Ahead of his presentation before Tuesday's Lancashire derby, Declan Rudd sat down with iFollow PNE at Deepdale to give one final interview as a Preston North End player.
While admitting the support he has received since the announcement of his retirement has been overwhelming, Dec is thankful for the kindness of the PNE supporters.
It was confirmed last Thursday that the 31-year-old, after multiple operations on his knee, would have to retire from playing football due to the injury.
Having spent around seven years in total at PNE over three separate stints, there was an instant outpouring of emotion from the club’s supporters, as well as Dec’s current and former teammates.
He was able to take in that support in person ahead of Tuesday’s Lancashire derby as he was presented with a shield by his former goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly Jr, before thanking all four ends of the stadium.
Speaking about the time since his retirement, Dec said: “It’s been tough. I’ve had quite a while to let it sink in and to sort of think about it.
“It’s been a good few months in the process, but since the release to now the hardest bit has been dealing with how the fans and how well people have spoken to me about the situation.
“It’s been pretty overwhelming to be honest, I never expected that sort of reaction to it. When all the messages were coming in, it was quite hard to deal with because emotionally it was really hard actually, but the love and comments I’ve had have been amazing.
“Even my wife’s been getting messages. It sort of makes the hard work and everything I’ve put in whilst I was playing and throughout my career really worth it to know that I’ve made an impact, not only on the pitch but off the pitch, and I think that’s just as important.
“It has been really emotionally hard to deal with, but I’m getting there.”
Dec first arrived at Deepdale in 2013 on loan from his boyhood club Norwich City, and he didn’t have too much time to take in the decision, having been told of the loan move going in for breakfast at the Canaries’ training ground one morning.
At that stage, he took time to research the football club and was taken aback by its back story, saying “it’s probably got the most amount of history out of most clubs in the whole country”.
He was made to wait for his chance by manager Graham Westley, but he impressed once it came, and then Dec returned the following season, which saw North End reach the League One Play-Offs under Simon Grayson.
“I’d say that year was probably one of the most enjoyable years of football I’ve ever had,” he added.
“Me and my missus moved up here full-time and I made some great friends like Bailey Wright, who I’m still really good friends with, and that dressing room was brilliant.
“It was a really successful season considering what had gone on a couple of years before, and for Simon to come in and turn it around like he did, it’s what he does.
“We got all the benefits of that. We gave it a really good go and nobody expected us to do it outside of the club I don’t think, because of what had gone on.
“We got to the Play-Off semis and lost to Rotherham, and I think that was the year they went up anyway, so if you lose in the semis to the team that goes up you know you’ve given it everything.
“We did give it a really good go that year and it’s probably the most enjoyable year of football I’ve ever had.”
On his return to Carrow Road, Dec enjoyed a run of games in the Premier League ahead of the more experienced John Ruddy, playing 11 consecutive top flight matches in the 2015/16 campaign.
Then came a loan move to Charlton Athletic, but it was back to Deepdale in 2017, with PNE now a Championship side.
After initially struggling with injury, Dec established himself as first choice in between the sticks, and ultimately went on to feature 196 times for the club, culminating in an appearance in the Carabao Cup against Liverpool.
Dec said: “I’d have liked to have bowed out on my own terms as everyone would, and I wanted to make 200 [games].
“Especially through the last couple of months when I was just trying to get through training and trying to get myself fit for games.
“That’s all I had in my mind, can I get four more appearances out of my knee? Unfortunately I couldn’t but every one of them appearances I absolutely loved, even the not so enjoyable games where I probably lost the game a few times for the team.
“I’d have loved to get to the 200 milestone, but unfortunately I couldn’t get it, so to finish against Liverpool who are one of the best teams in the world, it makes it even more sweet.”
The Norfolk-born shot-stopper not only played a big part on the pitch for North End, but he has made a huge impact off it too.
Dec has embraced community work, earning the club’s Community Player of the Year award in the past two seasons, mainly for his involvement in the PNE Community and Education Trust’s education programmes and mental health initiatives.
He added: “When you go through stuff as a person and you know how hard it is, I think [it is important] to use your reputation as a player in a city.
“I think it’s part of your job as a player to work off the pitch just as much as you do on the pitch to try and make an impact, and it was one thing I was very keen on to work with the club to do anything I could to help.
“Whether it was to send a message to someone that was struggling or a birthday message to someone, or go to meet someone to have a chat, it’s all relatively the same thing.
“To me that was an important role of being a player.”
Away from PNE, Dec thoroughly enjoyed his time with Norwich, coming through the Academy there while growing up a season ticket holder with the Canaries.
He admitted it was a dream come true to represent the East Anglian club, and at a similar time to coming through the ranks, he was also rewarded with involvement in the England youth setup.
The shot-stopper featured for the Young Lions at each age level from U16s to U21s, and in that time came a second-placed finish in the 2009 U19 European Championships.
“I’ve done some amazing things,” Dec added. “I’ve travelled the world really.
“I’ve gone to places I’ve never even dreamed of going to – Azerbaijan, places like that.
“Going to play in Iceland in the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced, and playing in Israel in the Euros and going to the Ukraine and playing in the Euros there, that was when we were runners-up and it was an unreal experience.
“I probably didn’t take it in as much as I probably should have, because you’re young and think this will last forever, and looking back now it went like that.
“It feels like yesterday, but I managed to travel the world with England and it was incredible.”
13 years on, Dec has been forced into a decision he of course didn’t want to make, but now he has got the opportunity to spend more time with his wife and two children back at home, after a long time living up north, away from them.
Still unsure of what’s next for him, Dec’s taking the time to assess his options before rushing into anything, but for now it’ll be an adjustment period of life without playing football.
Get your hands on a copy of The One And Only, which features the goalkeeper on the front cover, by clicking here.