Club legend Spears to retire at end of season

Published: 15 September, 2021 - 6:58 pm

York City Knights legend Tim Spears has announced that he will retire from rugby league at the end of this season.

Spears joined the Knights as one of the first signings following Chairman Jon Flatman’s takeover of the club in late 2016 and has become synonymous with the growth of the club in recent years, leading the team as captain until the end of 2020.

The veteran forward made his 400th career appearance during the final match of 2020, against Rochdale Hornets at the home of the club he represented for eight years prior to joining the Knights in Featherstone Rovers.

In his second year with the club, Spears led James Ford’s Knights to the League One title in 2018 with the Knights encompassing a ‘never say die’ attitude that the 37-year-old has been key to instilling throughout the club during his time with York.

This year has seen Spears make eleven Betfred Championship appearances while also, in his final year as a professional, representing the Knights at the national stadium in the AB Sundecks 1895 Cup Final.

On Spears’ retirement, Head Coach Ford paid tribute to his efforts over the last five years, saying: “I’m very proud to have coached Tim. His work ethic and drive to be the best version of himself are very inspiring.

“He has given an awful lot to rugby league and this club. I hope he enjoys his retirement and finally gets to meet his family. Thanks for everything, mate.”

Discussing his retirement, Spears himself acknowledge that it’s the right time to wrap up his career. “You get to a point in your career where it’s time. I’m 37-years old, I’ve had a fantastic time and, through Covid and lockdowns, we all missed playing and then came back.

“I’ve just come to a point where I think it’s the right time in my life. I’ve got young kids away from rugby who probably want to see a bit more of me. I remember signing for Castleford twenty-two years ago, I’ve made over 400 appearances but good things have to come to an end and that’s where I’m at.”

At the training ground this season, Spears has been seen mentoring and helping members of the squad. Speaking on where he sees his time going in retirement, the forward didn’t rule out returning to coach. “You never say never but I’ve been playing for twenty-two years now and I’ve got a tough job away from the place, I’ve got a young family I want to spend time with and you can’t do everything.

“At this moment in time, I think it’s right for me to take some time away from the game and prioritise my family and career.

“I’ve done some work with some of the boys at training ground and I’ve been happy to see the other guys having the opportunity to play but, equally, when required, I’ve played and enjoyed playing. When you’re given the opportunity to play for York City Knights, you don’t turn it down and I’ve enjoyed every game as always.”

Discussing his family, Spears admitted he is looking forward to spending more time with them. “I’m looking forward to the normal Dad stuff. Football training on Thursday, for example, where I’ve been out of the house on Tuesday and Thursday for twenty years and a lot falls on my wife.

“She’s got ambitions in her own career that she wants to grow and I’ve probably held her back a little bit by being away from the house all the time. I think I owe it to them, really, to do some of the nice stuff but also just being a Dad and being about the place.”

Not many part-time rugby league players surpass four hundred career appearances but that is a milestone Spears passed in 2020. Speaking on what he puts his over two-decade career down to, Spears pointed to his dedication to work. “I’ve always wanted to be the best player I could possibly be. I think I’ve been fortunate injury-wise but I’ve always been very driven.

“I’ve been involved in some great teams at great clubs and won quite a lot of trophies. When you do that, you want to win more and that becomes almost addictive. You just want more of that.

“But I’ve also just worked really hard. I’ve always trained hard and, when I have been injured, I’ve always looked after myself and I’ve enjoyed the weights and fitness side of the game. I’ve always strived to be as strong and fit as I can.

“When you see some players get to thirty, they’ve done OK, and they almost put the cue on the rack regards the extra training whereas I’ve never done that. I’ve always been one of those who works hard, does plenty of weights and plenty of running away from the place and always done extra fitness. On top of that, I think some players struggle to adapt to changes in the game, they aren’t prepared to learn new skills and get sloppy, and I’ve never done that. That hopefully helps you stay relevant.

“The other thing is just loving it, loving the game, loving being around some of the best people you could ever wish to meet and having some of the best experiences that life can throw at you.

“Having good family backing throughout my career has been important, as well. My dad’s always been a great support and Lisa has too. If you don’t have that, I think it becomes really hard work so I have a lot to be thankful to them for.”

Through such a long career, Spears pointed to a few standout moments for him that he will always hold fondly when looking back. “Making my debut for Castleford against Leeds when I was eighteen was special and then I made my Super League debut on my nineteenth birthday against a Bradford team who, at that point, were all internationals. There was 10,000 people at Wheldon Road that night and even though we got beat, it was a great experience as a young kid.

“I had a great time at Batley then, really establishing myself as a Championship player and meeting some awesome characters. I was lucky enough to win a Play-Off grand final there before I went to Featherstone.

“Signing for the club I supported as a boy and dreamt of playing for when Daryl Powell became coach was amazing. I had eight brilliant years there, we won seven trophies and four back-to-back league winners’ titles, which is a record I don’t think will ever be beaten.

“Beating Castleford in the Challenge Cup and winning the Grand Final in 2011 were also stand-out highlights for me.

