Lee Cartwright admits he is as surprised as anyone at the direction his post-football career has taken.
The 38-year-old, from the Rossendale Valley, is best known for spending 15 years at Preston, in addition to spells at Stockport, Rochdale and Scarborough.
But while many former players might make a move into coaching or running a pub, Cartwright has carved out a new career as a care worker at a children’s home in Clayton-le-Moors.
It was something the father-of-three had never considered until a team-mate suggested it to him – but he feels it’s a job that suits him down to the ground.
"I finished my career with a year at Hyde United three seasons ago, playing part-time," Cartwright said.
"And the goalkeeper there was a bloke called Craig Dootson, who’s been playing at Fleetwood this season.
"Craig had gone into working with young offenders, and he suggested it as something I might be interested in doing.
"From there, I started doing some casual work, and was offered a job about two or three months later.
"At that time, Hyde wanted to release a few lads to reduce their wage bill, so it seemed the perfect time to make the move.
"As a career change, though, it came totally out of the blue. I’d never really thought about it until Craig suggested it to me.
"It’s a rewarding job, but it can be very demanding at the same time. Like any job, you have good and bad days. But I do enjoy it."
Cartwright works for Northern Care, a Blackpool-based company which is one of the largest private providers of residential childcare in the country.
He looks after youngsters aged between 11 and 18 with a history of behavioural problems, ensuring they keep up to date with their schooling as well as getting them involved in activities such as football and fishing.
As the youngsters need 24-hour care, it means being prepared to work shifts at different times of day and night.
And Cartwright thinks that his footballing past helps him to build a rapport with them, which he feels is absolutely vital to being able to do the job.
He said: "The kids usually find out that I played football, so they’ll give me a bit of stick for that.
"But they do seem to be on my wavelength. And if you don’t have that, then you are going to be fighting an uphill battle with them. It’s an incredible job just because of the variety of experiences and tests it can give you.
"Things can be going brilliantly with the kids, and you can be thinking about just what a great job it is – and then literally 10 seconds later you find yourself wondering: ‘What’s going on here?’"
Rawtenstall-born Cartwright may have spent virtually all of his football career in Lancashire, but he had a pretty wide range of experiences there too.
He played under seven managers during his 15 years at Preston – and 472 appearances – and some were clearly better than others.
"David Moyes did a fantastic job when he managed us," Cartwright said.
"The promotion to what is now the Championship under him in 2000 is one of my great memories from my time there.
"And of course there was the experience of almost getting to the Premier League the following season, when we were beaten at the Millennium Stadium by Bolton in the play-off final.
"David always wanted to go into management when he was a player at Preston, but you never know how things are going to turn out.
"When he got the North End job, he absolutely lived and breathed it.
"I think his wife must have felt like a divorcee at times, she saw so little of him!
"He was watching games all the time, and worked incredibly hard. And you can see it now with the job he’s done at Everton. He’s turned them into a top club and he’s not had fortunes to spend."
Cartwright is rather less fond of John Beck, who made – and perhaps ruined – his reputation with an unattractive brand of long-ball football.
"I didn’t agree with the football John Beck played," Cartwright said. "I didn’t really get on with him. To be honest, I found him a bit arrogant. If you weren’t in the team, he didn’t speak to you.
"His style of football worked brilliantly until teams sussed us out, but we still had to keep going with it, because if you tried to get the ball down and play it, and gave ity away a couple of times, you’d be dragged off."
Cartwright made his North End debut in the third tier, suffered relegation to the fourth under Beck, then enjoyed promotions under Gary Peters and Moyes to finished his Deepdale career in what is now the Championship.
He fell out of favour under Craig Brown and moved on to Stockport in 2004.
Having stayed in one place for so long, Cartwright’s final years as a player were rather nomadic.
He remains a Preston fan, taking his 12-year-old son Rowan along to games. Cartwright, who also has nine-year-old twin daughters Ellie and Aimee with his partner Angela, is hopeful that former League Two boss Darren Ferguson can pull North End away from relegation trouble.
"I think the players they’ve got are good enough to keep them out of trouble," he said. "But I’ve been in that situation as a player where you don’t know where your next win is coming from."