Longevity in football is an elusive quality. The goalkeeping fraternity are of course the leaders when it comes to elongated careers but for the majority of outfield players, it remains a rare feat to enjoy more than 15 years on the pitch in the senior game.

Tony Ford played for 27 years. Admittedly, his rampaging runs down the right of midfield gave way to more defensive duties at right back as his legs eventually tired during the autumn of his career but Ford's phenomenal tally of 931 Football League appearances spread across four decades remains a record for an outfield player. And it's a landmark that you imagine may never be surpassed. In terms of sheer stamina, Ford broke the mould.

"The years pass by and because you just enjoy playing so much, you just don't realise the amount of games you're clocking up," he said when asked to explain his incredible durability. "I never tackled. The worst injury in my career was four weeks out with a hamstring, so looking after yourself and luck does come into it. I got by using knowledge and experience. They say your brain gets quicker as your legs get slower.

"I think my modesty would stop me from saying that I'm a legend. I have been in football for a long time and I'm just thankful for all the friends that football has made me over the years. I've enjoyed playing and enjoyed most things football has brought to my life."

Ford's record-breaking odyssey began with his hometown club Grimsby Town in 1974. Ford was planning to take an engineering course after leaving school but the teenager's plans changed when Mariners' manager Tommy Casey invited him to play for the club's reserves.

The youngster made an inedible mark and in October 1975 Casey handed the 16-year-old his first team debut in a Division Three clash with Walsall at Blundell Park. His emergence coincided with a revival in Grimsby's fortunes and despite being relegated in 1977, they bounced back to the third tier of English football two years later and were promoted to Division Two the following season for the first time in 16 years as champions.

"I think the game when we won the Third Division championship in 1980 would stand out as my best Grimsby memory," Ford said. "We beat Sheffield United 4-1 and my good friend Kevin Drinkell scored a hat-trick that day. The euphoria of the day, winning the title was just fantastic."

The midfielder's buccaneering style and his Grimsby roots made his a firm favourite on the terraces but in 1986 he finally parted company with his beloved Mariners and after a brief loan spell at Sunderland, signed for Stoke City.

He stayed at the Victoria Ground for three seasons before joining West Bromwich Albion in 1989. It proved to be a prudent move and in the same year he won two England B caps alongside David Platt, Paul Gascoigne and Steve Bull.

It was however in the less glamorous surroundings of the lower reaches of the Football League that Ford continued to prosper with his faultless mixture of honest endeavour, athleticism and stamina. His erstwhile England B team-mates went onto full international recognition but none came close to eclipsing Ford's final tally of club appearances.

In 1991 the veteran made an emotional return to Grimsby Town but adulation turned to consternation three years later when he signed for arch rivals Scunthorpe United, playing for two seasons at Glanford Park, but when he was released by The Iron in 1996 at the age of 37, it seemed his incredible career was finally at an end.

Steve Parkin had other ideas. Ford's former Stoke City and West Brom team-mate had just landed his first managerial job at Mansfield Town and he was quickly on the phone to recruit his old friend in a combined role as player and assistant coach. Ford amassed 103 league appearances for Mansfield and in January 1999 he surpassed Terry Paine's record of 824 Football League matches by an outfield player, a record that had stood for 22 years.

The journey was not quite over however and when Parkin resigned as Stags manager later that year to become Rochdale boss, Ford again followed him despite having recently celebrated his 40th birthday. Remarkably, his legs carried him through two more seasons at Spotland. His 1000th career appearance in all competitions came in the quarter-finals of the Football League Trophy at Carlisle United in March 2000, while his final, record-breaking 931st Football League game was the 2-0 victory over Torquay United in November 2001.

Surprisingly Ford's unrivalled playing experience did not translate into a similarly successful coaching career. He took assistant roles at both Barnsley and Rochdale, as well as a scouting job for Grimsby, but he never really emulated from the touchline the spectacular impact he had made on the pitch.

Career Statistics:
Grimsby Town (1975-86) - 355 Football League appearances, 55 goals
Sunderland (1986) - 9 Football League appearances, 1 goal
Stoke City (1986-89) - 112 Football League appearances, 13 goals
West Bromich Albion (1989-91) - 114 Football League appearances, 14 goals
Grimsby Town (1991-94) - 68 Football League appearances, 3 goals
Bradford City (1993) - 5 Football League appearances
Scunthorpe United (1994-96) - 76 Football League appearances, 9 goals
Mansfield Town (1996-99) - 103 Football League appearances, 7 goals
Rochdale (199-2001) - 89 Football League appearances, 6 goals