Neil Redfearn is set to step out for his 1000th game this weekend. The incredible journey started off in 1982 at Bolton Wanderers where he made his debut as a 17 year old, and will hit the milestone at Bradford Park Avenue who ply their trade in the Unibond League’s Division One. His 1000th game will be the FA Trophy second round tie
with Solihull, and looking back, Redfearn has played for a whopping 14 clubs, including a stint in the Premiership, and now further down the ladder with more humble surroundings.
What on earth keeps him going? "That’s easy," Redfearn told BBC Sport, "I love playing football."
"It seems a long time ago since I made my debut as a 17-year-old with Bolton but I think I have enjoyed every game. I never lose sight of the fact that I have been privileged to be a professional footballer. But the enjoyment I get from playing has always been there and I think that might have prolonged my career. If you treat it as just a job, you’re not going to keep going. I just love playing, and that’s why I’m still pulling my boots on."
It is nigh on impossible to think of a modern day Premiership footballer wanting to keep dropping down the leagues and still play week after week. "Perhaps the guys who play at a higher level feel there’s a stigma attached to dropping down." says Redfearn
"I have nicked three or four goals for Bradford this season and although there were only 200-300 people there it still gives you the same buzz as it does when you’re playing at the top. At my age it’s more a case of just being able to pull your boots on and take part."
Readfearn will also complete a fitting tribute by completing his millennium with Bradford Park Avenue as it was the club his father played for.
"My dad began his career at Park Avenue in the days when they were a Football League club. In fact, Bradford City were the junior team in those days. I never saw him play for Bradford but a while ago he took me back to where the old ground was and it was quite sentimental."
Although he isn’t quite ready for hanging up his boots, he says that management is something that appeals to him. "I’ve had a couple of darts at management at Halifax and Scarborough but they were dumped in my lap a little as I went to work as a coach for somebody else. But I’ve got all my coaching badges and the coaching side certainly appeals to me. I have gained plenty of experience down the years and I personally think it would be a shame if that sort of experience was lost to the game, but I also understand that there are only a certain number of jobs to go round. I always said that when I wasn’t deemed good enough to play professionally I would always play local football on Saturdays and Sunday mornings. If you love the game, you love the game, and as long as I’m fit enough and there’s someone to have me, I’ll turn out."
An impressive feat for one of football’s most respected character. If you’re going out this weekend, raise a glass to Neil, and his 1000 matches.
Crystal Palace (87-89)
Bradford City (99-2000)
Bradford Park Avenue (Present)