Tom Catterick insists he will always be a Newcastle Falcons fan despite this week retiring from professional rugby at the age of 26.
Having made 106 senior appearances over nine seasons the academy graduate announced he will step away from the full-time game, explaining: “It’s partly through injury and partly taking a change of direction in my life.
“I had a scan on my lower back last season where results weren’t great. It wasn’t a career-ending injury in itself, but it was a way of telling me that my body needed a rest. After that I went to Yorkshire Carnegie and tore the MCL ligament in my knee 20 minutes into my first game for them, and that was what really confirmed to me that I had to do something.
“Some people go on a lot longer without needing a rest, but I knew it was time for me to take the next step. You hear of guys going on past 35, and all the best of luck to them for doing that, but I’ve packed a lot in during the time I’ve had and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”
A former pupil at Barnard Castle School who represented England right through the age groups, Catterick has played every back-line position during more than a century of competitive games for the Falcons, as well as helping them win the Premiership 7s finals.
“It’s a weird feeling now, but not many people can have nine years living their dream as a professional rugby player,” he said.
“It has been awesome to represent my local top-flight club. When I was growing up Jonny Wilkinson was my hero and I used to come along as a fan to watch him play for the Falcons. To be able to run out wearing the same shirt he did in front of my home crowd was an amazing feeling, and something I’ll remember forever. I never took it for granted when I played for the Falcons, and it genuinely meant so much to me. When I was a kid I could never dream it was possible, but I’ve had nine years here and loved every minute. It has been a privilege and an honour.”
Revealing a change in direction come the autumn, Catterick said: “I’m going to study at Durham University from October onwards, doing business and management, but for the time being I’m going to go on holiday, eat and drink whatever I want and just enjoy that little bit of freedom before I dive into the real world.
“The Rugby Players’ Association have been very supportive. I’m going on what the RPA call their ‘transition weekend’ sometime next month, which is a weekend away where they put on different activities like CV-writing, and basically just talk to you about integrating into life after professional rugby.
“I didn’t really want to go on it but RPA northern rep Jake Abbott said it would definitely be worthwhile, and now that I’m starting to get my head around it I can see it’s a good idea. Jake and the RPA have been great in terms of their support, and it’s fantastic to have them on the end of a phone.”
Insisting he will still support the Falcons, Catterick admits it might take a little while before he sets foot inside Kingston Park Stadium as he comes to terms with the end of his own playing career.
“I was actually talking to my mum and dad about that last night, and it will definitely be weird,” said the England Sevens cap.
“Obviously I’ll keep an eye on the club and eventually I’ll come and watch as a supporter, but I think those first few home games next season will be a bit too difficult for me to see in person. Once I wrap my head around it I’m sure I’ll be there like all the other fans, cheering on the lads, but it’s a bit of an emotional one so I’ll just have to judge it when the time comes.
“I’ve certainly got nothing against the Falcons. They’ve always been my home club and that will never change. They gave me my opportunity and have always supported me. They’re heading in a great direction and I think it’s exciting times for the place, so I’ll always be involved with them in terms of being a fan. It just might take a bit of time before I can take that step into the stadium again.”
Boosted by the many well wishes he has received since the announcement of his retirement, Catterick added: “I don’t mind admitting I was welling up when I was reading all the messages of support coming through from Falcons fans, team-mates and people I’ve played with in previous seasons.
“I found it hard to put my feelings into words at the time because I was so emotional about it, but the amount of messages has been overwhelming. It’s certainly a strange feeling, but from the bottom of my heart I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get in touch, or who has played any part in supporting me throughout my career. It means so much.”