April 2, 2023 7.00 am This story is over 14 months old

Sunday League stalwart makes 959th appearance for team

He made his debut in 1977

An extraordinary footballer in Spalding and District Sunday League has made his 959th – and possibly final – appearance.

In an astonishing display of dedication, fitness and loyalty, 65-year-old Paul Rudkin has been playing for Jubilee FC since its fourth-ever match back in 1977.

He’s been either secretary or manager of the Spalding club for all but a handful of those games.

It’s possible there’s one last appearance for Paul – he’s pondering on whether to name himself in the squad for the Mont Pell Trophy final against South Holland United on April 16.

| Photo: Nigel Chapman

Either way, he has taken the decision to fold the club after that match.

Paul had hoped to make it to 1,000 appearances and that looked very possible after making it to 900 in October 2018.

“But along came Covid,” he said. “That and also the Sunday League only has seven teams this season – there were four divisions and 52 teams when I started!

“Maybe if there had been 12 or so teams for the past couple of seasons I might’ve managed it.

“It’s disappointing but I’ve been very lucky and enjoyed every minute of it.”

Even when a doctor said a simultaneous groin strain and pulled calf muscle probably ought to signal the end of his playing days after 500+ appearances, there was more to come.

| Photo: Nigel Chapman

“I’d been out for a while and was watching a game at West Pinchbeck. The ball flew out of play and I trapped it,” Paul said.

“I thought ‘well, that didn’t hurt.’ So I managed to cram in another 20 years!”

Paul, of Gosberton Risegate, is actually a lot nearer to 1,000 league and cup appearances but nobody knows just how close. He played about 20 matches for Still Vaults before joining bottom-of-the-league Jubilee just after the club was formed in Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee year.

Getting changed in a glasshouse at Pick’s Farm, Deeping St Nicholas, ahead of that first game – a 5-0 defeat to Littleworth Reserves – Paul couldn’t have imagined the incredible feat which lie ahead of him.

| Photo: Nigel Chapman

If indeed last weekend’s match does turn out to be his last appearance, it wasn’t how it was supposed to end – a 4-2 defeat to Gedney Hillbillies.

Paul’s notched 96 goals for Jubilee, even being joint leading goalscorer – with just two – until February this year.

Few players can say they were still turning out, let alone scoring, at 65.

He is Spalding Sunday League’s untouchable legend.

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