ASHLEY Ward always dreamed of working with Premier League stars like Wayne Rooney and Wes Brown once he was forced to hang up his boots – he could never have imagined how that was to become a reality.

The former Blackburn Rovers striker made almost 400 league appearances in a career that spanned 16 years and 11 different clubs and just expected football to remain an integral part of his life after retirement. How wrong could he be?

Ward is now running Cheshire based Bilton Ward Development with his wife Dawn, specialising in building luxury homes for the rich and famous – a portfolio that includes mansions built for Manchester United stars Rooney and Brown and ex-Everton striker Kevin Campbell.

While two of his former clubs, Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers, go head-to-head at Eastlands on Monday evening, Ward still does his best to keep track of his former passion - but admits other commitments force it into being nothing more than a passing interest.

“I always thought I would follow the usual path into coaching or management,” he said. “It never really crossed my mind that I would do anything else to be honest.

“I was always interested in property though when I was playing and that grew during my career. I got busier and busier and I just got to the stage where I didn’t have any time to do my coaching badges and this became a full time job.

“Looking back it is a shame in one way, because there is nothing better than being involved in football. But I can’t really complain, can I? I enjoy what we are doing and things look good for the future.

“Obviously times have been hard due to the recession, but we are busy at the moment. You could put a good team together of players we have worked for, I think they would have a good crack at the World Cup.

“I can’t really get to watch any games now either because daughters are heavily involved in show jumping now and we travel the country with them every weekend. That has become the weekend activity.”

Ward, who started his career at Manchester City, joined Blackburn Rovers from Barnsley for £4.5million in December 1998, having previously played for Wrexham, Leicester, Blackpool, Crewe and Norwich City.

The Brian Kidd signing was unable to keep Rovers in the Premier League though, as they suffered relegation into the Championship just five months later and was then sold on to Bradford for £1.5million in August 2000, with just 14 goals to his name.

After three seasons at Bradford, injuries finally saw him end his career at Sheffield United in 2005, as he quit the sport for good in favour of the property game.

The 39-year-old though insists he will never forget his footballing memories and would not swap his time for anything, despite being relegated from the Premiership four times, a number only beaten by Nathan Blake and Nigel Quashie who have been relegated five times.

He said: “It is the worst feeling in football. Fans are always unbelievably disappointed to see their team relegated but that disappointment is felt ten-fold- even more – by the players.

“If you lose a cup final, you just look forward to the next game but getting relegated makes you worry about your career. Every season you have outside the top flight is another season closer to retirement.

“Fans have 80 years to see their team achieve the best. Players careers last 10 years in their prime at the most and relegation brings a feeling of seeing your career ebbing away.

“I’m sure Blackburn will be okay this season though. I still know a few of the players there, people like David Dunn, and I know they are a well-run club who work within a budget. Other teams could follow their example.”

Ward was brought up a Manchester City fan and admits he is delighted at the club’s recent revival – but admits the massive investment coming into football makes it a different world from when he was around.

He said: “I was lucky that I was around for the Sky years but the game has grown massively even since then. You do wonder when it is going to stop.

“I don’t think anyone can argue Manchester City fans don’t deserve their moment in the sun though. They have been long suffering and finally look as though they have got something to cheer.

“Man City are clearly the richest club around and that probably means a lot of success is just around the corner.”