PICTURE by Arriva Bangor FC.
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FOR most footballers, their careers are well and truly over by the time they enter their mid-thirties. Dodgy knees and glass ankles begin to play a part and the glory days begin to fade.
For me, I retired at the ripe old age of 22 (to begin a coaching role with my beloved Llandegfan Football Club) and so in that respect I have to say that I look up to Stephen Edwards an awful lot for his persistence and his determination to keep going.
Still plying his trade week in week out with Arriva Bangor in the Anglesey League, Edwards is a 56-year-old centre back who rarely puts a foot wrong.
The oldest player in the Anglesey League has often times shown the youngsters how it’s down with some top performances for The Busmen over the last two seasons.
Edwards, is a tough-tackling defender who reads the game very well and, although he may not be the quickest, he certainly shows great athleticism, even putting some people half his age to shame.
He’s one of the first names on the team sheet for Arriva boss Kevin Jones by now and is showing no signs of slowing down as he looks to help his side take some silverware back over the bridge yet again this season.
Speaking about his playing career, which has spanned half a century by now, Edwards said: “I’ve been playing since I was six years old – although I did go on to miss a few seasons of football due to work commitments and the fact that I suffered from a prolapsed disc in my back.
“That was the low point for me – being ruled out due to a back injury. The highlight has been winning three cups (Elias Cup and Car Boot Trophy x2) in the last two seasons with Arriva Bangor in the Anglesey League.”
Over the years, Edwards, who is an avid Aston Villa fan, has turned out for the likes of Bangor (Summer League), The County Arms pub and Northern Dairies (Anglesey Summer League) and also Hirael, Menai Bridge Tigers, Bethesda and Felinheli.
He says that, despite being a dedicated centre back, his idol has always been “the one and only Georgie Best”. He puts Gary Edwards down as the best player he’s played alongside and prolific forward Gary Jo Owen (currently in Welsh Alliance Two with Holyhead Town) as his greatest opponent.
The latter has been a thorn in the side of many an Anglesey League defender, particularly over the last two seasons where he hit over 70 goals despite being injured for some time and transferring to another division in between.
Edwards though seems to keep an air of composure no matter who he comes up against and that benefits both himself and all those around him. And this season there will be a very familiar face joining him on the pitch at Arriva.
“My grandson Jake has been training with us and played in a friendly over summer,” Edwards explained.
“It’s a fantastic feeling to have him there with me, but he’s not quite sure at the moment whether to call me granddad or to call me Steve whilst we’re out on the pitch!”
Being Anglesey League’s oldest player is admirable, but at the same time it’s bound to bring a lot of banter too.
Edwards says that opponents are always trying to wind him up before and during games by calling him “old man”. Speaking on how he ignores that and keeps going season after season, he said: “I try not to think about getting older to be honest,.
“There’s no real secret to keeping my fitness levels up, but I do ride my bike quite a bit and I also play five a side often. The most important thing for me though is a packet of seven seas joint care!”
Having adapted his style of play to suit himself as a player, Edwards has undoubtedly seen the game change in several ways during his long playing career.
Whilst the physical aspects have remained the same in grassroots football, life in general has taken a toll on the game.
“I think the biggest
change I’ve seen is in commitment,” Edwards said.
“The dedication to train and play isn’t the same as it used to be due to people having to work and the strains of family life having changed so much over the years.
“People from Anglesey and Gwynedd travel so far away to do so many different jobs nowadays and so it’s hard to commit at times.”
Whilst that might be true, you certainly can’t fault Edwards’ commitment to the cause. At Arriva Bangor’s end of season awards bash for 2018/19, he picked up the “Clubman”, “Best Attendance” and “Assistant Manager’s Player of the Year” awards – highlighting the fact that he had not missed a single training session in the two seasons he’s been with The Busmen.
He says he’s now looking forward to “keep enjoying his football” and “stay fit” as he approaches his sixties.
I think it’s fair to say that Edwards is a real inspiration to people of all ages and is a real role model for dedication. Long may his career continue!