Simon Downer has admitted that he called time on his career at Gander Green Lane with a heavy heart.

The defender was torn between honouring a self-imposed promise to give a couple of old mates a taste of life in the Skrill Premier, or spending more time with his family and looking to a career after football.

Manager Paul Doswell did not want to lose his stalwart of 191 appearances and towards the end of last season he gave the defender lee-way to fit his new job around day-time training.

However, despite having unfinished business at the Lane, Downer knew he could no longer keep burning the candle at both ends.

The 32-year-old, who lives in Swindon, said: “Towards the end of last season, I took a job as a signals engineer on the London Underground, which meant working nights.

“I’d finish work at 5.30am, drive to training, sleep in the car until about 11am and then shower and train.

“I’d get home about 3pm, say hi to my girlfriend and three-year-old daughter, then get some sleep before going to work at 9.30.”

He added: “On matchdays I would be asleep in the car park of whatever team we were playing, until it was time to warm up.

“Dos was great and worked around me, but we both knew it was not ideal. My girlfriend and I have another child on the way, so I have to consider that.”

Downer, who made 79 appearances for League Two Leyton Orient, joined United for a second time in 2010 when they were a Ryman Premier side, and he launched a project with Doswell to get the side into the Skrill Premier.

He said: “Before the end of last season, I was already considering my position, but I was desperate to get Dos, and my mate Craig [Dundas] a taste of the top league.

“I’ve been there with Grays Athletic, but neither have been there and I had made a promise to myself to do it for them.

“So when it did not happen, I was keen to stay on for another season and have another go, but I just cannot do it.”

He added: “Dos is still driven to get promotion, and the guys he has brought in had better step up to the mark otherwise I know he will be on the phone to me, trying to get me to come back.”

Richmond and Twickenham Times:

Not to be: Simon Downer, left, could not get his mate Craig Dundas, right, into the Skrill Premier

It hints that there may still be life left in the boots of Downer, and he admits that he has not yet hung up his boots.

His phone is already ringing with offers of football, but he is taking time out to make the right decision.

“I am not one for change too much, so any club has got to be right and one where I can see myself for a few seasons at least,” he said.

“But I will always have a place for United in my heart – it is one of the nicest clubs I have ever played for.

“From the tea lady to the chairman, it’s like a family and one I will miss.”