MARK BELLINGHAM was made to wait, but he finally netted his 700th goal to confirm himself as one of Non-League’s greatest scorers – not bad for someone who describes himself as “not very good”!
The 40-year-old has been consistently finding the net since his first career strike for East Thurrock United against Horsham YMCA back in August 1994.
Southend-born Bellingham, who is a sergeant for West Midlands Police, has kept a note of his scoring record and ended last season on 698.
Retirement was a possibility but after some summer deliberation, the forward decided to stay on with Midland League Division Two side Paget Rangers.
It was a long time coming, but a free-kick in Paget’s 4-2 victory at Fairfield Villa last Saturday sealed it – a special way to bring up the big 700 for the legendary hitman.
“I’ve started to score a lot more tap-ins and the range is getting a lot shorter” Bellingham told The NLP. “The 700th was a free-kick which isn’t regular for me at all, anything outside the box for me is abnormal!
“I needed 38 goals last season but got to 36 and then was banned for the last game because of a red card – my first ever sending-off.
“I was thinking over the summer whether it was the right time to go out, but with just two needed to reach 700, it felt like there was a bit of unfinished business.
“It’s out of the way now so I can chill out. I’ll play as much as I can for Paget, who have been great with me, and hopefully score a few more!”
Non-League defenders may soon be able to breathe easier with Bellingham admitting this season will most likely be his last, although he added another three to his haul against Smithswood on Saturday.
After relocating to the West Midlands with work, the striker has had prolific spells with the likes of Stourbridge, Leamington, Sutton Coldfield, Bromsgrove Rovers and Halesowen Town.
Bellingham estimates his goals have come in approximately 850 games – quite the strike rate – and for around 15 different clubs.
Modest as ever, Bellingham says his record wouldn’t be possible without the first-class service he’s received over the years.
“I’ve managed my ability well, I’ve always said I’m not that great a player and although I’m still scoring, I am playing at Step 7!” he added.
“Most of the 700 were from not very far out so I think I owe my team-mates over the years a lot more than they owe me.
“I’m 40 now so I think this season will probably be my last. I’m playing veterans’ football a bit more on Sundays and my eldest son is now playing for Birmingham U16s – maybe it’s time to finally step away.”