Ilkeston Town player/assistant manager Ian Deakin says he feels his career has been revitalised from being at the New Manor Ground.
At 31, Deakin has a string of clubs in the local area to his name, most notably having featured for Eastwood Town, Buxton, Heanor Town, Shaw Lane and Mansfield Town.
Now he is playing an integral part in the rebirth of football in Ilkeston, putting in some fine displays as the Robins challenge for promotion in their first season.
But it all seemed a long way off just 18 months ago. Sidelined by a serious injury, Deakin feared he may not play again and instead took the managerial reins at Kimberley Miners Welfare.
“I was basically retired,” he said.
“I’d lost the impetus at an age where I should really have been at my peak and wasn’t sure what I would do. Coaching at Kimberley was enjoyable though and gave me some passion back, whilst at the same time I was working hard to recover from the injury.”
Deakin stood down from his role at Kimberley but his desire had been reignited. Cue a phone call from Notts County chairman Alan Hardy, who just happened to be forming a new football team to replace the liquidated Ilkeston FC.
“I was immediately interested in the role, particularly given I could both play and coach,” said the 31-year-old Deakin.
“I’ve never regretted it. The buzz here is incredible and there is so much hard work going on off the pitch as well as on it.
“It’s gone as well as could have been expected and the infrastructure is growing every day.
“The momentum is with us now. We’ve got a fantastic manager who is brilliant with everyone and a great chairman who is passionate about football, not just with Notts County but equally with Ilkeston.
“It all bodes well for the future with those kinds of people around.
“I’m loving the role I’ve got. We’re learning all the time from the gaffer who is a great coach and whose tactics in training are great - the lads really buy into it.
“Now I’m here, I can’t imagine it any other way and it works really well. The coaching staff get together for the pre-game meeting and all have a say - it’s very open and the gaffer then makes his decisions.”
On the playing side, Deakin feels he is thriving from being in such a well balanced squad, both in an age and ability sense.
He said: “The experience and talent blend is just right. You’ve got the likes of Chris Shaw and I who have played together loads in the past and been there and done it all, as well as Craig Swinscoe on the bench who is ex-Ilkeston and knows the club well.
“Then there’s the younger lads who are all doing so well. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough, in my opinion, and along with the foundations being laid off the field it really does look good moving forward.”
Coaching is something Deakin is keen to move into full-time once his playing career ends, and he says his current role is hugely beneficial.
“Being in goal I can see everything in front of me,” he said.
“I’ve always been one to shout instructions and order everyone about anyway so doing so as a coach came naturally!
“It also helps to have Shawy there in front of me barking out instructions. “I’m learning all the time from those around me on the coaching level which is important for the future.
“It can sometimes be hard to be a player too as there are times when the two roles have to be separate, as well as knowing you’re setting an example, but the respect the other lads who have played higher up the levels have for the game is hopefully rubbing off on the less experienced lads and that can only help.”
Deakin, who welcomed his first child, a daughter, into the world in August, is now keen to make it a memorable time on the pitch too.
He said: “If anyone says they don’t want to win the league they’d be lying. I’ve never been relegated and have always won things, which is how I intend it to be at Ilkeston.
“We have to be realistic and know that other sides are perhaps in stronger positions than we are, but there will be lots of twists and turns before the end of the season and we have to keep the pressure on.
“We don’t look too far ahead. We are taking it in blocks and everyone wants to win every game so we have to believe we can succeed.”