James Bittner: The goalkeeper who waited 13 years to play a full game

  • Reuters, London
  • Updated: Nov 17, 2015 14:21 IST
James Bittner waited 13 years, 86 games sitting on a bench and 4,991 days before he finally played his first full game in the Football League as custodian of Plymouth Argyle’s goal against York City on November 14. (Shutterstock representative photo)

If, as Michelangelo said, “genius is eternal patience” then goalkeeper James Bittner must be one hell of a 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, the goalie who 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 Bittner himself.

“I didn’t realise yesterday was my 1st ever game of football in a 16 year career, what have I been doing for 16 years?” he wrote on his Twitter feed after the landmark was noted by British national newspapers.

One even offered the reminder that Wayne Rooney had not even made his professional debut when Bittner started warming Football League substitutes’ benches for a living, being a back-up keeper for various lower league clubs.

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,” Bittner 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 first choice keeper Luke McCormick, and like the good goalie he is, Bittner grasped it with two hands.

Yet though Plymouth marked his full debut with a 2-1 win, he reckoned he was fed up to miss out on the ultimate goalkeeping prize of a clean sheet when York scored after eight minutes of injury time.

Nothing, though, could deflect Bittner’s 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.

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