Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks clearly had never met Egyptian forward Ezzeldin Bahader. The professional footballer, playing for Egyptian third tier side October 6, probably on paper wouldn’t seem to impressive – having only just made his professional debut for his new club, even if he did score late in a 1-1 draw with their rivals.
That is until you scan across to the striker’s date of birth, which would inform you that Bahader is in fact 75 years old. That’s not a typo, either. The septuagenarian is currently in the process of bidding to become the oldest ever professional footballer.
A father of four, and grandfather of six, Bahader does have some footballing experience behind him, having played amateur football for much of his live while working as a civil engineering consultant and then a land cultivation expert. He could certainly play the game to a passable level, but it was hardly the kind of past football pedigree to see him recognised in the street.
Nevertheless, the veteran forward started to dream of making a name for himself, some seven decades after first beginning to kick a football around the dusty streets of Egypt’s capital, Cairo, as a six-year-old. In January, he caught the headlines when the Egyptian FA announced the registration of a septuagenarian player who had never previously appeared in professional football.
Now hot on the path of the Guinness World Record for world’s oldest footballer, Bahader looks to claim the thrown away from current holder Isaak Hayik of Israel, who was 73 years and 95 days old when he played in goal last year for lower-tier Israeli side Ironi Or Yehuda.
Despite having now played a professional game, to qualify for the title – and presumably to discredit a side simply substituting on an elderly veteran player to claim the record – players must complete two full matches to be eligible.
Bahader played the full 90 minutes in October 6 Club’s 1-1 draw, even despite having recently been battling an ongoing knee injury. That leaves him simply needing a further 90 minutes under his belt to claim the title.
Having scored a late penalty to equalise for his team, the veteran player proved some worth for his side too. As he was mobbed by his teammates, even Bahader likely couldn’t have imagined in his wildest dreams that his professional debut would have ended with such a fairytale story.
That’s not to say there isn’t a clear publicity angle to the signing and Bahader’s inclusion in the team. The situation has brought far greater international attention and interest on October 6 Club than they would have previously been able to fathom. As October 6 Club’s coach Ahmed Abdel Ghany told the BBC: “It is very good for Egypt to have someone in the Guinness Book of Records and for us to have him in the October 6 club.
“Honestly, we won’t benefit from him 100% on the technical side but we rehabilitated him in the previous period so that he would be able to play the required 90 or 180 minutes (to qualify for the Guinness World Records book).”
Bahader was never intended to be a revolutionary signing for October 6 Club. It was a novelty.
Still, with a goal already under his belt, you can’t discredit the incredible effort and determination needed by the 75-year-old to get to this stage and remain fit enough to play at least 120 minutes of professional football.
Having been training both with the club and at home with a personal trainer, Bahader has shown immense resilience and spirit to overcome everything from human biology to his knee injury to achieve this record – and all eyes will now be towards March 21, 2020 to see if he can complete the next 90 minutes and write himself into the record books.