Hanover legend Alan Gracey turned down the chance to captain his country in favour of an appearance in Saturday’s Mid-Ulster Reserve League Division One.
The former Irish League midfielder celebrated his 60th birthday last weekend and got the perfect present by lining out in Hanover colours at Brownstown Park.
Gracey’s introduction off the substitutes’ bench against AFC Craigavon was the latest highlight in a Mid-Ulster career dating back over three decades.
His love for Hanover extended to turning down the chance to captain Northern Ireland Veterans in England.
“I was offered the opportunity at the start of the season to captain Northern Ireland Veterans on my birthday,” said Gracey. “It was a nice offer but it would not have been fair on the other Northern Ireland guys who have been working so hard, plus I wanted to play for Hanover.
“I want to thank everyone at Hanover for allowing me to play and it was the first time my birthday has ever fallen on the same date as a game.
“I have been getting a whole lot of messages of support following the match and now my next target is my 75th birthday.
“I just love the game and that has kept me going, plus it has been a marriage made in heaven at Hanover!”
Saturday’s special appearance provided a moment to savour for Gracey but the long-serving clubman is refusing to look back on the past three decades and instead focus on Hanover’s bright future.
“The club is in such a positive position, on and off the pitch,” said Gracey. “If we can win a trophy this season that would mean more than any birthday present.
“So many managers and players have contributed in the past but it is great to be back up in Intermediate A.
“We have made a good start to the league and it is a cracking squad, plus we have been basically sending a bus load of supporters to away games and there is a dedicated committee.
“I stepped down off the committee to give others an opportunity and it is great to see everything going so well.
“I joined Hanover because the club chairman back in 1983, Ivan Orr, used to have a garage and my car at the time was always in trouble.
“During one visit he asked me to sign for the club and I have never looked back.
“I played in the Irish League for Glenavon, Glentoran, Portadown, Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery but have had a second career at Mid-Ulster level.
“There have been so many quality players and teams in Mid-Ulster football down the years, including some who could and should have gone on to the Irish League.
“I am enjoying just watching Hanover now and we are definitely looking the part, with plenty of entertaining football and some really good players.
“I have been playing football since I could walk and just love the game so it was great to get a cameo on Saturday.”