A KEEN footballer has racked up more than 34 years of local league experience for the same team.
Neil Middleton was just 14-years-old when he joined Seaton FC and now at 48 he is about to enter yet another season.
The left-sided player has league and cup glory to his name, but says he has no intentions of calling it a day yet.
He says he is just as fit as most of the younger lads he plays against every week.
But the dad-of-two admits that when he first joined the team 34 years ago, he definitely did not think he would still be pulling on the strip just a year short of his 50th birthday.
“Players come and go, we have had plenty of that over the years.
“But I have never had any reason to move on,” said Neil, who lived in Hartlepool throughout his life before moving to the outskirts of Darlington three years ago.
“I love my football, and I still have the hunger and look forward to a game every week.”
Neil’s achievements were recognised at a testimonial game held last week.
His current team lined up against the Seaton Allstars, made up of players Neil has played with and against over the last 30 years.
The experienced campaigner played a half for both, but despite his 45 minutes for the Allstars he could not stop them going down 6-1 against their younger opponents.
“The Allstars wanted me to play the full game for them, but I didn’t fancy that,” he joked.
“It was good to get out there on the pitch though, it isn’t long until the new season starts.”
Football talent runs in the family.
Neil’s dad, Fred Middleton made more than 300 appearances for Lincoln City and was voted in the top 100 club legends on their official website.
Neil may not have reached those standards, but he shares the same hunger for the game.
“For years I played Saturday league, Sunday league and on a Friday night,” added Neil, a production supervisor in the chemical industry and dad of Scott, 24, and Sara, 19, who lives with wife Ruth, 40 and her child Niamh, 12.
“I have had a few teams asking me to play over 40s as well, but I work shifts and as I got older it wasn’t as easy to go and play a match the morning after a night shift.
“I think I have got a few years left in me yet.”
His current player-manager Mark Loynes, 32, a self employed plumber, paid tribute to Mark’s efforts.
He said: “I don’t think there will many people in the North-East, even England who have played for the same team for so long.
“They tend to get sick and move around, but not Midda.
“I can’t believe how fit he is, he puts us all to shame, it’s fantastic.”