Last week, Rhys Weston was dreading the prospect of a Cardiff City-Brentford Championship play-off final.

The former defender, who won two promotions during his six-year stint in the Welsh capital shortly after the turn of the century, is now employed by the Bluebirds' Championship rivals , spearheading a section of their commercial department.

Fortunately, for him at least, his potential conflict of interest never came to a head, with City narrowly missing out to Fulham and Brentford subsequently losing late on against the Cottagers in the Wembley showpiece.

But how he got to his current post is a curious, whistle-stop tour which began under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal before touching base at Ninian Park, Norway, Iceland and Malaysia. He has worked for a golf travel company and a restaurant group, but now he is back in the industry he loves: Football.

Weston rose through the ranks at Arsenal alongside the likes of Jay Bothroyd and Ashley Cole. In fact, he made his senior Arsenal debut the same day as England legend Cole, a League Cup game against Middlesbrough in November 1999.

But while Bothroyd, who would seal a lucrative, £1 million move to Coventry City, and Cole found their feet in the upper echelons of the footballing pyramid, Weston had to drop down to the bottom tier of English football.

"The term 'reality check' is used quite flippantly, but I was in a bubble at Arsenal," Weston tells WalesOnline.

"We were on the periphery of the first team. Barring one or two of my contemporaries, we weren't really going to establish ourselves as first-team regulars, but we were in an environment which was conducive to elite sport.

"Everything is done for you. You have breakfast there, you have lunch there, your training kit is done for you every day. We became used to that way of life.

"Then, of course, I move to Cardiff and we were training at Llanrumney — a rugby field — which were really basic facilities, to put it lightly, having to wash your own training kit, all that stuff."

At 20, he had gone from training with the likes of Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry to upping sticks, moving across the country and lacing up his boots on a recreational ground, living in a Travelodge in the middle of Cardiff city centre.

Weston had already been capped by Wales at this point, having made his one and only Premier League appearance on the final day of the 1999/2000 season against Newcastle, in a 3-0 defeat by Portugal, so he was very much in the public eye this side of the Severn.

Indeed, with grand designs on furthering his international aspirations, he sought the advice of then Wales boss Mark Hughes, who told him frankly it would be difficult to select him if he was playing Division Two football.

But Weston was headstrong and knew this was the avenue which would take him to where he wanted to be. However, the hostile terraces at Ninian Park certainly took him by surprise – especially after a couple of early sub-par performances.

"That was not something I was prepared for but I had to learn to deal with," he says, remembering those early days as he struggled to adjust to his move from centre back to right back.

"Cardiff supporters are passionate to the core. Sometimes it boils over, as tends to be the case with an emotive sport like football. If you're the closest person to the fans, invariably you're going to get a bit of stick.

"I wasn't used to it, but once you learn to block it out, to a degree, you can deal with anything. You can dismiss being called every name under the sun. It shows you're character is strong."

Rhys Weston came through the famed Arsenal academy before plying his trade at Cardiff City
Rhys Weston came through the famed Arsenal academy before plying his trade at Cardiff City

He admits the transition was tough, having come from playing in Arsenal age-grade setups in front of a few dozen people to turning out week in, week out for a football club which meant the world to thousands of fans in the Welsh capital.

"I've come from Arsenal, with a certain kind of expectation, but it didn't always go well," he recalls.

"The first couple of games I played OK and then there was a bit of time when I thought, 'Bloody hell, I'm getting battered here. I'm playing right side of a back three against 8ft 7in giants and there's not an awful lot of football being played by the opposition'.

"It was a case of them chipping long, diagonal balls on my head because they feel I'm the weak link. I'm really in it now."

But he battled through and learned to adapt, something which he says has informed many of his character traits now, and City earned promotion that season.

It coincided with a sustained period in Hughes' exciting Wales setup, littered with the talents of Gary Speed, Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and John Hartson.

"To be in that environment was a real privilege and honour," Weston, whose father hails from Caerphilly, says.

"I played back-up to (Mark) Delaney, and rightly so because he was an incredible player, but I managed to accumulate seven caps for the national team over three or four years and it was a huge honour and I know one my father and grandfather were especially proud of."

Weston was part of that magnificent Euro 2004 qualifying campaign - he was on the bench for the dramatic 2-1 win over Italy but was ruled out through injury for the defeat by Russia in the play-offs.

Rhys Weston, playing for Wales against Finland in September 2003

Cardiff, too, were enjoying success. That 2002/03 season were busy earning promotion to what would become the Championship, courtesy of that iconic Andy Campbell goal against QPR, and Weston's career seemed to be heading on an exponentially upward curve.

It was exactly what he was sold by Sam Hammam when he joined the club and he admits now he should have spent more time enjoying the big moments, soaking it all in, because he was about to endure a thudding crash back down to earth.

When Dave Jones took the reins, he made no qualms of how he felt about Weston and quickly cast him aside.

