When striker Lewis Alessandra next takes to the pitch it will be appearance number 500 – a significant milestone in a career that started at Oldham, and which has seen him play all of his games in the Football League with spells at Morecambe, Plymouth, Rochdale, York, Hartlepool and Notts County, prior to his move to Cumbria in January last year.
An added quirk to this particularly impressive stat is that his next appearance will be his 50th in the league for the Blues, with his stay at Brunton Park having seen him come through one of the strangest periods football has ever known.
Speaking about the achievement, chairman Andrew Jenkins said: "Lewis is a model professional and it's no surprise that he's made this number of appearances, and still with a good few seasons left for him to play.
"He's a fantastic character and has been a big part of what the team have done this season. I congratulate him on reaching his milestone. It's something he can feel very proud of."
“It is a milestone I’m very proud of,” the man of the moment told us. “It’s exciting that as it comes along we’re in a position where we can still potentially go on and do something with our season.
“That would be a superb if we could. Reaching the milestone is something I’m very proud of. We were just talking in the dressing room recently about how it flies by, particularly with all of the things you go through.
“There are so many highs and lows, and unfortunately I’ve not been promoted, which is something I’d like to put right. It’s a very up and down profession.
“I’ve been relegated a few times, and that’s horrible, but you do learn from everything you experience as you go through your career. You feel so ashamed when it happens, and it was even worse at Notts County because it was taking them from been a league club to a non-league club.
“You know that hurts the fans, and it’s such a big club, so that sits with you for a long time. That’s why I wouldn’t say I’ve loved every minute, but I’ve loved the main bulk of it.”
And he revealed that his career had started in the worst possible way, with a season-long injury that saw him play just one game for Oldham when he was still at the tender age of just 19.
“I had an ankle injury at the beginning of the season when I was still a teenager and it pretty much finished the year off for me,” he said. “I look back at that, having reached 500 games and it makes it feel even more amazing, because when I had that injury it was all frustration, doom and gloom and wondering when I’d get my next chance.
“Again, you learn from that kind of thing, and I’m at a point now where I think I’ve got a lot of football left in me. I still feel physically very good, I enjoy every match and training session, and quite a few managers have shown faith in me over the years.
“Chris Beech is the same now, and I’ve had some very good managers along the way. It helps that I can play a number of roles and play in different systems, and things like that.
“I touched on it with Paul Farman, he recently reached 400 and he’s a similar age, but the thing is with Farms that it’s different for him. I said if you don’t start a game, it might happen a few times that you’ll get on when the other keeper is injured, or gets sent off.
“For an outfield player, especially playing in any of the forward positions, I’m always going to come on at some point in a game maybe to either change it, or add fresh legs. That’s the factor in the reason why I’m quite a few more appearances on than him.
“It’s something I’m very proud of and there is most definitely plenty left in me yet.”
When pondering how much he’s learned since making that first appearance – John Sheridan gave him the nod against Huddersfield when he was 18-years-old – he commented: “I always say I wish I could take my brain now and put it in that body, just knowing what I know now.
“My first ever appearance, Huddersfield away, I think it was the 90th minute and I didn’t actually touch the ball. Just being involved in it was amazing. I really enjoyed it and I’ve learned a heck of a lot.
“Yeah, I would love to put this brain, what I know now, in that body, and then it’d be about how I’d do things slightly different. I do vividly remember a lot of it. It was never a milestone I aimed for, or thought I would reach, but it’s superb that I have.”
So who had influenced him and helped him to develop along the way?
“I enjoyed working with forward thinking managers,” he replied. “I’ve had some good managers along the way who have put their trust in me.
“John Sheridan was massive for me coming through, he put me in the first team, and he signed me for Plymouth where I probably had my best couple of years. The current gaffer is someone I know personally and he’s put a lot of faith in me. I could mention four or five, because I’ve worked with some great people.
“But is management something I’m looking to do … I’d have to say probably not, if I’m being honest. I just don’t think my personality type lends towards it.
“I’m doing certain things with the future in mind at the moment, but it isn’t on the coaching side. I think I’d find it too frustrating. You can do all the work under the sun as a manager but ultimately come kick off you can’t do a thing, it’s over to the players.
“I do get why managers scream and shout, it must be such a stressful job. As much as I love the game, I don’t think that’s me. That might change, I might finish and miss it, but being completely honest I would think probably not.”
And with a month to go of this season, we wondered if he’d thought about what comes next after the final whistle has blown on our last game (hopefully at Wembley).
“Naturally you do think about that when you’re coming towards the end of a contract, because it’s your job,” he told us. “I know I’m not ready to finish, and I’d love to stay here.
“I think most know that, the gaffer would know that, but at the moment we just need to focus on finishing these six games as strongly as we can. If we give it our all and play to our abilities, I’m sure the club would want to maybe keep us and the bulk of the squad and try and go one better than we have if we don’t get promoted.
