Former Burnley skipper Graham Alexander is mixing with the best!

Graham Alexander modestly downplays his inclusion in a list that carries the names of some of the most esteemed footballers to have graced the game.

Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 7:30 am
Graham Alexander of Burnley is congratulated by team mate Chris McCann after scoring from the penalty spot during the FA Cup 4th Round match between West Bromwich Albion and Burnley at The Hawthorns on January 24, 2009. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Xavi, Roberto Carlos, Javier Zanetti, Marcelinho Paraíba, Raul, Alan Ball Jr, Frank Lampard, Paolo Maldini, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo and Clarence Seedorf are all mentioned.

Only 21 outfield players in history can claim to have made 1,000 appearances for club and country during their careers. The former Burnley and Preston North End captain is one of them.

He's played more times than Romario, Thierry Henry, Lothar Matthaus, Luis Figo, Teddy Sherringham, Ze Roberto, Denis Irwin, Bobby Moore, Rivaldo and other legends of the game, who just missed out on hitting four figures.

Abou Diaby of Arsenal is challenged by Graham Alexander of Burnley during the FA Cup Third Round match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on January 6, 2008. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

And only three Brits made more domestic appearances than the Salford City boss. Peter Shilton, Tony Ford and former Clarets midfielder Tommy Hutchison were the only ones to have surpassed Alexander's 844-game total.

He said: "My name looks small on that list! There's Tony Ford, who won't be well known, but he was the first one to do it in England. He's an old team-mate of mine.

"To get to 1,000 games was unbelievable for me. When you look at that picture of that skinny nine-year-old, standing in the middle of a field, and his only ambition was to play a Football

League game so he could say he was a professional footballer, to go on to reach that milestone is beyond anything I'd ever thought of.

Kevin Phillips of Birmingham wins the ball ahead of Graham Alexander and Clarke Carlise of Burnley during the Coca-Cola Championship match between Burnley and Birmingham City at Turf Moor on October 18, 2008. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

"It wasn't until I'd made my 900th game when it sort of crossed my mind, but did I have enough in the tank to keep going at a good level?

"My wife told me it was just over nine years ago because she'd seen it on Facebook or Twitter. It's just an amazing achievement because you're doing something that's not a regular occurrence.

"To do that and be in the same company as some of the other players that have done it is fantastic. I just loved it and if I could have played 2,000 games I would've done.

"Unfortunately my legs were starting to give way! I started off wanting to play one league game, then it went to playing a full season, then it was 100 and before you know it your career is coming towards the end.

"When I was getting towards 1,000 I was coming on as a sub and it felt as though I was creeping over the line rather than sprinting across it. I was coming off the bench and getting five minutes, though I did have around 950 starts."

The celebration of that rare milestone arrived on April 16th, 2011, in Burnley's Championship triumph over Swansea City at Turf Moor.

With the home side leading 2-1, after an Ashley Williams own goal and a Chris Eagles penalty overturned Fabio Borini's opener, Alexander was introduced by Brian Laws and welcomed by a spine-tingling ovation.

It would be one of the last times he would pull on the famous claret and blue. "It happened at Turf Moor with a win, which was good as well," he said.

"All the accolades, the pats on the back and the affection that I got from my teammates and people in football was really humbling.

"That was the biggest thing, it was quite a humbling experience. There was the guard of honour, presentations afterwards, it was a special moment for me.

"That was one of the moments when I realised that I'd done quite well. It could have happened the game before [away at Leicester City], but I didn't come off the bench.

"I'm glad I didn't because it happened at Turf Moor where I'd made some brilliant memories. We'd had a lot of success together so I'm glad it happened there rather than any away ground.

"I remember the buzz from the supporters and the lads who were on the bench; people like Steve Thompson were giving me dog's abuse!

"They were all really pleased for me and I really felt their affection for me achieving that milestone. It's because of all that camaraderie and support that I had from my teammates that helped me get there.

"I loved going into work every day and being with those guys. Coming off the bench and getting on was great and I had a free kick just before the end and the keeper [Dorus De Vries] turned it on to the crossbar.