The defender, along with Neil Alexander, Tony Warner, Chris Barker and Alan Lee, also took a 20 percent pay cuts to free up room on the wage bill for City to sign Darren Purse.

It was all hurtling to an abrupt, saddening end at Ninian Park and it hit him like a train.

"It's a game of opinion and invariably it comes down to one or two people and if someone doesn't like the cut of your jib then you're done," Weston says, tinged with a little sadness. "It's a commodity-based business, football.

"I can be a little more philosophical about it now, but at the time it was very disappointing. I didn't particularly enjoy the way I exited Cardiff, at all.

"I don't think the club owed me anything, but I didn't enjoy the way my tenure finished.

"I was ostracised. I was the only senior player not to go on pre-season tour with the squad. I was sent to go and train with a team on the basis they wanted to take me, but then arrived and found out quite quickly they had no intention of taking me because they had signed someone three days before I arrived.

"It was seemingly because, according to my agent at the time, aspersions had been cast about my character to potential suitors.

"It's all hearsay, but the reality is my career stalled after Cardiff and I felt I played enough football and done well enough to have continued or even have gone on a steeper upward curve and sustained playing at that level a bit longer.

"It was a disappointing end to what was a great six years."

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At 39, he now has the privilege of hindsight and can look back on his career on the pitch with a more measured perspective. But there is no getting around the fact his exit in 2006 stung badly.

For a few years he had been riding the crest of a wave, two promotions and an exciting time with the national team, but suddenly the landscape was very different.

"All of a sudden you find yourself on a plane to Norway thinking, 'I'm not sure how I got here?'," he says.

He made one appearance for Viking FK, dislocated his shoulder after 12 minutes and never played for them again.

There were some spells of prolonged game time, though, a three-year stint at Walsall followed by two seasons at Dundee spring out as more positive memories for the Welshman, who racked up more than 160 appearances in those five years.

His playing career, which also took him to Reykjavik for a year, fizzled out in 2014, having been taken on by then AFC Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley, Weston's former Bluebirds colleague.

He suffered with chronic tendinitis, though, and finished his career on loan at non-League Sutton United.

Weston moved to Iceland before returning to play for AFC Wimbledon in 2013
Weston moved to Iceland before returning to play for AFC Wimbledon in 2013

But, given where it all started — Cole, Vieira, Adams, the Premier League — is he disappointed he didn't go on to bigger and better things?

"The challenge I've got is that I don't tend to dwell too much on things, but every now and then you fall down the rabbit hole of 'What if?' and it's not a fun place to go to be honest," he says.

"You have to just re-calibrate and think about the future, because if you start analysing every decision you ever made then it doesn't tend to end up too well.

"It is what it is. I had a long, if not illustrious, career, had some great times, some not so great times, but now it's time to focus on the next 30 years and to make sure my family are set and to give them the best possible life I can."

He was fortunate enough to begin working with two friends of his who owned a golf travel business, which he did for four and a half years before working with a restaurant group and an events and communications company.

But it was last September when a great opportunity at Championship high-flyers Brentford came up.

The Bees are arguably one of the most fashionable clubs around at the moment, lauded for their seemingly progressive scouting structure and having grand designs on where they want the club to be in years to come.

They will move out of their Griffin Park home this summer and into the plush new stadium on Lionel Road. They hoped they would be playing Premier League football there, but that will have to wait at least another season now.

Weston, whose job title reads Venue Optimisation Team Leader, manages a group of seven in their commercial department and has been overseeing season ticket sales for next season.

Perhaps predictably, they've been going well, with 10,000 having already been sold for the new ground for next term.

"Football and sales, those opportunities don't tend to come around too often, especially at a club like Brentford, who are on the cusp of a huge transitional period," he says of his new career the other side of the touchline.

"Going into a new stadium, challenging at the top of the table — unfortunately we know how the result played out against Fulham — to be involved in that has been fantastic.

"Ten months have gone by in the blink of an eye."

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It's a hugely-exciting time for the Bees, of that there is no doubt.

They fluffed their lines a little at the end of the season, missing out on leapfrogging West Brom on more than one occasion in the automatic promotion spots, but while that will be a disappointment, Weston knows there is far more to come from the Bluebirds' Championship rivals.

"It's an innovative, forward-thinking club that utilise data and core values," he says.

"Everyone who works for the club, be that on the playing side or commercial side, have to conform to the same set of values and have the same beliefs. Seeing a club align from top to bottom is quite a rare thing, I believe.

"We came so close and there's a huge determination from everyone to challenge again next season."

Weston always keeps an eye on Cardiff's results — "It's a place I'll always hold dear to my heart," he says — and many early predictions suggest his former and current employers could be battling it out at the top of the Championship next term.

So, how does he see that battle panning out?

"A Brentford-Cardiff one-two next season would be the dream," he laughs. "I don't care which way around it is, either.

"If we both go up, it'll be a dream season for everybody."

Played with the straightest of bats.