“If we do, amazing, and I’m sure we’ll be rewarded for that. It’s just massively focusing on these next six exciting games that matters at the moment.”
And with two of the division’s in-form teams coming up next (Port Vale and Bolton) it maintains the feeling of excitement that’s been building through a five-game unbeaten run, despite the games coming back-to-back and in a relentless manner.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position of having a right chance, after originally starting amazingly well, getting up to January and looking really hot prospects to get promoted, and then the disappointment of the next couple of months with the break and everything that came with that,” he said. “The lack of form, and being unable to get to the levels we were before, I wish I could put a finger on why it was like that.
“We all know the reasons, they are what they are, but to get back to a place where we’re playing well and being in with a shout of getting in the play-offs and beyond, that’s credit to everybody.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been through a run of games like this before. You maybe get Saturday-Tuesday for a few weeks when you have cup games, or whatever, but this is nine weeks of it for us now.
“It’ll be 11 weeks of it by the time we play the last Tuesday game. I was thinking to myself the other day, if we were to go and achieve something this season, I think it potentially would make it that little bit sweeter.
“We went from almost an expectancy, where we went to the top of the league and everyone outside the club was talking about us being promoted, to then missing all the games and the time we did.
“This season has shown more than ever, especially to myself, that you’d rather have the points on the board than the games in hand. People see it as a bit of a cliché but we’ve learned that more than ever this year.
“A couple of weeks ago we were as low as 13th and some maybe felt our season was over. It’s not the way we felt. The gaffer wanted us to see a link where all the pundits had their say at other clubs, and we weren’t mentioned in any of them.
“We were sat under the radar, but that can be a slightly more beneficial place to be. We can just concentrate on ourselves and try to do what’s needed. We know, three points moves you into a completely different position and moves the picture completely.
“Port Vale are looking for their seventh win in a row, and Bolton have lost one in 16, so they’re both going to be tough. But if we want to do anything we’ve got to look to get results from these games and we feel we can. We don’t fear anyone, we know we’re a force on our day.”
And Tuesday night at the University of Bolton Stadium will be a special occasion for a personal reason for the United front man.
“I was a Bolton fan growing up, a season-ticket holder at the Reebok all through my teenage years, I’ve just never played there yet as a professional,” he revealed. “I’m really looking forward to going there.
“Once I started playing I obviously wasn’t able to watch them, but I got to see some great players. I was quite lucky, it was the golden years, so I got to watch JJ Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo, Kevin Nolan, people like that. I think they finished seventh one year and got in Europe, it was just fantastic, I was quite spoiled when I think about it.
“The run they are on is an example to everyone. It’s a shame there’s not many more games left. If there were 15 games and we were in this position I’d feel we’d have a right chance of doing what we did before Christmas.
“They’ve done incredibly well and we know Tuesday night’s going to be a tough test, but when we played them here, alright they are a different animal now, it was complete domination for 45 minutes. They came back strong and somehow managed to draw 3-3.
“We’re playing a few teams around where we are in the table and if we want to do anything this season we’re going to have to look to get positive results. You have to be excited by that.
“As one of the experienced players in the group I think I can help on and off the pitch as well. You need people who can relate what they’ve been through to what you’re doing now. Rod’s been promoted via the play-offs, Farms has been promoted, I’ve been in the play-offs twice, been beaten in the semis twice, I’d like to think I can take something from that in regards to the preparation, looking at what went wrong and why.
“Especially with the main bulk of the squad being young lads and before this season not many had played a load of games, the likes of Jack, Joe Riley who’s been unreal for us, hadn’t played many games before this season.
“We’re quite a young side so it’s definitely good for the lads to be able to lean on Rod, and Dean Furman. Although he hasn’t been playing as much as he’d want to he’s been excellent for young lads, he’s the model professional. Definitely one to lean on because he’s got such vast experience.”
A big help in the club’s recent results has been a return to the fitness levels that had seen them brush aside just about every team they come up against.
“I think the running side of things, the hard work side of things, you just have to do it or I don’t think you’d play for this manager if you didn’t,” he said. “To replicate it every three or four days is tough, especially after the break we had.
“Nobody wants to make excuses but it is quite a big reason. The way we play, to have the lay-off we had, and then come back and try and replicate where we were – it’s just been tough. We’re definitely getting back to the levels we were and it holds us in good stead for what we want to try to do in the six remaining games.”
And with that 500-mark coming up, we had to ask what advice he would give to young players who are setting off on their journey now.
“Don’t take anything for granted, work hard on your strengths and weaknesses, and try not to get too high or too low, whatever you go through,” he said. “Never get too big for your boots, keep things level, and make sure you enjoy it.
“It’s an amazing career to have, so definitely the most important thing is to enjoy it.”
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