When news happens, text LT and your photos and videos to 80360. Or contact us by email or phone.
Burnley defender follows in Matthews' footsteps
WHAT do Sir Stanley Matthews, Phil Neville and Michael Duff have in common?
Two have reached the 300-game landmark for two clubs, and one is on the brink of matching that achievement.
If selected to face Charlton Athletic tomorrow – as it is fully expected he will be – Duff will join illustrious company.
After playing more than 300 games for Cheltenham Town, Duff has clocked up 299 appearances in less than 10 full seasons at Burnley.
It is a route that has taken him through eight divisions – from non-league to the Premier League.
Steve Cotterill plucked him from Southern League obscurity by signing the defender for Cheltenham in 1996, then brought him to Turf Moor eight years later for the bargain price of £30,000.
Duff feels there is plenty more left in the tank.
But six years ago he could never have imagined getting this far.
At 29 he was struck down by a serious knee injury. He was well into his 31st year, and working under his second Burnley boss, Owen Coyle, when he made his comeback at the end of the 2007/08 season.
At the time he admitted that he had feared the worst, that he might never play again, such was the extent of the multiple knee ligament damage sustained and rehabilitation required.
That realisation inspired him to get as much out of his career as he could when he fought his way back to fitness.
“I was actually quite lucky when I did my knee because it came at 29 and it opened my eyes that my career’s finished here,” said the loyal defender.
“You sort of get the hunger back again because it nearly got snatched away from you.
“It was all I’d ever done. It got me on the coaching badges.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do so it opened that avenue up and pricked my conscience into thinking ‘don’t be so selfish, it (you career) might not last forever, you need to look after it and yourself’. As strange as it sounds I was quite lucky really.
“I was lucky in several things, that the cruciate didn’t need doing, I had good physios around me and I had two managers – because there was a change of manager – who were both supportive, and a good surgeon as well.
“All the things came together.”
Graham Alexander was a new team-mate then, and the professionalism the Scotland international showed in prolonging his career to reach 1,000 games at the age of 39 also offered inspiration to Duff.
“I learned a lot off Grezza,” he said.
“He’ll tell you himself he wasn’t the best pro when he was in his 20s because you sort of think it’s going to last forever.
“But you do have to start looking after yourself off the pitch, with ice baths and pre-hab.
“I pick up the phone to Grez quite regularly.
“He doesn’t give me advice but the conversations I’ve had with him obviously it pops up.
“Someone that’s played over 1,000 games... you can’t help but learn off them and pick their brains about things like that.”
Duff has vivid recollections of his Clarets debut.
“Sheffield United at home. Chris Morgan split my head open. He’s done that to a few!” smiled the Northern Ireland international, who in January reached the average retirement age for a footballer, 35.
But he has no plans to follow the general trend.
“As a footballer as soon as you turn 30 you start reading the programme notes and the papers and it’s veteran this, veteran that. But I feel good,” he said.
“I’m sure I’ll get told at some point that I’m no longer wanted wherever, but until that point comes I still enjoy what I do.
“That’s the main thing.
“I’ve got to an age now where a lot of my mates are retiring and the main thing they say is I don’t enjoy training.
“I still love coming in.
“I’ve still got a hunger and a passion for the game.”
Comments are closed on this article.