“And then coming to York, what a journey. Fordy sold the club to me and it was a bit unexpected, to be honest. I wasn’t sure if he was being a bit ambitious with the truth and what was actually going to be the reality but James had a real passion to drive the club forward, as did a number of others.

“When I first signed, things weren’t great, the team wasn’t great, but then, all of a sudden, we were on an upward trajectory and things just got better and better. That ride we went on was unbelievable and I became really, really proud to play for York and see the crowds coming to Bootham Crescent at the time.

“Going from a club that was in disarray to being within a drop-goal of being promoted at the first attempt before recruiting some fantastic players for that 2018 year… that was brilliant.

“That year we were just relentless and had a real ‘never say die’ mentality across the group of tough, hard-working boys who really got stuck in every week.

“Winning the league to get promoted, beating Bradford away that day at Odsal, that was one of the best games I’ve been involved in.

“The following year to then finish third, beating teams like Leigh, Widnes, Halifax and Bradford home and away was great. To add that level of consistency for a promoted team just underlined the spirit and determination we had in that group.

“It’s hard to single too many out through my career but I’ve been so blessed and fortunate to be involved with so many teams.”

Spears himself has become on of the focal points at the Knights and arguably the player who most typifies the culture developed at the club. “Players come and go but to have contributed a small part to the last few years is something I’m proud of,” he explained.

“I think you can look back on the last few years of some careers and some players you watch and I’m not sure you can say they did everything they could.

“I know I can, I know I can say that I looked after myself as well as I could, that I’ve worked as hard as I could have done for the club on the field, hopefully, that’s appreciated by the fans and the lads.

“If that is something that is left behind then that’s great but I think the club has also been fantastic with me and my family as well. It’s a superb club and I’m just privileged to have been involved and grateful for the opportunities they have given me.

“I was 32 when I signed here so to be able to play to somewhere near to my best for a considerable period, I’m proud to say I’ve been able to do that – but it works both ways. Yes, that’s down to my efforts and endeavours, but also the quality of coaching and personnel at the side of me as well as the support.

“I’ve loved playing for York and in front of these fans.”

A fanbase that has really taken Spears to their hearts, our former captain gave a parting message to the Knights faithful. “Thank you for your support. It’s emotional talking about it because we’ve enjoyed some really good times together. I’ve always tried to be the heart of the team, play with my heart on my sleeve and really get stuck into any challenge, to give it my best shot.

“I would like to think they respect that I led by example as captain and I think that the support they gave us in so many of those close games was great.

“You look back at 2018 and 2019, the teams we beat but by narrow margins – four points, six points, two points. You’d be tired with ten minutes left but you didn’t want to let them down. They’re so vociferous, so energetic and I think that pulled us through so many games.

“It certainly got the best out of me as well because, when I was tired and knocked about, you feel obliged to keep turning up for those people, your brilliant teammates and for Fordy as well.

Previously acknowledging the position the Knights were in when he arrived in last 2016, Spears didn’t hesitate to point out how good a condition the club he is leaving is now in. “There is no point pretending this year hasn’t been disappointing, it has been on a range of fronts. I had massive hopes for this year that, unfortunately, haven’t materialised but, at the same time, I look around and see the fantastic stadium we play at, the training facilities that just get better and better…

“You look at some of the blokes that are here, some that we are looking at signing and, obviously, the coaching staff we’ve got around us as well.

“The catchment area, as well, has grown from when I first came to York. It’s absolutely buzzing and the game seems to be on the cusp of exploding here. I think that, when we get it right on the field which we will in the next few years, the sky is the limit for this club.

“It’s fantastically run by Jon and I can’t speak highly enough of what he has done since he has been here and I think, if you can leave a club in as good a condition as I am doing now, then you can be proud of that and look back fondly on it. The club will always have a really special place in my heart and I wish them every success in the future.”

Finally, Spears gave a nod to one of the Knights’ young forwards that he has been training, recently, playing alongside, in the shape of Toby Warren – who was also Spears’ roommate in July when we headed to Wembley.

“He’s a great kid. He’s played very few games of rugby league and he’s as daft as a brush but, athletically, you look at him and see that he’s got so much potential.

“He’s a huge kid, he can run like hell and you see him working dead hard and, also, he’s receptive to advice. You can see that he wants to get better. Lots of young kids frustrate me now as they’re maybe not as hardworking as I’d like them to be, but Toby comes wanting to work hard and wanting to get better at every session.

“I love that about him and he’s tough as well. He broke his thumb in pre-season but carried on in that session because he didn’t want to let anybody down. Not that you should advocate playing with broken bones, but sometimes you do, and that’s indicative of his character – that he’s such a young lad and he wants to do that.

“He went to Leeds for a game and played exceptionally well. He’s got so much ability and, as he gains a greater understanding of the game and continues to work hard, develop and grow, he’s got immense potential.”

From all at the Knights, we’d like to say a big thank you to Tim for his efforts throughout his time with the club and we wish him all the best in retirement.

Tim’s final appearance in front of the Knights fans at home will be this Sunday when we host London Broncos in the Betfred Championship. Discounted tickets are available for the match, priced at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions and FREE for under-16s.

You can purchase yours online HERE – let’s give Tim the send off he deserves!