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Downing: Plenty left in the tank

The 35-year-old is set for his 600th club career start this weekend if selected against Fulham at Ewood Park

5 February 2020

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Ahead of a potential 600th career club start this weekend, Stewart Downing says enjoying his football has been crucial to reaching that staggering figure.

The 35-year-old's milestone match is expected to come this weekend when Fulham head to Ewood Park for Championship game number 31 of the campaign.

Downing's first start was on Wednesday 24th April 2002 as Middlesbrough suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Ipswich Town at Portman Road thanks to Darren Bent's strike.

Bent would later be a team-mate of Downing's at Aston Villa and England, whilst Rovers' current assistant manager Mark Venus started for Ipswich that day.

So, 598 starts later, and following spells with Aston Villa, Liverpool, West Ham United and then back to Boro before heading to Rovers, what's been Stewy's secret?

“I’ve played for some really good managers who understand me and my game, just like the boss does here," he admitted to iFollow Rovers ahead of his landmark.

“When I have a sore knee I might only train for a couple of days, but the manager knows that I’ll be ready for the weekend. Things like that come to mind because there are managers who won’t play you if you don’t train.

“I’ve played for really good managers and played for some really big football clubs and I’ve just really enjoyed it. If you enjoy it then you feel better and play well.

“When you don’t play, you lose a bit, but being around young players helps you stay young and fresh. If you don’t then they’ll be in to take your place.

“At the beginning of your career all you think about is getting in the team. You see all the players in front of you, and for me it was the Zendens, the Mendietas, the Hasselbainks.

“You’re wondering how you get into the team and that’s the first battle. Once you’re in there it’s just about making sure you don’t get out of it, and that’s always been my way.

“I never ever thought that I would be guaranteed to play, no matter where I’ve been. If a manager bought me then I’d always feel I have something to prove because you have people behind you looking to get in the team."

Still more than capable of charging up and down the left flank, Downing says he's kept on his toes by the younger members of the Rovers teams.

And he believes there are still plenty of games remaining in what has been an illustrious career that's included 35 England caps.

“When I see the young players we have here, the likes of Jacob Davenport [Joe] Rankin-Costello, who I think is going to be a really good player, they’re all banging on the door, and the manager can see him," he added.

“You have to be wary because once you slip off, the young lads are ready and waiting to snap it up.

“If I didn’t have that hunger then I’d walk away. I’d hate to be in the way of a young player coming through, I wouldn’t want to do that.

“I’d want to go out on a high, so if a manager thinks my legs have gone and says I have to walk away, I’ll enjoy seeing the young lads come through.

“I’m loving my football though, and as long as it keeps going like it has done for me then I’ll just keep playing. The biggest thing is enjoying it, you’re fit and well and you’re contributing.”

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