The 1,000 club that Ryan Giggs will join on Saturday if he features against Norwich City is an exclusive group headed by Peter Shilton, whose 1,390 appearances is a world record, and includes only two living English outfield players, Tony Ford and Graham Alexander.
All three agree that the first requisite to reach a landmark that takes at least 20 years of playing is passion. "You've got to have a love of the game, have a desire to play," says Shilton, whose career spanned four decades, from the debut at 16 for Leicester City in the 1965-66 season to the close, 31 years later at Leyton Orient.
Shilton finished aged 47, having become the only player to include 1,000 – 1,005 to be exact – league appearances in his final total. "Pelé is second to me [on 1,363], then it goes down," says Shilton, whose 125 England caps is also a record, and who believes his longevity was aided by playing in goal. "As a goalkeeper you train harder in the week but when you're playing you haven't got the 90 minutes of activity. But you are putting yourself on the line in terms of bravery. And being a goalkeeper there's a lot of pressure."
No medal is given out for 1,000 appearances but Giggs will surely treasure the feat as much as any of the 33 honours he has won in a stellar career with Manchester United. Particularly, Shilton says, because: "He has done it all at one club, which is one of the big clubs in the world – it is an achievement."
Ford, like Shilton, played for eight clubs in a career that ended with 1,003 appearances, of which 931 in league football is a domestic record for an outfield player. But unlike the highly decorated Giggs and Shilton, who won two European Cups and the league title, Ford did not win any silverware.
Material reward, though, came in a summons to Buckingham Palace. "My MBE wasn't necessarily for the 1,000 matches, it was for services to football," he says. "Just because I played so long. I started at Grimsby Town in 1975. People kind of think you are naturally fit – I could run around a lot so my fitness was always OK. When I very first started I didn't think I'd get to 1,000 games. Nobody does. You just start to play because you like playing and that's it.
"Only vaguely can I remember my debut. I was 16, my first appearance was at Walsall. I got on for about 25 minutes – it seemed so fast I didn't know what was happening."
As with Giggs, Ford began as a flying winger who remodelled his game. "I played all sorts of positions. I was a winger because I had pace," he says. "I played up front for a while when I was about 21, then I went back to playing as a wide midfield player, rather than a winger, and that's where I spent the majority of my career. I was very old school, I probably drank too much and ate too much of the wrong stuff."
Whereas Ford was 41 when he finished in 2001 at Rochdale having never played top-flight football, Alexander became the oldest Premier League debutant when, at 37, he captained Burnley at Stoke City on the opening day of the 2009-10 season.
"Our first home game was against Manchester United and it was me and Ryan who led the teams out," says Alexander, who played for four clubs and is now Fleetwood Town's manager. "It took 20 years for our paths to cross – it was only a fleeting moment, but it was a big occasion for me, though I doubt it was for Ryan. When I made my league debut I was 19, it was a month after Ryan did. His was March 91 and mine April 91, obviously at the other end of the scale – I was in the old fourth division.
"Just as we were coming out on the pitch he spoke to me about how 'We must be the two oldest captains ever in the Premier League'. We had a chuckle. We managed to win the game 1-0. It was fantastic and lives in the memory because it's something you dream of in your career that you might get that opportunity and we took it."
Of ending on 1,023 appearances, Alexander, now 41, adds: "It was massive because I haven't had the career that Ryan has had with all his medals. But I think it'll mean as much to him because there's so few that have actually done it."