Just this week, Swallows FC defender Vuyo Mere added yet another full match to his long-standing professional football career.
This drill has been part of his DNA for two decades since he broke on to the PSL scene as a teenager with Hellenic FC in 2001.
At 36, Mere’s boyish looks belie his age, but it is his endurance and determination that have kept established right-backs on the bench at the clubs for which he has turned out.
In fact, he has contributed significantly to Swallows’ excellent start to the campaign since the club’s return to the premier division this season.
The Birds went into the Soweto derby against Orlando Pirates on Sunday unbeaten in nine matches, with Mere and co-defenders having only let in five goals – the joint best defensive record alongside Mamelodi Sundowns in the DStv Premiership so far.
It is largely due to the experience of Mere that Swallows have been soaring neck-and-neck with Sundowns at the top since the Birds’ reintroduction to the top league.
Only a few players have had careers as long as that of the veteran defender, who left his home in Heidedal, Bloemfontein, at a young age to join the once famed Hellenic Academy in Cape Town.
“God’s in charge, my brother,” said Mere when City Press asked what has kept him going.
Sadly, our planned interview was interrupted by a domestic accident involving his son, whom Mere had to rush to hospital.
However, this has not prevented our tribute to the tattooed defender, who demonstrates his strong religious beliefs by going down on bended knee after every game in silent prayer.
Seeking divine intervention marked the turnaround of a player who was once notoriously part of the PSL’s bad boys’ club, particularly at one point during his seven-year spell with Sundowns between 2004 and 2011.
Sporting a peroxide hairdo – his trademark at that time – Mere led a life full of partying and drinking.
This effectively led to his departure from Sundowns, who declined to offer him a new contract after his loan spell at Moroka Swallows (as they were then known) lapsed.
Mere suddenly found himself without a job and no club seemed interested in him until an unlikely call paved the way for the resurrection of his career at the now extinct Platinum Stars.
Former Stars administrative manager Suzan Phala, mother of former Kaizer Chiefs striker Thuso Phala, recommended Mere to the club, which was based in Phokeng in North West. Thuso and Mere were team-mates at Sundowns at some point.
A change of scenery – and of hairstyle – marked Mere’s reformed lifestyle. And he continued notching up winners’ medals.
In fact, in addition to two league titles with Sundowns, Mere has won every PSL trophy on offer.
While captaining Stars, he helped the team to MTN8 and Telkom Knockout triumph in 2013.
His latest medal came after he helped Swallows clinch the GladAfrica Championship when they gained automatic promotion to the premiership in October.
Not many players can claim to have played top-flight football for 20 years or regular full 90- minute games. Mere’s PSL debut came against Black Leopards on August 18 2001.
Many of the players with whom he began his career have long since retired, but a few remain as coaches, such as his former Sundowns team-mates Dillon Sheppard, Benson Mhlongo, Surprise Moriri and Calvin Marlin.
Other notable – and battle-scarred – PSL campaigners who have come reasonably close to matching Mere’s milestones include his current Swallows team-mate, 34-year-old Lebohang “Cheese Boy” Mokoena, who made his professional debut with Pirates in the 2003/04 season.
Other “PSL’s last men standing” who came through between 2004 and 2005 are TS Galaxy’s Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane (38), Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder Hlompho Kekana (38), Orlando Pirates goalkeeper Wayne Sandilands (37), AmaZulu’s Tsepo Masilela (35), Maritzburg United’s Nazeer Allie (35) and Robyn Johannes (34) of Stellenbosch FC.
Mere, who has 12 Bafana Bafana caps and has also represented South Africa at Under-17 and Under-20 level, once said his tattoos represented a little of what he had been through in life.
And he has indeed come full circle, both on and off the field.