AGE has crept up on, but not yet caught up with, Russell Latapy. He is 40 now, well past the age when he thought he would have stopped playing professional football, but here he is, still turning out for Falkirk.
Falkirk's supporters are certainly still enjoying his play, as they have done since he joined the club, at the request of his former Hibernian team-mate John Hughes, five years ago. Tomorrow, when the two teams meet at the Falkirk Stadium, has been designated Russell Latapy Day, a chance for the fans to celebrate the midfielder's contribution. He will also be inducted into the club's Hall of Fame.
"I'm very surprised, delighted and honoured at the same time," Latapy said yesterday when asked his reaction to the club's decision to mark his five years of service. "I never imagined it would take off in this way.
"We have the commissioner from the embassy from Trinidad coming to the game and all that sort of stuff. So it's not every day that something like this happens."
More than anyone else, Hughes, now the Falkirk manager, is the man who has ensured tomorrow can happen. Latapy had just about decided to give up on the game when he got the call from his old team-mate. At first he was not sure how long he would delay his retirement, but thanks to Hughes's nurturing of his special skills, he has been able to go on.
"Five years ago when I got the invitation to come to Falkirk I was contemplating finishing," Latapy recalled. "Then I thought 'There's a year in me so I'll play'.
"I wanted to stay in the game, but I wasn't sure in what capacity. Now I'm sure, and Falkirk has given me the opportunity, while I'm still playing, to get experience on the coaching side.
"That's one of the things that possibly drives me on to keep going. It's a combination of things: gaining coaching experience is one of them; my love for the game is another – I just love playing football; and then what has happened at Falkirk is special as well. It's a club on the way up and it's a good place to be around."
The transition from player to coach could be gradual and smooth, but there is a complication in the shape of the Trinidad & Tobago national team. With a World Cup qualification campaign looming, Latapy could still be in demand as a player, or perhaps as a junior member of the coaching set-up. Either way, there will be ten matches to play on the other side of the Atlantic next year, and he will have to discuss the possibilities of his involvement with everyone relevant before deciding if he can fulfil his duties for both club and country.
"I've never really said no to the national team. I've probably retired four times, and I always get the call when they're struggling. And I've been fortunate in that once I get back involved, for whatever reason, they seem to do a lot better.
"We're into the final qualifying stages (for the 2010 World Cup], and having spoken to the manager I think he wants me to be involved. So I will have to speak to everybody involved, including my family, and I will make a decision on what is best not only for myself but for my family as well and for all parties."
He appears genuinely undecided, but hinted that he was unsure if continuing to play international football was the right thing for him. "I want to get into management, and it's really not a good picture to send out that I'm playing for Trinidad at 40 years old," he said. "Everything is possible if all parties sit down and work it out. I think if we all sat down at some stage we could come to an understanding.
"It's difficult for me to say exactly what's going to happen at the end of the season. I've always said my body will decide when it's time to give it up. As long as I feel that I'm making a positive contribution, and whoever is in charge thinks that too, I'll be happy to help.
"I'll have to speak to the national team and find out exactly how much they want me to be involved in the development of things there. But right now my entire focus is doing well for Falkirk Football Club."
Entire games may be beyond him now, but he can still turn matches in his team's favour with a couple of well-judged passes. If he ever stopped to ponder the issue he might well be shocked that he was still playing, but instead he just gets on with it.
"You never really think about it," he admitted. "You just take it for granted that you get into your mid-30s then eventually stop playing. I never really thought I'd be playing international football, and in the Premier League, at 40.
"I think you appreciate it a lot more the older you get, because you can probably see the light at the end of the tunnel. I like coming out and being around the boys, I like being in the dressing-room, and I have fun on the pitch. Except when we're running."
• Born in 1968 in Port of Spain, the midfielder began his career in his native Trinidad before moving to Portugal.
• He first joined Academica, then moved to Porto, where he won two back-to-back league titles in the mid-90s before being transferred to Boavista.
• Latapy has now spent a decade in Scottish football, having been signed by Alex McLeish for Hibernian in 1998. He stayed for three years at Easter Road before McLeish took him to Rangers.
• After being released from Ibrox he played seven games for Dundee United before he got the call to join Falkirk from old Hibs team-mate John Hughes. He has now spent five years there, and will be inducted into the Falkirk Hall of Fame tomorrow.
• First capped in 1988, he has now played 75 times for Trinidad & Tobago, including a cameo appearance in last year's World Cup finals.