Championship play-off final: Derby defender Jake Buxton on brink of glory
Jake Buxton admits it will be one of the proudest moments of his life if he can lead Derby to the Premier League.
Last Updated: 23/05/14 5:35pm
In the summer of 2008 Buxton was without a club after he was released by Mansfield. Aged 23 and facing an uncertain future, Buxton was told by his wife Danielle that he had 12 months to forge a career in the sport or give it up for a steady 9-5 job instead.
Life as a builder's labourer or shifts spray-painting cars for an insurance firm beckoned before a call from Nigel Clough - then manager of Conference part-timers Burton.
It proved to be a life-changing moment for the central defender.
At Burton, Buxton was part of a title-winning team and named player of the season. He would later follow Clough to Derby, for whom the 29-year-old will now lead the team talk in the players' huddle out on the Wembley pitch ahead of the promotion showdown with QPR.
"I was an apprentice at Mansfield, a young captain, and it didn't go to plan," said Buxton.
"We got relegated, I took it to heart, it really hurt me, and that summer I was let go. I was waiting for the phone to ring, then it's the end of June, players were starting pre-season and I didn't have a club.
"I'd got mortgages to pay, bills to pay, like every normal person, and it was either get a job or take the opportunity of playing with Burton Albion - who were only part-time at the time.
"We said as a family, my mum, dad and missus, that we'd give it a year then see where it goes from there. My missus gave me an ultimatum of one season or I had to get a trade. If not then I'd try and get a trade.
"I was spraying cars at the time. When you're a young lad on YTS at Mansfield you are likely to have to do a lot of jobs in the summer, and I'd taken to that and was still doing a bit. I'd also worked on building sites, labouring."
Like QPR striker Charlie Austin, who was a bricklayer before making it as a footballer, Buxton knows what real life entails without all the trappings that a career in football offers.
Danielle, his wife, and 11-month-old son, Beau, will be at Wembley on Saturday.
It is such experiences that Buxton will try to call upon when he delivers the pre-match rallying call.
He said: "The huddles have all been quite emotional, I've tried to hit home, talk about things which might mean a lot to the players.
"We talk about your family, your kids or maybe the haters - people who've doubted you over the course of your career.
"The experience I've had with Mansfield and Burton, things are balanced now. I've been with my missus seven years now, I got married in 2010, I've known her since we were at school.
"It was the proudest moment of my life when she gave birth to the little man and this will be up there if we can get to the Premier League.
"It's been a big year with the child, we've taken a lot on, but I've just gone with the rollercoaster and ridden it.
"People read about the bonuses we get if we go up, but it's not that which drives us on - any of us here at Derby. It doesn't apply.
"At QPR they will be earning more than us, but for them I'd think some of their players would want to get their careers back on track and here's the opportunity."