Paul Ifill: 400 not out

WELLINGTON Phoenix striker Paul Ifill will mark a major career milestone this weekend.

WELLINGTON Phoenix striker Paul Ifill will mark a major career milestone this weekend when his side takes on the Central Coast Mariners at Westpac Stadium.

The British-born Barbados international is set to play his 400th senior match on Sunday and, given the gun striker-s form for the Phoenix, there are plenty more matches to come.

“A lot of people back home said I was injury-prone, so to reach 400 is not a bad milestone, I guess. When I was a kid all the old pros used to say ‘come back when you-ve played 400 games-, so it-s nice to actually get there. Now I-m one of the senior pros, so I get to say that to the kids now.

“But I always thought that if you could get to 400-450 games then you-d probably have really achieved something in your career, so I-m really pleased to get there. And it-ll be nice to do it at home as well.”

The 31-year-old played 256 games for Millwall from 1998-2005, 45 games for Sheffield United from 2005-07 and 67 games for Crystal Palace from 2007-09 before joining the Phoenix in 2009. He has been the Hyundai A-League-s star player, turning out for the Phoenix in 31 games. In all, Ifill has scored 77 goals in his 399 senior appearances.

Naturally there have been plenty of highs and lows along the way.

“I played for Keith Stevens at Millwall. He was one of the first people to take a chance on me. I remember playing badly in the game before he got sacked and I felt it was partly my fault.

“It was the same again with Mark McGhee. When a manager who-s looked after you and helped you gets sacked, it-s pretty upsetting. Those situations are probably the lowest points of my career.

“But there have been so many high points - getting promoted to the Championship and the Premiership, playing in Europe and playing in the FA Cup final for Millwall against Manchester United in 2004 was special.”

Given the level Ifill played at in England, and his relatively young age, there was surprise in some quarters when he decided to travel to the other side of the world to play for the Phoenix - a young club in a young competition.

“A lot people said ‘what-s going on, what are you doing?- For me it-s about being happy in what you-re doing - that-s more important. I wasn-t happy in England for a number of reasons. A lot of it had to do with the fact I couldn-t seem to get fit. I played 60-odd games on three-and-a-half years, which is terrible.

“But something-s going right for me here and I-m enjoying my football more now than ever. I-m probably playing the best I have since six or seven years ago.”

It-s not just on the field for the Phoenix where things are going well. Ifill-s partner Ellie and daughter Romy have settled well in Wellington.

“It-s been so easy here, both with the club and with the city. Everybody in the town wants to look after you, everywhere you go. For example, we-ve got Romy in (childcare centre) I-Kids and some of the other boys have their kids there too, so they have their own little group of friends.

“Everyone at the club is like family. It just makes everything so much easier for anybody coming into the club from the outside to settle in quickly. It-s a community-based club in a professional league, which you don-t often see these days.”

Ifill believes the Phoenix and the Hyundai A-League have a bright future.

“A lot more people are taking notice of the A-League now. I get a lot of people back home commenting on the standard of the league and how it-s improved. It-s progressing nicely and going the right way.”