Having pulled on the Mildenhall Town shirt in the Thurlow Nunn League Premier and First Divisions, Gareth Simpson is ready to be part of the club’s Ryman League adventure.
Mildenhall secured the Eastern Counties top flight title — the first in their history — with a 2-0 win at Thetford Town on Easter Monday.
And, providing the move up to step four is officially ratified by the Football Association, Dean Greygoose’s side will be playing at their highest ever level in the Ryman League Division One North next term.
Aged 37, Simpson has conceded he did initially have doubts about making the step up.
However, having made a big impression on the Recreation Way faithful since returning to the club for a fourth spell in 2015, the experienced midfielder has decided to lace up his boots for at least another 12 months.
“The first time I played for Mildenhall was in the league below when we got promoted,” he said.
“I have had a few spells here — it is a club I have a big connection with.
“I have been thinking about next year a lot. When I came back a couple of years ago for pre-season training, it was just about getting a bit of fitness.
“Dean and I spoke earlier in the season about whether I would stay next year if we went up and I said ‘yes’ straight away.
“But then I thought maybe if we do go up it’s going to be a harder league — would I enjoy it with all the travelling alongside my work?
“Then, the more it went through my mind, I just thought who else would I play for? I love it here.
“I have played for Mildenhall in Division One, the Premier Division and it would be stupid not to give it one crack in the Ryman League.
“For the club to be going into that league for the first time, it would be great to be part of that.
“Next year will probably be my last year, but I also said that before the start of this season!”
On a personal level, Simpson’s move back to Mildenhall two years ago sparked a change in fortunes.
Often a runner-up over the years with the likes of AFC Sudbury and Wroxham, he now has league and cup-winning medals in his collection, with Mildenhall also bidding to defend the League Challenge Cup against neighbours Newmarket Town on Monday, May 1.
“At Sudbury we finished runner-up in the league and the Ryman League Cup. At Wroxham we were runners-up in the Vase,” he added.
“I was also part of the Mildenhall squad that finished just behind Wroxham in the league a few years ago.
“It is great to play higher up the leagues, which I have done, but ultimately you judge things on what you have won.
“Winning the cup was great last year and now we have got the league wrapped up.
“It is a long season and a lot of hard work has gone into it. This means a lot.”
When centre-back Luke Butcher suffered a broken jaw earlier this year, Mildenhall boss Greygoose handed the captain’s armband to Simpson.
And as far as the boss is concerned, the number six sets the standard — on and off the pitch — for his team-mates and any new arrivals over the summer.
“You look at Gareth every week and he is the fittest player on the pitch,” said Greygoose.
“His energy since January has been unbelievable.
“So, next season I need players to come in and buy into what Gareth Simpson does.
“He — like the other lads we have here — does things properly. He trains well, does the right things off the pitch and it shows.”