At 36 years old, having not played for 18 months and without a club during a financially-crippling pandemic, Greg Halford feared he would have to end his career prematurely.
But last month the former Sunderland, Cardiff, Nottingham Forest, Portsmouth and Colchester defender offered to play for free for the rest of 2020 and – after joining League Two Southend at 18:30 GMT on Tuesday – scored in their 3-1 win over Grimsby less than three hours later.
“I kind of put out an SOS, pretty much,” Halford said about his offer to go without pay.
“Several teams got wind of it, asked me if I wanted to come down, train and see where I was in terms of fitness.”
Ironically, during that time, Halford – who cost Sunderland about £3m when he signed from Reading in 2007 – spent a week training at Grimsby before joining up with Essex side Southend on a deal until 14 January.
His previous game had been for Aberdeen in a 3-0 Scottish Premiership defeat by Celtic in May 2019, when he came on as a substitute only to be forced off 11 minutes later through injury.
“I’ve got to pinch myself at the minute, it’s been a long time and long road back,” Halford told BBC Essex.
“I’m obviously delighted with the goal – you could see my happiness when I did score, it’s that relief of being back in football and helping the team get three points.”