Two Penrith AFC players firmly in the frame during the past 20 years have had their loyalty honoured with commemorative shirts which will go on display in the Frenchfield Park clubhouse.
But as Willy Paul and Grant Davidson were officially presented with jerseys highlighting astonishing appearance landmarks, Willy confirmed he had hung up his boots after 19 successive seasons with the Blues.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Willy, 42, said modestly. “It’s a good club to have played for. It just shows local people can come and have a good time playing at a good standard at their local club.”
An Eden farmer, Willy made his Penrith debut in September 2001, and last started a game in front of a 68-strong crowd at Ryhope in February last year.
But while the married dad was back in action at a club training session earlier this month, he admits to now being “just too busy”.
“It’s not been quite normal,” he said of a COVID-ravaged year in which two competitive seasons have been wiped out at non-league level.
“It’s less of a miss than it might otherwise have been but I definitely have missed it these last few months.
“It’s been a big part of my life for 20 years,” he added, highlighting current captain Grant’s excellent 500-game effort.
“It’s a tremendous achievement and he’s got a few years left.”
Willy also turned the spotlight on dedicated club volunteers. “They do all the work,” he said.
“When you’re there a long time, they might get a bit of stick from people now and then, but when you see what’s really done it’s amazing; the effort it takes to keep a club like this going.
“You need those volunteers. They give up half their lives. I’ve had the best of it, the playing. That’s the easy bit!”
And Willy’s playing highlights? “I think there’s been good and bad right through,” he recalled.
“We had some good teams right at the start (early 2000s). A lot of young lads all came through and played together, for seven, eight, nine or 10 seasons.
“There’s been a lot more chopping and changing since then, but even when when you’re having a bad season there are good times in that as well — it’s not always when you’re winning.”
After presenting the shirts, Penrith chairman Billy Williams struggled to summon words to describe the pair’s dedication.
“They’ve become legends in their own right, locally, as far as football’s concerned and they set such an example to all potential young players round and about, everybody who plays for this club,” said the ex-Blues player and boss.
“As a manager when you have two of these lads you can build a side around them. You know you’re dealing with proper people.”
Grant spoke of his own notable number but cast envious glances towards Willy’s 800. “That’s an achievement!” he said.
Describing the current period without first team football, the skipper admitted: “It’s grim. You don’t realise how much you miss it until it’s taken away.”
But his final words were reserved for now former team-mate Willy, who he dubbed “the Penrith legend”.
“The man’s not human, being able to compete in the Northern League for so many years,” said Grant.
“Eight hundred games is a massive achievement and will never be surpassed. I’ve played with Willy for many years; he’s probably the nicest man I’ve ever met in football and took me under his wing when I first started at Penrith.
“He’s as loyal as they come as well and would play anywhere on the park for the manager. A great role model for all the youngsters coming through.
“He says it’s his last game for Penrith but I wouldn’t be surprised if he put the shirt back on down the line!”