Burnley veteran hopes to face Norwich City at Carrow Road
One of the Football League’s most battle-hardened campaigners is hoping he has done enough to keep his place in the Burnley side for Saturday’s trip to Carrow Road – more than 15 years after he first faced Norwich City.
Scotland international Graham Alexander, 39 last month, returned to Championship duty last weekend at Queens Park Rangers, where his penalty earned the Clarets a valuable point and made them the first visiting team to score in a league match at Loftus Road this season.
Burnley’s club captain and last season’s player of the year, Alexander made his league debut for Scunthorpe as far back as 1991, just a few weeks after City midfielder Korey Smith, a potential opponent on Saturday, was born.
And his first appearance at the equivalent of Championship level – then known as Endsleigh League Division One – came when he made his debut for Luton against the Canaries on the opening day of the 1995-96 season.
Former winger Neil Adams, who scored in City’s 3-1 victory at Kenilworth Road that day, paid tribute to Alexander’s longevity as the defensive midfielder prepares to take on the class of 2010.
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“Players can now play for longer in the game and that is down mainly to two things – the advances in sports science and medical technology, and the players looking after themselves,” said the Evening News columnist.
“It used to be the case that in your early 30s you were over the hill and heading into retirement and there were very few 35-year-olds playing at a decent level. They may have gone down the leagues or into non-League, but there were not many players in the top two divisions at that age.
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“But Gordon Strachan did it, Teddy Sheringham did it and now Graham Alexander. It’s a tribute to his professionalism that he is playing at that level.
“I remember reading a piece where he put it down to living the right way, eating the right things and exercising the right amount – but not too much.
“He will carry on as long as the body will allow, until eventually the muscles and joints tell him to stop.”
That day could still be a long way off with Alexander, capped 40 times by Scotland, already clocking up some 930 first team appearances and 126 goals at club level for Scunthorpe, Luton, Preston and Burnley.
“That big 1,000 milestone would be the one but whether or not he gets there it’s an incredible achievement, 900 games, and you’ve got to be a bit of a player as well, don’t forget,” said Adams.
“He is one of those professionals managers and players look to as a role model.
“I don’t really remember individual battles with him because he played mostly at right-back then, but he was one of those no frills full-backs, seven out of 10 every week, doing a solid professional job for the team.”
Alexander has been especially solid from the penalty spot, where he has a career record of 75 successful kicks out of 81, taking responsibility against QPR after a rare miss against Bristol City in September.
“He’s deadly from the penalty spot and as one penalty taker to another, I take my hat off to him,” said Adams. “It might look easy from the stand or when you’re not the one taking it, but only people who take penalties know how difficult it is.
“There is only one reason he is so accurate – practice, religious practice. You can’t replicate a match situation on the training ground, but it gives you a big advantage and that’s the reason he’s so successful.”
The eighth-placed Clarets, two points behind City, have drawn five of their seven away games in the Championship but have yet to win on their travels since relegation from the Premier League.
Alexander believes the run will end before long, and wants to play his part after spending much of the season on the bench for Brian Laws’ team.
“It’s been extremely frustrating for me, it’s something I’ve not been used to over my career,” he said. “I’ve been quite fortunate to play most weeks and it’s something I don’t want to get used to.
“You’ve got to fight in the right way, on the training pitch, and you’ve still got to support the squad, the lads who are going out over the white line, and from Monday to Friday you’re then competing against them for a place in the team.
“I’ve had to wait for a chance to come back into the team, and I hope I can do enough to stay in. That’s my aim, to stay in the team.”
If Alexander is looking for inspiration, the corresponding Championship fixture three seasons ago brought striker Dion Dublin the last goal of his career, shortly before his 39th birthday, as City won 2-0.