'Pizza' reaches 600 mark for "Candy Stripes"

DERRY CITY'S influential skipper, Peter Hutton, continues to break all records for his home town club having celebrated his 600th competitive appearance in last Monday night's Setanta Sports Cup victory over St. Patrick's Athletic.

And that sensational statistic is a record which is unlikely to be equalled as the central defender continues to play at the top of his form in his 18th season representing his home town football club.

Having celebrated his 35th birthday on March 2nd last, 'Pizza' has not only enjoyed the highlights of leading the 'Candy Stripes' to a Premier Division title win during the 1996/97 season, but he has also experienced the depths of depression which, indeed, could have seen the club drift out of senior football for the second time in its history back in 2003.

But these days, the versatile veteran prefers to look forward, eager to enjoy any further success that may come his way and given the start to the current season, he's just as excited now as he was when appearing in a friendly fixture for Derry back in August, 1990, in the 3-1 defeat by Spurs who had both Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker in the visiting line-out at Brandywell.

While always commanding high profile status within the Brandywell Faithful, Hutton has also been involved in his share of controversy, none more so that his shock decision to join then arch-rivals, Shelbourne, for one season which saw him secure his second Premier Division Championship medal back in 2000.

With his Derry contract having expired, Hutton decided to try life with a Dublin club and he remains of the opinion that that decision helped push his career onto another level, as full-time professional football started to get to grips on the League of Ireland scene.

"I was 28 and I felt I was running out of time so I opted to try it for a season and see how I got on. Shelbourne won the league title that year and as one of just a few 'part-time players' in that squad, it was a very good learning experience for me," claimed Peter this week.

"I enjoyed the experience and I believe it helped me as a player, despite the weekly travelling for matches. I didn't have to train in Dublin, so I trained with both Limavady United and Finn Harps as well as doing a bit on my own. But the experience at Tolka Park started to open my eyes in relation to the full-time set-up," he added.

Two years before that transfer, Hutton joined Ronnie McFall's Portadown for a 40,000 fee and while he spent just six months at Shamrock Park in the company of former LoI players such as Vinny Arkins, Gary Haylock, Colm Tresson and Billy Woods, he subsequently returned to the Brandywell when Derry agreed to return the fee received for the player.

Expected to record appearance number 601 tonight when Sligo Rovers visit Brandywell, Hutton was astounded to learn of the statistics last weekend.

"The news came as a bit of a surprise to me as I can actually remember making my 500th appearance and it didn't seem that long ago. It comes round very quickly but it's been an honour to have played so many games for my home town club and, fingers crossed, I can add to it."

'Being Sensible'

As a player who has now fully embraced the full-time philosophy, he realises the importance of keeping an eye on his diet and, as he puts it 'being sensible.'

He explained: "I've always tried to look after myself and I think it's a combination of regular exercise and eating sensibly. Maybe it's a case of me getting older and being more mature, but I do take it seriously. I watch what I eat and I'm still enjoying both the training and, of course, playing matches," declared 'Pizza'.

Married to Maria, the couple boast three children under the age of six - Adam (5), Ellie (3) and Ben (1) - therefore, he experiences quite a busy time when not on the training ground.

"Our three children certainly keep Maria and I busy and fit, but I'm really enjoying my life at the moment. Everything has gone well for me both on and off the pitch and now that Stephen Kenny has returned to manage the club, his passion and enthusiasm has rubbed off on everyone."

Having won two league titles in his career to date, Hutton would dearly love to raise the Premier Division trophy above his head again.

"It was a tremendous feeling to win the league title back in 1996 but I've also got to think back to the times when we lost out on the major honour on the very last day of no fewer than three seasons!" he recalled.

"I can still vividly remember the disappointment of losing the title to Dundalk on the last day of the 1994/95 season. We failed to defeat Athlone at St. Mel's Park on that occasion and, of course, more recently we lost out to Cork City in 2005 and Shelbourne on goal difference in 2006.

"During the 2006 season, people had talked about the possibility of repeating the club's 'treble' success of 1988/89 but when you consider the fact that we lost the league on goal difference, having won the League Cup and the FAI Cup, our effort that season had been very significant.

"And that does not include playing six games in the UEFA Cup competition. When we drew Gothenburg, the players joked about making it difficult for them in Sweden and bringing them back to the Brandywell - yet we won both games. And then the fairytale that was Gretna, where the players had to keep pinching themselves having scored five goals in front of so many travelling Derry fans.

"Entertaining Paris St-Germain in a scoreless draw at the Brandywell was special and then experiencing life in the Parc Des Princes in Paris. That was fantastic, playing in front of something like 25,000 people," smiled the player.

Hutton's versatility has also proved to be a great asset for the 'Candy Stripes,' indeed, he's played in every position with the exception of goalkeeper.

Well respected as a defender, 'Pizza' has operated right across the back four; he's also been deployed across the midfield area and, interestingly, he's played in the Derry front line in the company of another Derry City legend, Liam Coyle. That particular performance was actually in Europe when Derry faced Maribor in Slovenia and for Hutton it was a case of breaking new ground.

However, the highlight of his career was to captain Derry to the 1996/97 Championship success while the low-point centred on the near-relegation battle against Finn Harps in December, 2003.

"To captain Derry to a league title was the obvious highlight of my career, but to play in a pressure-laden relegation play-off against Finn Harps made me very angry, but that was pressure. Players' livelihoods were on the line in that game, contracts would not have been renewed had we been relegated.

"We seemed to go into freefall that season and I didn't want any part of that. It was frustrating and while it was almost a disaster for us, the club got through it and learned a few lessons as a result."

Now with the buzz clearly back at the Brandywell, Hutton continues to enjoy life in the football fast line and he wants to sample even more success before he calls it a day but, then again, he was adamant that he wishes to enjoy playing for as long as is humanly possible.

"I celebrated by 35th birthday at the start of March but I really do feel much fitter today than maybe I was 10 years ago. We've started this season well and it gives me extra impetus to keep going and trying to improve. Yes, I want to continue playing for as long as I can, but I'm not going to be stupid either," he insisted.

"I will continue to play as long as I feel I'm contributing - I've no intention of going on just for the sake of it. I want to contribute to the team and if I feel I'm not, then no one will have to tell me it's time to go as I'll be long gone."

Testimonial Year

Given his 18 seasons in the 'red and white,' Peter Hutton has been awarded a testimonial this year when agreeing a new contract last season and he appreciated that gesture made by last year's Board.

"I appreciated the offer of a testimonial season and I feel honoured that my service to the club is to be rewarded. As I've said, I'm not ready to hang up my boots just yet but I do feel I am contributing on the pitch and hopefully we can enjoy a successful 2008 season.

"As a player, I want to go on and, please God, remain injury free," he concluded.