In public Danny Simpson kept his emotions in check but once alone he could not help the tears from falling. He had just played his last game for Leicester, on the final day against Chelsea, and as he bade farewell to staff and surroundings the memories ran through his mind.
‘It was very emotional,’ he says now, two months on. ‘Inside I was welling up but I don’t really like to cry in front of people. Then privately… It was more when I was leaving the dressing room, leaving the stadium, saying my goodbyes.’
Moving on is a fact of football, a necessary transaction, yet the bond Simpson feels for Leicester, after five years there, has a special quality. It was the place where miracles were made, the place where mourning took place.
Simpson will address those twin events of pride and pain in due course but first, as he settles into an outside booth at Piccolino restaurant in Hale, he talks about his future.
Simpson is still a free agent and as the summer rumbles on he is weighing up potential destinations. At 32, with a Premier League winners medal in his possession, he is determined to find a good club. Celtic are interested and there are a number of options in England.
‘I’d love to go back to the King Power to play against the lads,’ he says. ‘But at the same time I wouldn’t rule out anything abroad, in terms of a new experience.’
Simpson has already gone abroad this summer to keep his fitness up. He spent time in Dubai with K3 Performance, training alongside the likes of Daniel James and Josh King, and has this week been in Greece with Mykonos Performance, another centre for elite athletes looking to maintain sharpness.
‘Getting away is good for your mind, and you’re working in the heat,’ Simpson says. ‘It is making sure I’m ready for day one with the new team. I’ve been doing lots of fitness and strength work, a lot of hill running.’
He adds: ‘It was a bit unusual seeing all the Leicester boys back in on the first of July. They are like family. I was FaceTiming them while they were in Evian and the fitness coaches sent me sessions to do. I’m still close to them.’
Strong relationships are forged when shared experiences have been as seismic as those at Leicester. There was the great escape, the 5,000-1 title triumph, an improbable Champions League run, and then disaster.
At that dreadful moment last October when the helicopter carrying Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others crashed outside the King Power, Simpson was with a group at the team hotel.
‘It just didn’t seem real,’ he reflects. ‘The news filtered through but we still believed it wasn’t anything to do with him. It was devastating. He was like everyone’s dad, one of the most generous, kindest people I’ve met.
‘Even through the odd incident early in my Leicester career he always supported me. He believed good people could go through tough times. Some owners might wash their hands. That wasn’t Vichai.’
It isn’t his son Aiyawatt, known as Top, either. Cloaked in grief, Top has emerged to steer the club on in a manner becoming of his father. That included taking the team on a post-season trip to Monaco.
‘It was a few days to spend together bonding,’ Simpson says. ‘Top understood from his dad how important that is. I had a few good chats with him.
‘It’s a completely different kind of headspace, people come out of their shell. I’ll never forget the day a few years ago Shinji from nowhere grabbed the mic and was dancing and singing on stage. It was a Japanese song, so we just clapped!’
That was shortly after Okazaki joined Leicester, at the start of the glorious 2015-16 campaign. Top has aspirations to take the club back there and to that end in February he made the call to dismiss Claude Puel and appoint Brendan Rodgers.
‘I don’t need to say too much, because what you’ve seen on the pitch with the same players has shown it was probably the right thing to do,’ Simpson says. ‘I’m pretty sure this season will show that even more.
‘Brendan is the perfect fit for Leicester. He has high demands for time-keeping and the way you conduct yourself. He thinks if something creeps into that it can creep into a Saturday afternoon.’
Simpson believes with Rodgers enjoying a full pre-season and new signings in the building Leicester can gatecrash Europe again.
‘I know those players and I know the manager – I think they’ll be disappointed if they don’t get top six,’ he says. ‘As Leicester have proved before, anything is possible.’
Simpson came through Manchester United’s academy but it was at Leicester where he won the Premier League. He was instrumental in establishing a miserly defence, making 30 appearances that campaign.
‘Sometimes you forget,’ he says laughing. ‘You’re going about your day-to-day life, and people remind you. The longer it goes on the more we’ll realise how big an achievement it was.
‘At the time we were living in that bubble. We felt like nobody could beat us. Everyone was in sync.’
Simpson thanks Claudio Ranieri for teaching him ‘a lot defensively and tactically’ and he has a pragmatic take on where things unravelled for the Italian.
‘You go through such a spectacular thing and overnight things change,’ he says. ‘Pre-season we were in LA and new players were coming in. But are they the players that fit what we’d just built?
‘We were going from Saturday-Saturday games to flying to Copenhagen, Bruges, Seville. I spoke to Ryan Giggs and he said when United first started playing in Europe it took them a few years to get used to the routine. Teams would play differently against us too. There were a lot of factors and unfortunately they changed the manager.’
The manner of Ranieri’s departure prompted Jamie Carragher to offer a particularly stinging review. He accused Leicester players of downing tools and later jokingly equated Simpson to a snake. Simpson gave as good as he got, reminding Carragher he had never won the Premier League, and the pair can laugh now.
‘I’ve met him a number of times since and it’s all good,’ says Simpson, who at the time held talks over an appearance on Monday Night Football. ‘One day we’ll go back there and I’ll take my medal – don’t worry about that!’
Long-term, punditry does appeal. ‘The TV channels know that is something I’d like to do in the future,’ he says. ‘I speak to Jermaine Jenas and he’s always said if I ever need to shadow him then I can.’
First he wants to extract the most from his playing career and as his summer has shown he is ready for action. He last played on May 12, when Rodgers sent him on for the final 14 minutes against Chelsea.
‘I don’t think many players get to experience a reception like that,’ Simpson says of the standing ovation.
The competitive edge was still there though. ‘It was funny, on the touchline I saw Eden Hazard warming up. He was going on the left wing. I came on five minutes after him at right back… and thankfully I didn’t make a mistake!’