Dannie Bulman: The EFL's oldest player still going strong with Crawley Town at 40

Dannie Bulman in action for Crawley Town
Dannie Bulman has played more than 800 league games in his professional career

A professional footballer's career can be short.

However, that has certainly not been the case for Dannie Bulman, who made his professional debut in the last millennium and is still going strong at the age of 40.

The midfielder signed a new one-year contract this summer and is now on the brink of making his 400th appearance for League Two Crawley Town.

BBC Sport meets the English Football League's oldest player to discuss some notable career moments and his longevity as he enters his 22nd season as a professional.

A 'surreal' debut goal

Bulman has been playing senior football since the age of 15, when he made his debut for non-league side Ashford Town.

After four successful years, during which time the Middlesex club won four consecutive Combined Counties League titles, he moved to Wycombe, then in the third tier, for £10,000 in 1998.

He made his Football League debut as a late substitute with his side 1-0 down at home to Bristol Rovers. It proved to be dramatic introduction to the professional game.

"I remember coming on and chasing down their goalkeeper, he smashed it against my bottom and it flew into the net," he said.

"It was five games into the season and it got us our first point.

"I think I scored 30 seconds after I came on and got booked 40 seconds after I came on because I went to get the ball back and munched someone. I didn't know what was going on. It was very surreal."

Anyone in the crowd at Adams Park that day 21 years ago who wanted to find out more about the teenage debutant might have struggled - Google's search engine had yet to launch online.

Dannie Bulman in action for Wycombe Wanderers
Bulman at Wycombe, two years after making his Football League debut

A magic formula for longevity?

Bulman spent six years with the Chairboys before dropping into non-league with Stevenage in 2004.

A loan move to Crawley followed in 2006, kicking off the first of four spells with the Reds.

He has also played for Oxford and AFC Wimbledon, winning promotion with both clubs via the play-offs.

He will turn 41 in January but says he has not changed too many things over the course of his career, wondering whether he is simply "lucky with the genes".

He continued: "As an 18-year-old going into the professional game, you don't really think about the award of 'oldest player in the EFL'.

"You need to cut back on a few things and try to aid the body to recover as quickly as possible.

"You've got to look after yourself. I don't do gym or yoga. I couldn't tell you the magic formula but I just keep going.

"I've had a massive diet change from when I was 18, but at that age you can eat whatever you want and get away with it. Now I don't eat as much - but little and often."

FA Cup memories

Bulman has never played in the top two divisions of the English game, but has won four promotions over the course of his career and played in several big FA Cup ties.

He was part of the Crawley team which lost 1-0 at Manchester United in the fifth round in 2011, when they were still a non-league side, but his personal highlight came during Wycombe's run to the semi-finals in 2000-01 when Wanderers faced Liverpool at Villa Park.

"It was a surreal situation standing on halfway with Michael Owen, [Emile] Heskey and Robbie Fowler," he said.

"You think 'is this actually happening?' and looking at my mates like 'what is going on here?'.

Dannie Bulman (centre) in action for Wycombe Wanderers against Liverpool
Bulman, aged 22, takes on Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia, with Reds midfielder Dietmar Hamann looking on

"We were terrible that season in the league and barely stayed up. We lost 5-1 to Walsall [two weeks before]. That is how bad things were.

"To lose narrowly 2-1 against a very good Liverpool team that went on to win the FA Cup, that is probably the highlight of my career."

That run with Wycombe came after the quarter-final victory over Leicester City - a match won by Roy Essandoh, dubbed the Ceefax striker.

Striker Essandoh was signed after his agent saw the injury-hit Chairboys appeal for a non-cup-tied striker via the BBC's teletext information service - which was turned off in 2012.

"He had these rascal wedge trainers - something like the Spice Girls used to wear back in the day - and we thought 'what the hell is going on here?' said Bulman.

"In training, he could not control a balloon.

"With one leap of faith he was head and shoulders above any player around him to put it in the back of the net. That was a magical moment and made his short career."

Roy Essandoh celebrates Wycombe Wanderers' FA Cup win over Leicester City
Roy Essandoh scored the goal which helped Wycombe knock Leicester out of the FA Cup and make himself a pub quiz answer for years to come

'I've worked about two weeks in my life'

Unlike most players reaching the end of their career, Bulman says he has not given too much thought to what he will do when he does eventually hang up his boots.

However, he has not started out on any coaching badges in case it impacts on his game.

"If you do your coaching badges and this, that and the other, then maybe you look at football in a different way," he said.

"That would make you question managers and coaches and stuff like that, so I have tried to keep as professional as possible and maybe not have that opinion as a coach, because I am a player at the end of the day.

"If you find a job you love, you never work a day in your life. I think I've worked about two weeks in my life and that was when I was a labourer before I was a footballer. I don't really want to go back there.

"When the time does come, I will stay in football."

Other veterans and a heart in Crawley

Bulman has a couple of challengers to his crown as the EFL's oldest player.

Morecambe midfielder Kevin Ellison, also 40, was born a month after Bulman, while Rochdale forward Aaron Wilbraham turns 40 in October and Doncaster winger James Coppinger will be 39 in January.

"A few years ago I bumped into Kev in Magaluf," Bulman said. "We were both a bit worse for wear but we had a laugh.

"He always asks when am I going to retire. I have got to pay the mortgage and he wants the placard of the oldest footballer in the EFL.

Kevin Ellison in action for Morecambe
Morecambe's Kevin Ellison - the second oldest player in the EFL - is 23 days younger than Bulman

"When we play against each other he is chirpy as anything, gives it to the away fans and plays with a smile on his face. That's good to see at his age.

"James has got ages to go yet, hasn't he? And he's good [at football] - we're not."

Bulman still has time to create a few more memories, be it a fifth promotion or another FA Cup run with Crawley this season - but his own personal landmark could come at Carlisle United on Saturday in their opening League Two game of the season.

"This is my club, the one I have had the best achievements with," he said. "It has got my heart.

"To get 400 games for any club is a great achievement and one I'll cherish for life."