Is there any better role model for young, aspiring footballers to look up to than Burnley’s Michael Duff?
While the 37-year-old’s commitment and loyalty to the Clarets was celebrated with a testimonial match against Bradford at Turf Moor, his intrepidity and drive to reach this level should also be applauded.
The defender, rejected by Nottingham Forest, Darlington and Swindon Town in his teenage years, managed to climb from the eighth tier of the English football pyramid to the top tier in ascending order.
Moving from Hellenic League’s Carterton Town to Cheltenham, with a loan spell at Cirencester Town added for good measure, Duff enjoyed unprecedented success with the Robins under the stewardship of Steve Cotterill.
The Northern Ireland international, who made 24 appearances for his country, was involved in three promotions in five seasons, FA Trophy success at Wembley and scored the vital stoppage time winner against Yeovil in 1999 that secured the club’s rise to the Football League.
And since signing for Burnley in 2004, where he was reunited with Cotterill in a £30,000 transfer, Duff’s career has continued to move in an upwards trajectory.
In 358 appearances, he’s won promotion to the Premier League on two occasions, contributing to eight top flight clean sheets in the process, and helped the Clarets earn their first win over Blackburn Rovers in over three decades.
Duff led the team out as preparations for the 2015/16 Championship campaign drew to a close against the Bantams on home soil.
The hosts started well and summer signing Jelle Vossen, who netted nine times for Boro last season, flicked over the bar from debutant Tendayi Darikwa’s clipped cross after George Boyd’s drive was blocked.
There was a suspicion of handball in the home side’s next attack but referee Alan Clayton allowed play to continue, despite Michael Kightly’s advantage, and the winger stung the palms of goalkeeper Ben Williams after forcing visiting skipper Stephen Darby on to the back foot.
However, the League One outfit responded well and manufactured a number of openings of their own.
James Hanson headed wide from Billy Knott’s centre before Kightly’s horrible back pass was touched past Tom Heaton by Hanson, but the Clarets survived the scare. Duff then flicked Josh Morris’s header over the bar as he met Tony McMahon’s corner at the back post.
Once again the balance of play swung like a pendulum and it was the Clarets who re-asserted their control on the fixture.
Darikwa, with shades of Kieran Trippier in his play, fired a diagonal in to Lukas Jutkiewicz and the striker’s cushioned, headed assist was struck in to the turf by Vossen, who drew a fine save from Williams as the keeper flew to his right.
Jutkiewicz was then denied when Williams beat his header away from Darikwa’s delivery, but the number 19 netted his fourth goal of pre-season just after the half-hour mark.
The move started with Boyd protecting possession on the right hand side, the winger’s crossfield pass found Ben Mee, and the full back’s ball in to Kightloy was fired in to the six yard box where Jutkiewicz, at the near post, turned Rory McArdle and fired low in to the far corner.
The away side’s best chance of the half arrived moments after the restart. Tony McMahon fed the ball in to the feet of Nathan Clarke on the edge of the box and his reverse pass in to the penalty area was stabbed wide of the upright by Hanson.
McMahon tried his luck with an individual piece of brilliance; controlling the ball on his knee before lifting a volley from 25 yards away from Heaton that dipped just wide of the upright.
At the other end Jutkiewicz’s low, left-footed effort from the edge of the box was saved by Williams, but it was the visitors that threatened again just before the interval.
Michael Keane’s foul on Knott paved the way for set-piece specialist McMahon, and the former Blackpool defender smashed the bar. Routis’s rebound was then blocked by Mee while Hanson’s follow up header was stopped on the line.
After the break, Vossen’s excellent movement in the box engineered a route beyond marker McArdle as he met Darikwa’s cross with a diving header at the near post but the striker was foiled by Jussi Jaaskelainen - who had replaced Williams at half-time.
Heaton had to be alert to preserve the Clarets lead when pushing another McMahon free-kick over the bar before Jaaskelainen unconvincingly pushed Boyd’s attempt to safety.
Routis went close to levelling midway through the half when his strike skimmed off the turf, only for Heaton to produce an unorthodox save with his chest when plunging to his right.
Sean Dyche’s side did eventually extend their advantage and it was substitute Matt Taylor who struck with a thunderous effort in the 74th minute.
After fellow sub Marvin Sordell was stopped in his tracks by McArdle, Taylor arrowed his free-kick in-between Jaaskelainen and the upright to make it 2-0.
Sam Vokes could’ve added to the lead when latching on to Boyd’s threaded pass b ut his delicate effort was touched wide of the post by the fingertips of the former West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers stopper.
Injury to Fredrik Ulvestad took the gloss off the game somewhat when the Norweigan returned to the dressing room on a stretcher just minutes after replacing David Jones in the 66th minute. Only time will tell as to how serious the injury is.
And with the minutes ticking down, Duff left the field to a standing ovation when replaced by Stephen Ward.
The story now goes in to its 11th season as the centre half prepares to take on Leeds United at Elland Road when the new season gets underway on Saturday.
Burnley: Heaton; Darikwa (Dummigan), Duff (Ward), Keane, Mee; Boyd, Arfield, Jones (Ulvestad, Taylor), Kightly; Vossen (Sordell), Jutkiewicz (Vokes).