“There were hundreds and hundreds of players who were better than me but I’d like to think I got the best out of my ability.”
Those are the typically modest words of Blackpool hero Keith Southern who this week announced his retirement from football, aged 34.
Southern wrote himself into Pool folklore during an incredible 10 years at Bloomfield Road which saw him win two promotions and play in the Premier League.
This week he hung up his boots after injury forced him to leave Fleetwood Town, but he looks back fondly on a career which saw him play almost 500 games.
“I’m over the moon with what I achieved,” he proudly said. “I tried my best every day, I was never blessed with great ability.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of players who were better than me, but I’d like to think I got the best out of my ability. I went further than a hell of a lot of players who have more ability than I had.
“I knew what I was good at as a player and I think I maximised that. I’m very proud of my career. I played in some good sides and some massive games.
“I also played at Wembley twice which was always my dream as a boy, and playing in the Premier League which was beyond all my expectations. My career was a dream come true really.”
Southern first joined the Seasiders from Everton on a month’s loan in 2002 before making the move permanent at the start of the following year.
In his first season he won The Gazette’s player of the year award, something even more incredible when you consider it was his very first as a senior player.
And he admits the move to Blackpool was almost last chance saloon for the youngster. He said: “I remember my debut well, I was on loan with Peter Clarke.
“I’d had eight months out with a cruiciate ligament injury just before that loan move, I was 21 and hadn’t even played a first team game.
“It didn’t look like I was ever going to play at Everton and time was ticking on my career. At that stage I was worried about my future and wondering if I’d ever go onto be a professional player.
“Steve McMahon came in and took me on loan and I was straight into League One football. I remember thinking after my debut ‘wow, this is different to reserve team football.’
“It’s funny from that game I spent ten years at Blackpool.”
And an eventful ten years it was, Southern played a huge part in Pool’s promotion to the Championship in 2007, scoring vital goals in the ‘perfect ten’ run which saw them beat Yeovil 2-0 at Wembley.
After firing the winner in Blackpool’s first game in the second tier for 39 years, he was then a key part of the side which stunned the footballing world by winning promotion to the Premier League in 2010.
Despite spells at Everton, Huddersield, Shrewsbury and Fleetwood, there’s no doubt Pool was his pinnacle.
“It was the best ten years of my life,” he insisted. “To finish it with playing in the Premier League and getting a testimonial was incredible.
“What we achieved at Blackpool stands head and shoulders above everything in my career.
“I wouldn’t change any of those moments for anything.
“The golden period between 2007 and 2011 was a brilliant time and one I’ll never ever forget.
“The play-off final at Cardiff is the stand-out moment. I think all the lads would say that, even Charlie Adam who has gone on to play and score some big goals in the Premier League. It was just a magical day at the end of a season when energy had built and we were winning every week.
“We never thought we’d lose that day, it was red hot, there was 86,000 fans there and it was an incredible day I’ll never forget.
“That was the highlight of my career, I got man of the match that day too. It was a proud day for me and my family and one I’d dreamed of. I’ll cherish that day forever.”
Southern’s final career game came on loan for Shrewsbury at Bury last season after he helped them to promotion from League Two.
This week he agreed a settlement with Fleetwood Town after a difficult spell at Highbury, but he knew the time was right. “I’ve retired through a knee injury which is unfortunate,” he said.
“At the age I’m at it was the right thing to do, I needed to protect my long term health really. On specialist advice it was right to call it a day.
“I’ve had a fantastic time and terrific career, but when it can effect your future health a decision had to be made. My knee simply wasn’t up to the rigours of professional football.
“When a club signs a player, sometimes things just don’t work out and it didn’t work out at Fleetwood, but I wish them the best of luck.
“I met some terrific people who I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life. That is as important as what we achieved. I have some fantastic friends.”