Mr Ever-Present: Alfreton Town fan hasn’t missed a game in 35 years, attending 1,871 matches on the trot
Bill Draper hasn’t missed a single Alfreton Town match for over 35 years, and he has no intention of ever missing another.
The Derbyshire Times correspondent has only missed 13 Reds matches since 1966, but he’s currently on a run of attending 1,872 consecutive games.
He once turned down the chance to be best man at a friend’s wedding, and almost had his run broken by chicken pox.
And at 66 years of age admits he doesn’t always wake up on matchdays full of enthusiasm for Alfreton’s next outing.
But there’s no chance he’ll be giving one single fixture a miss.
“If you hadn’t missed a match for 35 years, would you even think about it?” he asks.
“I’ve been to 1,872 on the trot.
“It’s something I will do as long as I can, missing a game is not an option.”
The love affair with the Reds began in 1959, when his father took him to his first game.
And the start of his remarkable run of consecutive attendances was another important date for Alfreton Town – the birth of one of the club’s finest exports.
“It just gets in the blood,” he said.
“I certainly do love the club and non-league football, I have no interest in professional clubs and not a great deal of interest in anything outside Alfreton Town.
“I’ve been doing the Derbyshire Times reports since 1972, but it’s a no brainer, I’ve got to be there.
“When I first started I didn’t do away matches for the paper.
“But I’ve been to every single game, home and away since 13th December 1980 – by coincidence that was the day Ryan France was born.”
France grew up to play for the Reds, win two promotions and then move to Hull City before playing in the Premier League and retiring.
Draper has spent France’s entire lifetime going to Alfreton matches, at almost any cost.
“I refused to be a best man for a good friend in 1988 – the wedding clashed with an FA Cup game at Bilston.
“There were a couple of close calls. In 1999 I got chicken pox and on the Saturday it snowed at Radcliffe Borough and I got away with it.
“The other was when we broke down in 2009 on the way to Fleetwood and had to get two taxis and two trains to get there for kick-off – it cost a fortune.”
This kind of dedication isn’t as rare as you’d think, one of Draper’s matchday travelling companions – Geoff Greenwood – hasn’t missed a game for 28 years this month.
But Draper is certainly more qualified than most to pick out the club’s highs and lows of the past 35 years.
“Alfreton getting into the Conference was a high point, but it was a love-hate relationship with the Conference. At least we got up there and had a go.
“Double relegation in 1997/98/99 was the low point.
“The finest ever Alfreton player was John Harrison but his last game was 1977 so he doesn’t fit into this run of games.
“There’s been a lot of good players, I couldn’t narrow it down.”
And having seen so many Alfreton teams come and go, the current crop should be privileged to receive his seal of approval.
“They’re young lads gelling together, there’s promise there definitely.”
Chances are most of those players will be gone before Draper reaches his next big milestone, his 2000th consecutive match.
But he’s not planning any special celebrations just yet.
“There’s two and a half years to go before I reach that, I’ve got plenty of time to plan something.”