"It would have been brilliant to have scored on my 1,000th appearance, I'd have done a lap of honour, but you can't have everything."

Alexander signed a two-year deal at Turf Moor as a 35-year-old, who already had 778 appearances under his belt at club level.

But it was a move which almost came to fruition some eight years earlier. With offers for the Clarets and the Lilywhites on the table, the Luton Town man opted for Deepdale, despite the lure of linking up with former Hatters team-mate Steve Davis.

David Moyes landed his target to bolster North End's push for the play-offs while Stan Ternent faced a fight for survival in Division Two.

"It was tough because I'm really good mates with Steve Davis, who had rejoined Burnley a couple of months before," he said.

"We played together for Luton Town and had joined roughly on the same day. I was really close mates with him and he left to go to Burnley in January and I was leaving Luton in March.

"He was talking to me about going to Burnley and Stan Ternent rang me and I'd spoken with David Moyes. I met them both on the same day to discuss it.

"David Moyes was brilliant for my career and what I really needed at that time. I was a player that needed a bit of direction and a bit of management and I felt he was the best person to give me that.

"Luton were in League One at the time, as were both other clubs, but Preston were second at the time and going for the Championship and Burnley were in the bottom three or four.

"I could join Burnley and potentially get relegated to Division Three or I could join Preston and become a Championship player.

"The whole reason for leaving Luton was to go and play at a higher level. It was a big thing because Burnley were offering me a better deal than Preston, but I was leaving Luton for football reasons only and at 27 I needed to make something of my career.

"I got that at Preston and I don't regret it at all. I think it was the best decision for me at the time and I stand by that now.

"I think fate eventually brought me to Burnley, even though it was quite a bit down the line. It turned out to be another step forward for me."

Alexander would make exactly 400 appearances for the fellow founders of the Football League, but a reluctance from the club to renew the terms of his contract would see their skipper move on.

Crystal Palace had shown an interest in the summer of 2007, but it was Steve Cotterill who eventually prevailed in enticing Alexander to Turf Moor.

The former Fleetwood Town boss declared that parting with Preston was the most difficult decision that he's ever had to make, though it was one that was necessary at that stage of his playing career.

He said: "As a professional at that age you can see the landscape at clubs and you can see what's coming next.

"I really felt that if I didn't leave then on my terms then I would be leaving on the manager's terms at the end of the season, but I would be in a really bad position.

"I would have been out of contract and approaching the age of 37. It's not the best position to be in.

"I'd met Steve Cotterill once before, I'd been to watch Burnley's youth team play against Luton in the FA Youth Cup the season before.

"My mate was the youth team manager at Luton and myself and Steve Davis had both played with him. We went along to the game and I bumped into Steve Cotterill.

"In fact, Jay Rodriguez scored from about 30 yards out and he was only a kid then. I remember Steve saying 'you want to watch out for this lad because he's going to be a player'. A couple of years later I ended up playing with him."

He added: "I knew Steve rated me as a player and when I spoke to him he just filled me with faith and confidence.

"He told me that he wanted me to come in and bring my experience and mentality to help Burnley.

"He showed a lot of confidence and faith in me, which was in contrast to what I was feeling at Preston, and that made me feel like it was the right decision.

"He didn't tell me that he was going to play me in midfield until seconds after I'd signed the contract! I was open to it though because I just wanted to play football."

The Coventry-born talisman had just about dipped his toe into the waters when they suddenly became discoloured and unpredictable.

Eventually the current grew too strong and Cotterill failed to continue treading water, losing his job just 13 games into Alexander's switch.

He would never get the chance to repay the faith. "Burnley had struggled the season before a little bit and I came in and we had some indifferent results," he said.

"It turned into a situation where he left so I didn't really get enough time with him to repay the faith that he showed in me.

"Football is a team game, but I still feel guilty about the success that I had personally after he'd left.

"I felt a bit regretful that he wasn't at the helm to get that sort of repayment from myself. He left and Owen Coyle came in."