The difference 1,000 games can make

In May 1966 a 16-year-old goalkeeper made his debut for Leicester City. Tomorrow Peter Shilton becomes the first footballer to make 1,000 League appearances. Glenn Moore talks to those who have played with and against him, and assesses how football has changed during one man's remarkable career
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The Independent Online
There was something odd about seeing Peter Shilton keeping goal for Leyton Orient at Craven Cottage on Saturday. It was not just the setting. Fulham's ground is grand by Third Division standards and, many years ago, Shilton played there in the old First Division.

It was not his game. He made one stunning save, several good ones and was only beaten by a very fine goal. He concentrated, he pointed and, each time a Fulham forward got through, he would bellow at his defenders. Still barking after all these years.

It was his size. He looked smaller than remembered, whether hunched in his goal or patrolling the penalty area. Maybe, at 47, there is some natural shrinkage but it is more a case that, even in the simplest things, the game has changed beyond recognition since Shilton came into it.

It was May 1966, two months before England won the World Cup, when Shilton made his League debut. Manfred Mann were top of the charts, the transfer record stood at pounds 115,000 (for Denis Law), Northampton were in the old First Division, Wimbledon were playing Folkestone in the Southern League.

Shilton, then a 16-year-old schoolboy international, played for Leicester City against Everton. He stood in for Gordon Banks, who was on England duty, and kept a clean sheet. Two years later he had replaced Banks in the Leicester team permanently.

It seems strange now, with Steve Ogrizovic, Ludek Miklosko and Peter Schmeichel bestriding the Premiership, but, at just over six foot with a heavily developed upper body, some regarded Shilton as big for a top goalkeeper.

Goalkeeping was a different art then. The balls, though no longer the sodden leathers of yore, moved differently. Poor floodlighting made some night matches difficult while pitches were often rutted or glutinous. The shoulder charges which put goalkeeper and ball into the net together had disappeared but a new practice of packing the box with bodies, preventing the goalkeeper reaching the ball, was replacing it.

Goalkeepers were changing from shot-stoppers to being part of the team. Liverpool's Tommy Lawrence was one of the first to act as auxiliary sweeper.Shilton was quick to adapt. His dedication to his craft was total.

"He was a self-made goalkeeper, not a natural like Pat Jennings," Bob Wilson said. "He called his book `The Magnificent Obsession' and he has been obsessed with goalkeeping and being the best since day one." Shilton was strong but agile, with a draughtsman's command of angles and an enormous presence. "He was Schmeichel before Schmeichel," Wilson added. "He would always do things to look different, to look big, like wearing the white jersey.

"He could be physically intimidating to forwards and he bollocked everybody. Like Schmeichel he did not admit to a bad goal."

Football was so different then. Shoot! magazine, the granddaddy of the genre, did not exist, Match of the Day was in its infancy and radio commentaries were rare.

Players were often paid in cash, weekly, and lived in modest homes. Money was beginning to flood into the game, encouraged by the twin attractions of George Best and the World Cup win, but it took time for football's new glamour to spread from London and Manchester to the smaller cities.

By the time it did, Shilton was an England international and he was catching on. Jon Holmes, one of the first and most enduring of agents, is Leicester- based and he negotiated Shilton's 1974 move to Stoke City. "That had not been done too much at the time," Holmes has recalled. "Stoke were a bit surprised and I think they thought our approach was more commercial than anything they had encountered before."

Three years later he joined Nottingham Forest - despite Stoke City's chairman telling Brian Clough: "You do realise he'll put you in the workhouse. He's earning a fortune and he'll want at least a 10 per cent pay rise."

Rumour has it that Shilton actually took a cut in pay, though it was to be quickly topped up with bonuses. The move was long overdue. Shilton was almost 28, he had won 23 England caps - and a Second Division championship medal. He had been relegated twice and only finished in the top eight once in a decade of regular first-team football.

In medal terms he was under-achieving. His best season had been with Stoke in 1975. Top in February, they finished fifth. Alan Hudson, the team's fulcrum, has since blamed Shilton's "posturing" for their decline.

It is hard to imagine an England No 1 now joining a club like Stoke were then. A modern equivalent might be Leicester - but then think of Ravanelli and Juninho at Middlesbrough. Money talks.

Arsenal, in the approach to the Double year, had been interested but were swayed by the form of Bob Wilson. Clough, when at Leeds, had wanted to buy Shilton but been sacked first. Manchester United, under Dave Sexton, had wanted to buy him but had been put off by his wages - and, maybe, by his rejection of Sir Matt Busby's offer of schoolboy terms at 14.

Forest seemed no bigger than Stoke when Shilton joined. They had just been promoted. They were instant champions - with Shilton as PFA Footballer of the Year - and followed up with successive European Cups.

The title was clinched by arguably Shilton's greatest save, from Mike Ferguson of Coventry. The second European crown saw possibly his best match as Kevin Keegan and Hamburg were defied.

Then, while still England goalkeeper, he made another apparently curious move, to Southampton. There was one bravura season, when Southampton finished second and reached the FA Cup semi-final, but the honours dried up.

He moved on to Derby, where he was still reputed to be earning pounds 250,000 in his 40th year. Derby were relegated and Shilton went to Plymouth as player-manager. One relegation was already in train and, after failing in the play-offs two seasons later, he was sacked as Argyle slid towards further demotion.

By now the money problems were in the open. John McGovern, a former Forest team-mate, had walked out over an unpaid personal loan, the Argyle chairman, Dan McCauley, alleged he owed pounds 50,000 in back taxes, Martin Pipe, the racehorse trainer, sued over unpaid bills, and one of his houses was repossessed.

There have also been marital problems and problems with the bottle - one distinguished former international recalled the aftermath of England's 1984 match in Paris. "Platini had scored from a free-kick and I think he blamed himself. The next day at the airport he was clearly not of this world. He was always a drinker, two to three days if he was badly upset by a defeat. He took it personally. But two days later he would be training until he dropped."

Shilton has since traipsed the clubs, coaching here, acting as goalkeeping cover there. He did play twice, for Bolton, but, by a statistical quirk, only one game counts in the record books. The other was in the play-offs. If that had counted, the game with Fulham would have been his 1,000th.

After that match he said he was still adapting to the lower divisions. "At a higher level you can read things, here you have to react to situations more." The back-pass rule also appeared a problem. Shilton added this week: "It is completely different now. The pace of the game has changed. It is a lot quicker from end to end. You can be attacking, two passes later the opposition are having a shot."

Tomorrow's game will be his 1,384th first-class match. He clearly enjoyed last week's match but, as Wilson said: "He will always be regarded as one of the great goalkeepers. He shouldn't have to think where his next meal is coming from."

Most English League appearances

1 Peter Shilton 999 (1966-96)

(286 Leicester City, 110 Stoke City, 202 Nottingham Forest, 188 Southampton, 175 Derby County, 34 Plymouth Argyle, 1 Bolton Wanderers, 3 Leyton Orient)

2 Terry Paine 824 (1957-77)

(713 Southampton, 111 Hereford United)

3 Tommy Hutchison 795 (1968-91)

(165 Blackpool, 314 Coventry City, 46 Manchester City, 92 Burnley, 178 Swansea City)

4 Robbie James 782 (1972-93)

(484 Swansea City, 48 Stoke City, 87 QPR, 23 Leicester, 89 Bradford City, 51 Cardiff)

5 Alan Oakes 777 (1959-84)

(565 Manchester City, 211 Chester City, 1 Port Vale)