Stuart Nelson has made more than 500 appearances during a 20-year professional career.
But the Stroud-born goalkeeper has found himself without a club this summer after being released by Yeovil Town due to budget cuts.
Nelson was part of the Glovers team that reached the National League play-offs last season.
They were beaten 2-0 by Barnet in the eliminator, signalling an abrupt end to their first campaign back in non-league football since 2003.
It was a unique experience for Nelson and his team mates due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
They worked tirelessly for five weeks, with sessions at 10am and 5pm every day.
“After being tested one Monday, we locked down in Yeovil and stayed at the stadium throughout,” Nelson said.
“We had bedrooms set up in executive boxes and it felt a bit like a World Cup training camp.
“Seven or eight of us senior lads had a box each, while the younger lads were in a big lounge, which became a big dorm basically with their Playstations set up.
“We used another executive lounge for meals and we’d watch Premier League games on TV in the evenings.”
Nelson said Yeovil’s play-off preparation could not have been any more thorough, despite the result against Barnet, who lost 2-0 to one of his old clubs Notts County in the semi-finals.
“We did everything properly and it was just the way it worked in a one-off game, which can always go either way,” he said.
“We had so many chances, but couldn’t score and it was disappointing because I believe we could have caught Barrow at the top if the season had played out fully, but you don’t lose, you learn.
“We were fully up to match speed with friendlies against Weymouth and Bath and I feel like I’ve done a pre-season already because I’ve maintained those fitness levels in the weeks since.”
Nelson turns 39 on September 17, but he believes his physical conditioning has never been better.
“I am not ready to move into coaching yet because I want to play for as long as possible,” he said.
“I am the fittest I’ve ever been and I have been working with a personal trainer I’ve had since I was at Gillingham and she also does my nutrition and gym programmes.
“I have never had a lower body fat percentage and I am never left behind in any exercise in training, outfield players and goalkeepers included.
“I am still flying around my goal and I feel in my early 30s or even younger.
“I don’t really think about my age though and I want to squeeze every last drop out of playing and then when coaching opportunities do come around, I’ll be ready.”
Nelson believes he will be an asset to any club he joins for the 2020/21 season.
“If I am stacking shelves, or working as a bus driver, I will be the best in the business because of the desire I have to be the best I can be,” he said.
“I might end up somewhere as a back-up keeper and I can use my leadership skills and work ethic to help a younger keeper.
“If I can do that, I’d be delighted even if I am a number two or three because I like a challenge.
“Even when I am not playing I can help lead a squad and the manager and coach can’t do it the whole time.
“I love leading by example and using my experience of more than 500 games.”
Nelson grew up in Gloucestershire, attending Archway School, where he was coached by John Evans.
He was also a talented rugby player, but he chose the round ball game and started his football career at Cirencester Academy.
“I was probably better at rugby, but I went after football because I thought I’d have to be a borderline international fly-half to earn the sort of wages I could in football,” he said.
“I chose the football route, which was the harder way into professional sport and I have had a lot of battles.
“It took me a while to make my League debut, but that was my life’s ambition and it’s taken a lot of hard work to keep going this long.
“Rugby is a shorter career and it hurts as well!”
Nelson was in the same year as midfielder Jamie Gosling, who went on to play for Bath City, Yeovil and Forest Green Rovers, while James Constable was two years below them.
After trials at Derby, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United, Nelson impressed enough to earn a move to Millwall.
He had one year as a professional with the South London club, playing in the Under-19 Premier League against the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool.
He then spent a summer in the USA with Des Moines Menace in Iowa before returning to England with Oxford City and then moving to Doncaster Rovers.
“We finished fourth in the Conference in the days when only one team were promoted,” he said.
“The following year we went up through the play-offs and even though I only played a couple of games, it was an amazing experience, going up with a ‘golden goal’ to clinch promotion against Dagenham at Stoke City.”
Nelson built his senior experience with Hucknall Town of National League North, while continuing to train full-time at Doncaster, which was when Brentford came calling in February 2004.
He was sent off in the 87th minute of his Football League debut, away to Brighton.
“It was a cold Tuesday night and I remember when the manager pulled a new page over on the flip chart and I saw my name on it,” he said.
“I had prepared properly and we were in relegation trouble at the time.
“We were losing 1-0 and a long ball was booted over the top so I came flying out and tried to head it, but ended up spearing the lad and the ref sent me off – that’s how my career started!”
Helping Brentford survive in League One on the final day is among Nelson’s career highlights, along with winning the League Two title at Gillingham under Martin Allen in 2012/13.
“I’d never played in League Two, but the challenge there was to try and bring the club back to League One, where they’d been for many years and we smashed it over 10 months,” he said.
“We kept 21 clean sheets that season and I made team of the year; to be voted in by your peers was amazing.”
Nelson has also been a part of successful battles against relegation at Gillingham, Notts County and Yeovil, as well as reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup.
He also enjoyed one season with Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership after a year at Norwich City.
Another memorable moment was playing in an exhibition match for Notts County away to Juventus to mark the opening of the Italian giants’ new 41,000-seater stadium in 2011.
“All I wanted to do when I was young was make one Football League appearance,” he said.
“I played 150 games for Brentford, 220 for Gillingham which is the third highest for a keeper there and passing 500 in my career has been amazing, but I want a new challenge now.”
Nelson, who is based in Chelmsford, has three children: Roman (four), Paige (two) and Roxy (seven months).
He is unemployed due to Yeovil bringing in Adam Smith on loan from League Two Forest Green Rovers in his place.
“The manager (Darren Sarll) said he loved having me in the group due to my work ethic and leadership qualities, but he could get a keeper in for next to nothing,” Nelson said.
“Adam was in with us on loan last season and they’ve obviously done a deal with Forest Green. He’s a good guy and I believe he’ll do well.
“Clubs are tightening their belts, but there are no grudges from me and it’s time for me to move onto the next thing, which I am sure will be bigger and better.
“That’s the only way to look at these things and it’ll be a new challenge, whichever team it is and there will be different things to take on board.
“I’ve never been on loads of money and financially I am not a bad prospect to have in because I just love football and I’m a grafter.
“For anyone doubting me because of my age, that’s their problem not mine because someone will be lucky to get me for the wages I’ll command and it’ll be someone seeing the bigger picture.”
Nelson has been studying for a diploma in personal training during lockdown.
“I will do other work on the side if necessary to support my family, who mean everything to me and I need to work after football stops,” he said.
“But I train every day like I am going to start the next game and I am always ready to be thrown in, even if I haven’t played for six weeks and you are never the finished article so I am always trying to improve.
“When you think you’ve seen it all in football you are sleeping at a stadium and being tested for an illness every few days!
“I am not saying I have to be number one now, but I will be training every day and giving back, travelling around the country with the squad supporting my team mates.
“I believe I can help raise everyone else’s game and bring up standards because I don’t accept anything less.”