Bittner ends 13-year wait for full game in Football League

LONDON • If, as Michelangelo said, "genius is eternal patience", then goalkeeper James Bittner must be one brilliant footballer.

For after a seemingly eternal wait - to be precise, 13 years, 86 games sitting on a bench and 4,991 days - the 33-year-old custodian of Plymouth Argyle's goal in English football's fourth tier has finally played his first full game in the Football League.

It is a pretty safe bet that, after first being an unused substitute for Bournemouth in a League Two match on March 16, 2002, no English professional has been kept waiting longer to start a match than Bittner.

He can now be hailed as the understudy's understudy.

Indeed, after finally starting for Plymouth in Saturday's League Two game against York City, it seems the magnitude of the moment had even bemused the player himself.

"I didn't realise yesterday was my first ever game of football in a 16-year career, what have I been doing for 16 years?" Bittner wrote on Twitter.

To put his wait in perspective, one British newspaper offered the reminder that England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney, 30, had not even made his professional debut when Bittner started warming Football League substitutes' benches for a living.

He did play in the minor league Conference for smaller clubs but Bittner's only Football League action before Saturday came after he was brought on as a substitute after half-time in a match with Morecambe in January.

"I started at Swindon, went to Fulham in the Premier League, I've been in the Championship, League One and League Two, but always as a second or third choice unfortunately," he told the BBC.

"It's frustrating when you've been at the highest level and you've worked down and down and you think 'please just give me a chance'."

On Saturday, that chance came following an injury to Plymouth's No. 1 Luke McCormick.

Plymouth marked Bittner's full debut with a 2-1 win but the stopper was fed up at missing out on the ultimate goalkeeping prize of a clean sheet.

Nothing, though, could deflect his joy at discovering that good things come to those who wait.

"It's been a long and windy road to say the least!!!" he tweeted.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Bittner ends 13-year wait for full game in Football League'. Print Edition | Subscribe