It is an unpleasant irony that after spending much of his career successfully fighting off the threat of relegation, Richard Stott’s final rugby match was notable for the heartbreaking way in which his team missed out on promotion.
The 34-year-old, who this week announced his retirement from club rugby, was part of the Stourbridge side that built and then squandered a 19-point league lead and found themselves playing-off for a return to National One.
Even then rugby’s gods weren’t done with the likeable second row when, with Stour leading 26-21 on the final play Worthing Raiders scored and then converted the try that keeps Stourbridge at level four for another year. At least.
Stott was captain that day and his post-match interview was, much like a victim of shell-shock, a little hazy on analysis. His eyes glistened and his normally relaxed delivery was replaced with a tone of disorientation.
“That was as low as I’ve ever felt on a rugby pitch,” Stott admits. “There was the relegation with Moseley ten years ago but the writing had been on the wall from day one. In terms of how we went into the play-off feeling and what the day might have meant – and how we lost it, that was pretty tough to take.”
But it should be noted that was only one of more than 300 matches in long career, which started in the previous century at Kingsholm where he helped Gloucester win the C&G League Cup, before he blazed his trail up to Moseley when Masters May, Trinder and Sharples were still in primary school.
Stott went on to wear the famous Red and Black 286 times and establish a professional era record that might have been even higher had he not had a short dalliance with Coventry in the 2003-04 season.
That was in an era when, following cash-strapped Moseley’s relegation and administration, players came and went from Coundon Road with indecent haste. Stott returned after a few months and until last summer remained faithful to the Old Lady of Birmingham.
And she to him too because over the next eight seasons the lineout expert was a regular fixture in the Moseley pack. In seven of those eight campaigns he made more than 20 appearances and five times made 28 or more.
Alex Hadley, Dai Hallman, Tom Skelding, Paul Arnold, Olly Atkinson, Aly Muldowney, Andy Hall, David Lyons, Paul Spivey and Dan Sanderson all packed down with him but rarely instead of him as Moseley stabilised first at level three and then back in what is now the Championship. “Promotion and winning at Twickenham would have to be the highlights,” Stott says. “But you mostly remember the guys you played with rather than specific games.
“In terms of the amount of matches I’ve played, been largely injury-free and the opportunities I’ve had, I cannot say I have any regrets.
“It would have been good to have played the next level up but pretty much everyone can say that. I have certainly enjoyed it.”
Stott missed just one match during Moseley’s barnstorming 2005-06 promotion season and played in every round of their march to EDF Energy National Trophy glory in 2009.
One game might merge with another but in the mind’s-eye of every Moseley fan April 18 will live forever. Swaggering Leeds were cut down to size by 22 heroes that day.
However, it would be wrong to pretend Moseley’s time in the second tier has been a cake-walk. Quite the opposite, the Billesley Common outfit have found themselves battling to save their status virtually every year.
In 2007, that came down to the final day at Waterloo and for three years the dreaded relegation play-offs kept everyone at Mose on their toes as they dug themselves into and then out of holes.
“It’s always been quite a backs-against-the-wall situation when we have been right up against it.
“You really enjoy coming through struggles like that, achieving something with your mates.”
Stott’s individual achievement came against Bedford in February 2012 when he broke Andy Binns’ modern-day apeparance mark – a remarkable feat in an age where players move around the country for a few hundred pounds. The figure of 286 might not last too much longer with Adam Caves just 13 shy.
“You can’t be too sensitive about these things but it’s something I’m quite proud of.” But even if the hooker does to set a new record Stott’s place in the supporters’ affections will not be diminished.
Much of that has to do with the integrity of his performances and much of it to do with the way he handled his departure in April last year.
If Stott was wounded by Kevin Maggs’ belief his time had passed, he didn’t reveal the hurt publicly, instead he expressed his pleasure at having played for Moseley for so long and his sadness that it hadn’t lasted just one more year.
And so he completed his playing career at Stourbridge, where he established himself as skipper and a dependable influence in an experienced team.
“Even now it’s disappointing that we didn’t get promoted and difficult to understand exactly how we didn’t.”
Regrets? Too few to mention but if there is a pity, it would be to let the final game obscure an excellent and worthy semi-professional career.