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History Re-Written

11 December 2013

New records reveal defender Len Smelt as the club’s oldest ever player.

For many years, since the late 1920’s, Burnley FC history has recorded the club’s oldest player as long-serving goalkeeper Jerry Dawson, who played his 569th and final senior match for the Clarets on Christmas Day 1928 at the age of 40 years, 282 days.

Dawson, who also holds the club’s appearance record, was long-believed to be the only Burnley player who had appeared in a first team game having turned 40 years of age, although Graham Alexander gave it his best shot in 2011. (Playing his final game for the Clarets on the last day of the 2010-11 season at 39 years and 209 days, Graham is Burnley’s oldest player in the post-war era, and third-oldest overall… or so we thought).

Up to now, the Clarets’ oldest-ever outfield player - and second-oldest player only behind Jerry Dawson - was thought to be legendary full back David Taylor. 

Taylor was an FA Cup winner with Burnley in 1914 and also began the 1920-21 League Championship-winning season at left back, although he lost his place to Cliff Jones. Taylor’s final appearance for the Clarets was on 26 April, 1924 at the age of 39 years and 265 days.

However, following a meeting recently with family members of another Clarets’ legend, we can now reveal that the oldest-ever Burnley player is, in fact, full-back Len Smelt, who co-incidentally was also a League Championship winner in 1920-21.

Len’s grandson Steven Smelt, who lives in Canada, paid the club a visit recently and we had the pleasure of showing him and members of his family around Turf Moor. 

Information Steven subsequently provided confirmed that the club’s records were incorrect in terms of his grandfather’s date of birth. 

Over the years there has been conflicting information regarding this crucial date. In ‘Burnley – A Complete Record’ it was shown as 10 December, 1885 and in ‘The Clarets Chronicles’, because of updated information, it was amended to 7 December, 1890. 

Both records have now been found to be incorrect. Len was actually born on 7 December, 1883 and played his final game for the Clarets on 18 April, 1925 at the age of 41 years and 132 days.

He is officially therefore Burnley Football Club’s oldest-ever senior player.

After beginning his Football League career with Gainsborough Trinity in 1908, Smelt first appeared for Burnley as a guest player during the First World War, during the 1916-17 campaign, before signing for the Clarets in 1919.

He went on to play 248 senior games for the club, mostly at right back, including 39 appearances during the epic 1920-21 First Division Championship campaign. He ended his playing career with Barrow in 1927, returning to Turf Moor as a coach in 1932.

Sadly he died in February 1933 aged just 49.

Smelt is someway short of the overall record of Stanley Matthews, who made his final First Division appearance in 1965, having just turned 50 years of age. 

However Len’s longevity compares favourably with the modern game. The oldest outfield player ever to appear in the Premier League is Teddy Sheringham, at 40 years and 272 days.
By Ray Simpson, Burnley FC Historian

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