SAM Marsden is one of those rare breed of players who has been a one-club man throughout his career.
The 34-year-old utility player will celebrate his 400th competitive first-team appearance for Macron SIL Division One side Sporting 87 against Bedricks Worth at the Victory Ground in Bury St Edmunds on Saturday.
But what makes his achievement all the more remarkable is that he has only been booked twice in his entire career.
Sam, who joined the club as a 15-year-old, made his debut having turned 16 against Moreton Hall in a 4-1 win at Hardwick Heath in the former St Edmundsbury League on September 14th 2002.
Apart from the three years he spent away at university – and even then he still played when he was back home – Sam has been a permanent fixture in the Sporting 87 side.
If you include friendlies and Reserve and ‘A’ team matches, Sam’s total number of appearances is around the 500 mark.
“Some of my current team-mates weren’t even born when I made my debut,” admitted Sam, who was born and lives in Bury St Edmunds and works as a builder.
“When I was a Youth team player I didn’t play that regularly, so when I got the chance I just wanted to play. I still love playing the game and I will continue to play for as long as my body allows me to!
“I have been really fortunate with injuries over the years. I broke my wrist in a pre-season game a few years ago, but I have never struggled with my knees, hips, back or ankles, which has allowed me to play as many games as I have done.
“I still feel relatively fit and healthy, although I am slowing down, but I am still the quickest in pre-season sprint tests!”
Sam reckons he has played half his games for Sporting 87 as a centre half, and the other half either in midfield or as a striker.
He has scored 160 goals for the club, including the only goal of the game as Sporting 87 defeated Fornham St Martin 1-0 in the St Edmundsbury League’s Division One Mick McNeil KO Cup Final in 2004.
Another highlight was scoring a last-minute winner as Sporting 87, at the time a Division Two side in the SIL, defeated reigning Senior Division champions Grundisburgh 1-0 in the Bob Coleman Cup in 2012.
Sam has won promotion three times with Sporting 87 as a runner-up and been on the losing side four times in Suffolk Junior Cup Semi-Finals.
But his most remarkable achievement is the fact that he has been cautioned just twice.
He said: “I was not booked at all in the first 350 games, but I have had two bookings in the last couple of years – one was for a foul and the other was for not retreating ten yards at a free-kick.”
Sam, who has had approaches from other clubs but has always stayed loyal to Sporting 87, puts his outstanding disciplinary record down to his laid-back nature.
He said: “I am not a big talker on the pitch. I think I read the game relatively well and I don’t go to ground very often.
“Also, I don’t take life too seriously and I play for fun, rather than with a competitive edge, which is perhaps why I haven’t played higher, and I think the club’s ethos and the environment it creates has played a part.”
As he prepares to pull on a Sporting 87 shirt for the 400th time in league and cup matches, Sam said he hopes to be able to continue to play for another couple of years.
“I wish I could join Sporting 87 as they are now but 18 years ago. The club has progressed so much during my time and the pitch and changing facilities are so much better than they used to be,” he said.
Sporting 87 manager Jonathan Warnock said: “He has been an outstanding servant to the club and is a great role model within the club.
“People look up to him, especially the younger players, and his peers hold him in high regard.”
To mark Sam’s landmark a series of videos featuring tributes from people within the game, including past and current team-mates, will be appearing this week across the club’s social media platforms.
Opponents Bedricks Worth will form a guard of honour when Sam takes the field ahead of Saturday’s match at the Victory Ground.
Sam (above right) is pictured receiving a framed Sporting 87 shirt with messages from his team-mates from first-team manager Jonathan Warnock.