injury. It's left a scar as you can imagine.”
There had been tears earlier in the week – this time in Sturrock’s office at the club’s Middlewood Road training ground – when a fitness test on his hamstring went south. Realising he wasn’t able to play, Hamshaw broke down.
The manager told him he was central to the atmosphere in the changing room and made clear the youngster still had a big role to play on the day.
“I was devastated, it was the biggest game of my life,” he said. “He kept me there until others had gone and he told me that despite the fact I was injured he wanted me to travel because I was a big part of the group. I just sobbed.
“After that I got myself right and made sure I was alright for the lads, but it wasn't easy.
“I understand now as a coach you have to make those calls. You have to plan and prepare, but I was disappointed with how it all turned out really. It went from me being a big part of the group to being released in a few days. I wasn't expecting it at all. The club was turning a corner and I just wanted to be a part of that.
“I almost felt a little bit used really. I was one to have a laugh and a joke and Paul knew that too. He wanted that down there.
“I'd have been better off knowing before the final. We left Cardiff and I was thinking about how the good times were back, it was exciting. To get told the next day was just heartbreaking, I was on my knees to be honest.”
Hamshaw has remained close friends with a number of the ‘Kings of Cardiff’ squad and despite his disappointment at how his release was handled, has huge respect for Paul Sturrock.
The 38-year-old is a central part of Paul Warne’s Rotherham operation and looks likely to line-up in an opposition dugout at Hillsborough next season.
It’s a challenge he looks forward to revisiting at a ground he has overwhelmingly fond memories of.
“I can’t lie about the way it ended,” he said. “But Wednesday helped me develop and made me a professional football player. I'll always be indebted to Wednesday and I loved it there.”