WHEN Jay McCarten arrived at Warrington Town in 2012, it is fair to say he could never have foreseen what happened next.

Signed as one of a plethora of players desperate to impress, he was competing with up to 60 others for a place in the team.

Seven years and countless memories later, he leaves with his place in the club’s folklore firmly assured.

Promotions, trophies won and FA Cup giant-killings – the big defender has seen it all at Cantilever Park. If you were to list the club’s greatest moments, McCarten has been part of most if not all of them.

Now, though, the time has come for him to move on – after more than 250 appearances, he swaps Warrington yellow for the purple of City of Liverpool, managed by his old defensive partner Craig Robinson.

> End of an era for Warrington Town as long-serving defender leaves

It is a wrench, but it is a move he had to make.

“I’m gutted to be going, if I’m honest,” he said in a candid final interview with the Guardian.

“It was a really tough decision but it’s going to be for the best in the end I think. I just hope people understand.

“I’m 29 next week – if I was older I probably would have been happier to stay even with sitting on the bench.

“At 28 and 29 years old, you’re at your peak years as a defender so I needed to be playing more.

“With that in mind, I took the decision to move on and try to get some games in.”

McCarten’s departure truly signifies the end of an era for Yellows.

Of the team that played in that famous FA Cup victory over Exeter City on a chilly November evening in 2014, he was the last still remaining at the club.

In many ways, it is fitting that he leaves for a team managed by Robinson – scorer of Town’s winner on an evening McCarten describes as his best in football.

Warrington Guardian:

Jay McCarten celebrates Craig Robinson's winning goal in the 2014 FA Cup win over Exeter City. Picture by Mike Boden

He was also the last player that remained from the team that won the Doodson Cup that same season and the side that swept all before them on their way to promotion to the Northern Premier Division in 2016.

Not bad for someone who signed as a 21-year-old who had just spent a spell playing in Wales for Aberystwyth Town having been released by Everton.

“I have surprised myself,” he admits.

“These days, especially in non league, you could be playing for one club for a few weeks and then you’d be gone. It’s quite cut-throat in that respect.

“To be here for so long is testament to how the club have treated me and how much I have enjoyed myself at Warrington.

“When I arrived, it was like a cattle market. I think we had about 50-60 players signed on in my first season.

Warrington Guardian:

McCarten in action in an FA Cup tie against Winsford United in August 2013

“Compared to now, it’s night and day. The place has gone to a new level.

“Everything is so much more professional and things have improved by so much in every area.

“That’s testament to Toby (Macormac, Yellows chairman) and the work and funds he’s put into the club.

“If anyone deserves success, its him, (manager) Paul Carden and (assistant manager) Mark Beesley for what they’ve done for the place.

“The best things I’m going to achieve in football have been at Warrington and I feel privileged to have been part of them.

“The Exeter game obviously comes out on top, closely followed by promotion and winning the title the year after. I’ve had some unbelievable times here.”

Warrington Guardian:

McCarten, second from right, helped Yellows to the Northern Premier League First Division North title in 2016. Picture by Mike Boden

Like Shaun Reid and Stuart Mellish before him, Carden saw McCarten as one of the first names on his teamsheet when he took the Cantilever Park hotseat three years ago.

He was given the captaincy and was the team’s defensive rock until January 2018, when everything changed.

McCarten picked up an ankle injury in a game against Altrincham which would go on to cost him more than a year of his career.

Warrington Guardian:

It was in this game against Altrincham in 2018 that McCarten – here celebrating Dylan Vassallo's goal for Town – picked up the ankle injury that would blight the final 18 months of his time with the club. Picture by John Hopkins

Eventually, he made it back to fitness and spent time on loan at Bamber Bridge and on dual registration with City of Liverpool to build himself back up again.

However, with Mark Roberts and Dave Raven forming a partnership that saw both named in last season’s divisional Team of the Year, McCarten’s route back to a position that was once sacrosanct in his name was blocked.

Still, he holds no bitterness and now, he looks forward to watching Roberts, Raven and the rest of his now former teammates from the stands when he can.

Who knows, he may even find himself joining in when strains of "you'll never beat McCarten" echo around the ground he has called home for so long.

“I’ll be back – I’ve messaged a few fans to say I’ll be down at some point in the season to catch up and watch a few games with them," he said.

“The supporters have been brilliant – the diehards especially who go week in, week out.

“I’ll always be a fan from now and will get to games whenever I can when I’m not playing myself.

“The crowds are now starting to pick up and with the players the gaffer has brought into the club, it’s moving in the right direction.

“Hopefully they can keep going up and I don’t see any reason why they can’t.”

Warrington Guardian:

Heading clear – as he did so often in a Warrington shirt – against Gateshead in the 2014 FA Cup second round. Picture by Mike Boden