A TRIVIA question for you: Can you name the six men who have played Football League games in the 1980s, the 1990s, the 2000s and the 2010s? (The answer is at the bottom of this post.)
You won’t be surprised to learn that none of them are playing in the Premier League at the moment. Sustaining a 20-year-plus career at the top level of English football is harder than it used to be.
I tried to find a current Premier League footballer who was playing in the top flight at the end of the 1980s, but there’s no one who goes back further than Ryan Giggs, who made his Manchester United debut in March 1991.
The other name who might spring to mind on that front is David James, but he didn’t make his top-flight debut until August 1992 – with Liverpool, having played his first league game for Watford in 1990.
And yet in the past, there have been men who have played in the top flight in four separate decades. Stanley Matthews, who famously played until he was 50, appeared in the First Division from the 1930s to the 60s. And Peter Shilton, who made his debut with Leicester in the late 60s, was still turning out in the top flight for Derby in 1991.
It’s been done even more recently that that. I used to have a trivia question that went as follows: Name the only two men to have played English top flight football (Premier League and old First Division) in the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s and the 2000s.
They’re both goalkeepers: John Lukic and Steve Ogrizovic. Lukic played his first league game for Leeds in 1979 and his last for Arsenal in 2000. Ogrizovic made the first of a handful of appearances for Liverpool in March 1978, and played his final game for Coventry in 2000.
But trying to update that question for the new decade, I had to expand it to take in the Football League as well.
So, have you got the six? If not, here they are. (And if, by the way, you think I’ve missed anyone from the list, please let me know!)
CHRIS POWELL: The left-back is best known for a surprise England call-up during his Charlton days, shortly after Sven-Goran Eriksson’s arrival. Made his debut for Crystal Palace against Barnsley on November 5, 1988. Still going at Leicester at the age of 40, he was pressed into service on January 26, 2010 – also against Barnsley.
ANDY MARRIOTT: The 39-year-old is currently guarding Exeter’s goal wearing a bright pink strip. Started out at Nottingham Forest, although he actually made his league debut while on loan at West Brom in the autumn of 1989.
MARK CROSSLEY: Was at Forest with Marriott in the late 1980s, making his debut against Liverpool in October 1988.
Scored his first league goal a mere 18 years later, a last-minute header from a corner for Sheffield Wednesday to secure a 3-3 draw against Southampton.
Now back-up to Tommy Lee at Chesterfield, Crossley played their first game of the 2010s, a 1-0 defeat at home to Shrewsbury.
KEVIN POOLE: The oldest player in the Football League at 46, Burton Albion’s goalkeeping coach still makes the occasional appearance, most recently in a 3-2 win at Torquay on January 23 this year.
Signed his first professional contract at Aston Villa as long ago as 1981, although he didn’t make his league debut until he went on loan to Northampton in 1984.
CHRIS HARGREAVES: Astonishingly, that Torquay-Burton match featured another player who started out in the 1980s.
Midfielder Hargreaves, still only 36, played his first league game for Grimsby in 1989 at the age of 17. He has had nine more league clubs since then.
Had the misfortune to score an own goal in front of a TV audience of millions when Northampton lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup in 2004.
But he did score Torquay’s first as they beat Cambridge 2-0 in last season’s Conference play-off final. Has just moved back down to the Conference, having joined Oxford on loan.
TONY ROBERTS: Dagenham and Redbridge goalkeeper, aged 40, also does a bit of coaching at Arsenal’s Academy.
Was initially David Seaman’s deputy at QPR, making his debut in December 1987.
Retired in 1998 due to a broken finger, but was able to carry on playing in non-league football after discovering a splint he could wear inside his glove.
When Dagenham were promoted to the Football League in 2007, he had to repay part of his retirement compensation package to allow him to carry on playing.
An honourable mention, by the way, should go to Paul Musselwhite, who played his first league game in goal for Scunthorpe in August 1988, and who has been a regular on the bench at Lincoln this season – without getting on the pitch. If he does, he will become the seventh player on the list.
Unless, of course, I’ve missed anyone out. Any suggestions?