Matt Allen finds those players who bestrode the pitch with legendary longevity...
1. Dave Beasant, Stevenage
Once nicknamed 'Lurch' by his team-mates, Beasant enjoyed an eventful career, most notably when he won the FA Cup in 1988 with Wimbledon’s notorious “Crazy Gang”. Their prevalence for violent high jinx (burning clothes, training ground beatings) didn’t diminish his love for the game, however, and following spells at Newcastle, Chelsea and Southampton, he wound up as a goalkeeping coach at Stevenage, where he trained his son, Sam. When Beasant Jr was injured for an League Two fixture against Carlisle in 2014, dad stepped in to take a spot on the bench at the age of 55.
2. Stuart Pearce, Manchester City
It seems unthinkable now, but such were the relatively modest reserves of City in 2001 - then managed by former England manager Kevin Keegan – that they had to call up the services of a 41 year-old full-back. But as the club rampaged to a First Division title, “Psycho” was installed as club captain and made an immediate impact on the side, scoring on his debut against Watford. As the season progressed, a landmark record loomed into view: Pearce was on the brink of scoring 100 career goals. He fluffed his lines in the final game of the season, the last of his career, by missing an injury-time penalty. Old-timers, eh?
3. Andy Legg, Llanelli
There are many notable moments to consider in the career of defender Andy Legg. Spells at Swansea, Birmingham, Ipswich, Notts County, Reading and Peterborough saw him rack up 24 competitive years in the game before his retirement at 42; there were death threats when he joined Cardiff (due to his time at Swansea). He also had “non-malignant” tumours removed from his neck. Of all his achievements, however, the one that sticks in the mind is his once world record-breaking throw-in of 44.6 metres. Which is even more impressive when you consider that he never played under Tony Pulis.
4. Neil McBain, New Brighton
McBain, a half-back, might have turned out for some big clubs in his time (Manchester United, Liverpool and Everton among them), but his most notable appearance arrived in March 1947 while managing New Brighton - a Football League club, playing mainly in Division Three North between the years of 1923-51. Thirty-two years after his professional debut for Ayr United in 1915, and with the club suffering an injury crisis, McBain went in goal for a game against Hartlepool. He was 51 years and 120 days old.
5. Paolo Maldini, AC Milan
Like Monica Bellucci or an old Iron Maiden T-shirt, the Italian totem and housewives’ favourite got better with age. Having played a record 2216 World Cup minutes and with seven Serie A titles with Milan to his name, he was offered the chance to play in an international testimonial-style game in 2009 - a friendly against Northern Ireland. Despite the support of Azzurri coach Marcello Lippi, Maldini was unimpressed and claimed he was happy to have already bowed out in an “official” match.
6. Dickie Borthwick, Wyke Rangers Veterans
Sunday league football gets harder with advancing seasons. The knocks take longer to heal. The hamstrings twang with every marauding dash into the box. Unless, of course, you’re Dickie Borthwick, pub team wing wizard and football man of iron, who was still playing football at the age of 78 after an operation to treat prostrate cancer. “I felt really good in my first game back,” he said in 2014. “I missed playing football so much... the younger players don’t take it easy on me. I don’t want to be wrapped in cotton wool. If they crunch-tackle me I don’t mind. I can take it.”
7. Stanley Matthews, Stoke
Like Dickie Borthwick, The Wizard of Dribble just didn’t want to leave the game, though much of his energy could be attributed to the fact that he was a teetotaller and “near vegetarian”. When he turned out with Stoke for the final time in 1965, Matthews was, by then, a “Sir”. His opponents were Fulham and the fixture came not long after his 50th birthday; his final international game had taken place at the age of 42. Still, he wasn’t done, and Matthews later featured in an England veterans’ game against Brazil. He was 70.
8. Gordon Strachan, Coventry City
When the flame-haired midfield minstrel played for Coventry against Chelsea in April in 1997, he was 40 years and 83 days old, making him the then oldest outfield player in Premier League history. Strachan later claimed his longevity was the result of a diet which included bananas, porridge and seaweed tablets. “The seaweed tablets didn't make me a better player, but I was a better swimmer,” he later said.
9. Rivaldo, Mogi Mirim
The World Cup-winner seemed to be enjoying his post-playing career as Club President at Mogi Mirim. But when the side went on an 11-game winless streak in the Brazilian second division, Rivaldo – a 43 year-old – pulled on the boots for another run at competitive football. The results were immediate. Mogi Mirim defeated Nautico 2-1, though they were a losing while the ex-Barcelona star was still on the pitch; their two goals arrived after his substitution and might still prove important in this season’s relegation battle.
10. Kazuyoshi Miura, Yokohama FC
Some facts to contextualise Miura’s age-defying achievement when he scored for Yokohama against Jubiol Iwata in the J-League’s second tier during April: at the age of 48, Miura was born in the same year as England’s World Cup win at Wembley; he was playing in the J-League when former Spurs and England striker Gary Lineker signed for Nagoya Grampus Eight. His recent strike – which made him the oldest scorer in Japanese football - was made even more impressive with a crackpot dancing celebration that would have appeared challenging even to his younger, more spritely team-mates.
11. Roger Milla, Cameroon
When the jelly-hipped Cameroonian striker shimmied around a corner flag in celebration following his first goal in the 2-1 over Romania during the 1990 World Cup, he was 38. “I didn’t think my legs were up to it, to be honest,” he said. But age was no issue for Milla. Four years later he was at it again, scoring against Russia at USA 1994 as a part of an eventful career that later saw him named as the best African player of the last 50 years by the Confederation of African Football. He eventually retired at the age of 44.