Joe Phelan charts the remarkable stories of some of the world's oldest players including an Irish icon.

At the beginning of 2020, a 74-year-old Egyptian man with six grandchildren became the oldest person to sign a professional football contract. Now, over ten months later, Ezzeldin Bahader has completed enough minutes to be definitively named the world’s most aged professional player.

To attain the accolade, Bahadar was obliged to play the entirety of at least two matches for his third-tier club October 6 – an objective made more difficult when the Egyptian football pyramid – ahem ––  was paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prior to the league being shut down, Bahadar had played one of the essential two matches, scoring his side’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with local rivals Genius. He even managed to play the full 90 minutes despite admitting afterwards that he had been carrying an injury. He was also the captain. Not bad for a man born the year after World War Two ended.

Though Bahadar, like most of the world, was forced to spend much of 2020 locked indoors in a bid to minimise the spread of coronavirus, he finally managed to tick off that coveted second game in October, playing from the first whistle to the last in a 3-2 defeat against Ayat Sports Club. He even had the opportunity to level the scores when his side was handed a late penalty but, perhaps as a result of being fully aware of the immensity of the occasion, was unable to slot it away.

The blowing of the final whistle meant that former Israeli shot-stopper Isaak Hayik, who was a comparatively youthful 73 years and 95 days old when he donned the goalkeeper jersey for fifth-tier Israeli side Football Club Irony Or Yehuda in 2019, has now been demoted to the second oldest professional in history.

Football media is frequently guilty of piling pressure on youngsters, of labelling teenagers with the wunderkind tag, but far less attention is granted to those at the other end of the age spectrum. So, in honour of Bahadar’s remarkable achievement, I have decided to take a look at four other elder statesmen of the game who have proven, quite comprehensively, that age is but a number.

Foot the Bill

You can be forgiven for not having previously heard of Bill Lacey. The Wexford-born man, who played as a defender, midfielder and forward during his 25-year outfield career, first appeared on the footballing scene in 1906 when he donned the shirt of Shelbourne. He went on to play for English sides Everton, Liverpool – becoming the first man from Ireland to represent the Reds – and New Brighton, before heading back to Ireland to once again represent Shelbourne, before finishing his career as player coach for Cork Bohemians.

At the age of 37 he became the oldest player to make his debut for the Republic of Ireland (then known as Irish Free State), and in 1930, at the tender age of 41, became the country’s oldest ever player. It’s a record that stands to this day.

In August 2010, just over 40 years after his death (30 May 1969), a plaque was unveiled in Bill’s hometown of Enniscorthy to highlight his career achievements. Lacey, who won an Irish Cup and the League of Ireland with Shelbourne, two Football League titles and an FA Cup with Liverpool, and also coached the Irish national side, is a footballing icon who deserves greater recognition in Ireland and beyond.

The Budgie

John ‘Budgie’ Burridge is not a name that most people under 30 will recognise, but at the time of writing, he holds two of the most impressive records in English football, and undoubtedly deserves to be brought to your attention.

At the age of 43 years, four months and 26 days he donned his goalkeeper gloves and turned out for Manchester City in a match against Newcastle United. The game, which took place in April 1995, saw Burridge brought on as a half-time substitute, making him not only the oldest person ever to play in the Premier League, but also the oldest debutant in the history of the league – two records he retains more than 25 years later.

The epitome of the footballing journeyman – he signed for no fewer than 29 clubs, some of them on multiple occasions – Budgie is still well-loved at former sides Blackpool, Aston Villa, Wolves, Newcastle and Sheffield United, and was most recently plying his trade as the goalkeeping coach for Indian Super League top division club Kerala Blasters.

He is also renowned for having one of the most unique warmups in the history of English football, which you can enjoy here.

He Sphinx it’s all over

Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, who only retired from the game in 2019, holds the record for being the oldest person ever to play in the World Cup. In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, at the age of 45 years and 161 days, he was named in the starting XI for his country’s match against Saudi Arabia, usurping Colombia’s Faryd Mondragón as the oldest player to play in a World Cup match. Though Egypt would eventually lose the game 2-1, El Hadary did manage to save a penalty, making him the first African goalkeeper to save a spot kick in a World Cup match.

He retired from international football in the wake of Egypt’s defeat, having accumulated an impressive 159 caps during his 22-year stint with the national side, making him the third most capped player in Egypt’s history. In 2019, the FIFA World Football Museum in Zürich opened a display showcasing the gloves he wore during the match with Saudi Arabia.

The 35-season wonder

Kazuyoshi Miura, more commonly known as King Kazu, is a Japanese footballer and national hero. At the time of writing this piece he is 53-years-old, and still spends his weekends pulling on a pair of football boots and causing problems for opposition defences. He started his professional playing career in 1986 – two years before I was born – and is still turning out for Yokohama FC, the club he’s been with since 2005.

He is widely regarded as Japan’s first footballing superstar. He holds the record for being the oldest player and oldest goalscorer in a professional league, and in 2020, he was named the oldest active professional player, owing to the fact that he is a perennial feature in his club’s matchday squads. He is also the oldest player ever to play in a football match in any country’s top tier.

During his illustrious career he has won the Japan Soccer League twice, the J1 League twice, the J.League Cup three times, the Emperor’s Cup once, the AFC Asian Cup once, and was also named the Asian Footballer of the Year way back in 1992. He has also won 89 caps for Japan, scoring 55 international goals. However, it is likely he will be remembered most for the Kazu dance, the quick-stepping celebration he trots out after nearly every goal.

Joe Phelan would, if you asked him, declare himself to be a Tottenham fan, but what he likes more than anything is the controversy, drama, and spectacle that surrounds the beautiful game. Follow: @acedece