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Keeping a clean sheet against Father Time

Dave Beasant popped into our studio this week to lend his expertise to a discussion about the Barclays Premier League’s best goalkeepers. He looked trim, fit and, at the age of 54, still quite capable of playing a game if asked to.

The former Wimbledon, Chelsea, Southampton, Nottingham Forest and England man had to admit, however, that he would have to turn down any offers for one simple reason: “My eyes started to go when I was in my mid-forties, otherwise I felt quite capable of carrying on a while longer.”

Beasant actually came close to setting a record for Premier League longevity when he spent the entire 2003/04 season registered as a Fulham player and actually made it onto the bench for a game against Chelsea. He was 45 at the time and was the last player left in English professional football with a 1950s birth-date.

He never made it onto the pitch against Chelsea though and that leaves John Burridge as the record holder. During a brief stint at Manchester City (one of 29 clubs he represented), “Budgie” appeared as a substitute against Newcastle United at Maine Road on April 29, 1995. He was 43 years and 161 days old. He was actually on the books of ten more clubs outside of the Premier League after that before finally hanging up his gloves.

Burridge heads a long list of goalies who played well into their forties. Watford’s Alec Chamberlain played a Premier League game aged 42 years and 323 days back in 2006/07, Coventry City’s Steve Ogrizovic made it to 42 years and 234 days back in May 2000 and Wales and Everton legend Neville Southall was 41 years and 175 days old when he squeezed into his kit and turned out for Bradford City that same year.

Another remarkable goalie to have played in the Premier League after he turned 41 was Kevin Poole (for Bolton in 2005). He was still registered as a player with League Two club Burton Albion in 2012 at the age of 48. Jens Lehmann, Arsenal’s former Invincible, is another who made it past 41 when he came on as a sub for Manuel Almunia in 2011 on his brief return to the Gunners.

Manchester United’s Edwin van der Saar became the oldest player to win the Premier League and featured at the age of 40 years and 201 days against Blackpool in May 2011. David Seaman was 40 years and 112 days old when he turned out for Manchester City (rather than Arsenal) in 2004.

There are two current Barclays Premier League players who are threatening the record books. Tottenham’s Brad Friedel turns 42 the day before this current season ends. He is already the oldest player to have appeared in a competitive match for Spurs and has signed a new contract, which will keep him at the club until 2014.

Fulham’s Aussie stopper Mark Schwarzer turned 40 last October and his current contract runs until this summer. He has also appeared more than 100 times for his country and has said he is keen to be involved at World Cup 2014.

Schwarzer recently listed his top five tips for succeeding as a ‘keeper to Premier League World’s “Masterclass” series. It was significant that he mentioned “agility” and “mental strength” as the first two before moving on to “Footwork”, “Positioning” and “Communication”. To still be doing what he is doing at an age when most of us find it a struggle to get off the sofa without groaning (let alone make a double-save off the deck), would suggest that agility is vital if you want to take your career as a goalkeeper into your fifth decade.

Yet it’s still fair to say that playing as a goalkeeper requires less of one physically than operating as an outfield player. That’s what makes the record set by Teddy Sheringham all the more remarkable. The former United and Spurs player was 40 years and 268 days old when he started for West Ham against Manchester City in December 2006. He had already become the oldest player in an FA Cup Final and the oldest Premier League scorer before that.

Scotland manager Gordon Strachan is the league’s second-oldest outfield player, having turned out for Coventry City a couple of months after his 40th birthday back in May 1997.

He and Sheringham could be joined in the “40 club” by Ryan Giggs, whose contract at Old Trafford runs until June 2014. His 40th birthday falls in November this year and he looks set to go beyond the landmarks set by the likes of Stuart Pearce, Nigel Winterburn and Ray Wilkins, all of whom played in this league when they were 39.

When Giggs signed his contract, his manager Sir Alex Ferguson said, “The young players in the dressing room have a great chance to learn from a player who will continue to break records that anyone in the game will find hard to beat.”

However there are a couple that look as if they will elude the remarkable Welshman: he may have scored in every Premier League season so far but he would need another contract extension and two more seasons to beat Sheringham’s record of being the oldest scorer in the league (40 years and 266 days).

Giggs may have reinvented his game successfully once already but unless he is able to turn himself into a goalkeeper, even he might have to settle for an unrivalled collection of trophies and medals rather than claiming every record in the book.

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