Kevin Lisbie describes it as the “perfect ending” – a fairytale farewell most footballers could only dream of.
This is a striker who made his debut for Charlton aged 17, played more than 100 Premier League games, scored a hat-trick against Liverpool, and earned ten caps for Jamaica.
And now, at the grand old age of 40, he is preparing to play at Wembley – for Southern Counties champions Cray Valley Paper Mills in the FA Vase.
If that wasn’t enough, Lisbie’s old club Leyton Orient – where he works as a part-time coach – follow his final tomorrow on the same hallowed turf in the FA Trophy.
And right now, as he nurses his creaking body to get him through one final match, he cannot think of a better way to bow out.
Lisbie told SunSport: “If you were writing a book, this would be the perfect ending for me.
“Us and Orient winning our leagues and then playing finals at Wembley on the same day.
“My body is hanging in there, I am icing my knee three or four times a day and just about limping around the house.
“I am going to see how I feel after Sunday but if it is quite similar, I will probably call it a day after this game and bow out by playing at Wembley.”
Lisbie has actually retired once before – after leaving League Two Barnet in 2016.
But he was coaxed back into playing by Kevin Watson, his old Charlton pal and boss of Cray Valley Paper Mills – whose name derives from the old paper mills in Bromley.
Lisbie’s goals have since helped them rise from second bottom of the ninth-tier Southern Counties East League Premier Division to win it in just two seasons.
And he admitted: “I’d hung the boots up and thought that was it.
“When Kevin rang me, initially I said ‘no’, but he called me again six weeks later and I agreed to come on a game-by-game basis – and two years later, I am still here.
“I just play on Saturdays. I have never trained with Cray and I don’t play Tuesdays because I am busy with coaching.
“But I go to the gym every day and keep myself really fit, so I can always manage 90 minutes.
“It’s an addiction and I still love it.”
Lisbie, who runs a ‘Lisbie Finishing School’ for kids and also coaches at a local school and Orient’s Under-10s, is paid a small match fee and expenses by the Millers.
But he has still come back from games out of pocket, as he smiled: “They have banned me from talking about playing in the Premier League – it’s £2 in the kitty every time I bring it up!”
Lisbie, though, cannot help but be reminded of his Premier League past by his non-league opponents.
He explained: “If you came to watch me play, you’d know how much I love football because I play in front of 50 people, and 49 of them are hammering me for being an ex-footballer!
“Players also step their game up against me. There are some when you think, ‘If you played like you are against me every week, you’d probably be at a league club’.
“Some defenders get my blood really boiling and then after the game they are like, ‘Kev, can I have a picture?’- and I’m like, ‘Are you winding me up?’.
“But I love all that really and I think a lot of them actually appreciate the fact I play at this level and give my all.
“We really put a shift in at some grounds that a lot of professionals probably wouldn’t want to be seen dead at.”
For Lisbie’s four boys – Kalan, 16, twins Kyrell and Kyreece, 15, and Kaion, 12 – it is not a shock to watch their dad at this level, as they have never seen him plying his trade at the top.
That was, though, until recently when they flicked on Sky Sports’ Premier League Years, which happened to be the 2003-04 season and showing his hat-trick for Charlton against Liverpool.
Lisbie said: “A couple of months ago, I was upstairs in my room when I heard my boys screaming.
“I ran downstairs and they were watching my goals – and I was like, ‘I have told you about this about 50 times!’.
“It was only when they saw it for themselves, they actually believed me.
“When they watch the Premier League now, I still don’t think they really truly understand that was something I did for nine years.”
Lisbie says his boots and match ball from that day are “covered in dust somewhere in the loft where the kids can’t touch them”.
But memories from the 4-2 win at the Valley are vivid – and he is still one of only nine players to score a Premier League treble against the Reds.
Lisbie recalled: “I remember the third goal – running from my half of the pitch and bending it in and the crowd going crazy.
“My mum and my uncle, the two closest people to me, supported Liverpool so that was even better!
“It was a brilliant day for all of my family. I took them bowling at Finsbury Park that night and I remember the match coming up on the big screen as we were eating.”
Tomorrow’s FA Vase final against Chertsey Town – who won the Combined Counties League Premier Division – is sure to be another memorable day for Lisbie and his family.
His first experience of Wembley was at the old one, when Charlton beat Sunderland in the 1998 second-tier play-off final.
Lisbie was in the travelling party as a 19-year-old but just missed out on their matchday squad.
He then played for Orient in the 2015 League One play-off final, which they lost on penalties to Rotherham.
And Lisbie added: “To be making another appearance at Wembley at 40-years-old is something I didn’t think I would have the chance to do. It’s a privilege.
“I have booked 140 tickets for family and friends – and my wife just called me a minute ago to ask if we can get some more!
“I think there are also about 2,000 Orient supporters who are coming down early to watch my game as well, so that will be nice.
“I will stay and watch Orient and if we have won, hopefully, I will be allowed to sit in the crowd with a bottle of champagne!”
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