Having turned 38-years-old in August, Mansfield Town’s most senior first-team player admits himself he works harder than ever to keep himself in the shape he wants.
But midfielder Neal Bishop looks as fit as he has done as he sits down for the pre-match press conference ahead of the game at Crewe Alexandra on Saturday (December 14).
The number 6 has been in-and-out the team this season due to a number of small injuries, including an impact injury on his Achilles, a dig in the back, tonsillitis and, most recently, concussion.
Bishop says he ‘doesn’t feel as he’s got into his stride this season’ because of being out, and says he ‘needs to do better, set standards and drive it’ as the most senior pro to help the Stags.
But when asked about how he performs this role at the club, it becomes clear very quickly he’s one of the hardest workers, and very harsh on himself.
“I’ve never been verbal, as in shouting, demanding, being aggressive, that kind of thing,” says Bishop.
“There’s different ways to lead and the way I prefer to do it is being on the training ground, getting your standards right every day, being on time.
“Especially being on time at the gym – which I have to do that little bit extra at my age!
“I was in at 8am this morning, done my session, get to the gym on time in the morning before training and make sure I’m right.
“If you need to do little things after training, using the swimming pool, I will – it’s about setting those high standards.”
Video: Neal Bishop on his role as the most senior pro at the club
While trying to set the example, Bishop enjoying his time as a one of the boys, which is still something that’s important to him.
But he’s clear on when the right time for a joke is and when it’s time to work hard.
“I’ve always been part of the dressing room – part of the banter, messing around, I’ve always enjoyed that, I’ve always been one of the lads,” he says.
“I’ve never set myself apart – I think that’s how you can be most effective, when you’re one of the guys, they respect you.
“But when you go on the training ground, it’s work time. You need to do things right and be at it every day.
“If people look at me and think if they can do it at 38, then I can do it, that’s the attitude I’ve had.
“I’ve always wanted to train every day pre-season. There have been some managers, certainly this season, who’ve asked me if I want to miss a session through this, that and the other but if I’m out there doing it, it takes excuses away from everyone else.
“Macca (Alex MacDonald) and Loags (Conrad Logan) are in early, in the gym, doing their stuff.
“You can’t force others to do the right things, but if you set the standards and they don’t follow, that’s on their heads.”
Bishop is at his 12th club in Mansfield, including coming through the Middlesbrough ranks as a youngster.
He signed at Field Mill in June 2018 after spending four seasons at Scunthorpe United. His career has seen him play in the midfield at York City, Barnet and Notts County among others.
But it’s the 2013/14 season he spent in the Championship at Blackpool he cites as where he learned a lot in the game.
“I’ve learned of course while I was coming up through the ranks – the likes of Barry Ferguson and Ricardo Fuller played at the top level, and I played with them at Blackpool; they were demanding every day but they wouldn’t let standards drop.
“They wouldn’t let anyone get away with being sloppy – even with the young lads.
“If you’re good enough to be training with the first team, then they would treat you like a first team player.
“These are the lads I learned off and there were no ‘gimmes’ to anyone – if the standards weren’t right, they would let you know, and they’d be the ones upholding the standard.
“And that’s the way I try to be now on the training ground in terms of going about things.”
Bishop is planning for life after he finishes his career as a player in football. He wants to stay in the game and is working hard to complete his coaching badges.
But management might not quite be for him – not yet anyway…
“I’m going to finish off my A licence in the summer – I was supposed to finish it this year but the play-offs got in the way of that.
“When I see the abuse managers get these days, I’m not sure if I want to go straight into that frying pan!
“But the coaching side is something that interests me – obviously with the youngsters to start with.
“I go over to Northern Ireland to do my badges – I did my B licence there because here, I think you have to do it on a Thursday afternoon or on a Monday and when you’re my age, it’s a big ask when you’re driving to Burton and not getting your rest.
“Ultimately, I’m still a player contracted at Mansfield Town; I wouldn’t be doing them justice if I’m here, there and everywhere worrying about the next part in my career.”
And Mansfield Town need him more than ever to lead the dressing room out of what manager John Dempster has previously referred to as a ‘dark time at the club’.
At the time of writing, with promotion the aim this season, the Stags sit 18th in League Two on 21 points having played 20 games.
Mansfield have won five games in the league, drawing six and losing nine, which leaves them ten points off the play-offs, but just six points above the relegation spot, currently occupied by Morecambe.
Only one team will go down this year because of Bury’s exclusion from the Football League.
Despite how the table looks, Dempster says in the press conference Mansfield are only looking up the table and the club will not be dragged into a relegation scrap.
And this commitment among the club to fly up the table is why Bishop is putting the team before his own personal development.
“I’ve parked the badges until the summer but the coaching sessions I’ve done so far I’ve really enjoyed,” says Bishop.
“It’s not something I think you should just fall into just because there’s nothing to do – it’s got to be something you’re passionate about because you’re helping people.
“The best coaches I’ve worked with have been intense, passionate and want to help you improve as a player, as a person.
“We’ve got our hands full this season but, come the summer, it’s something I’ll be looking more into.
“I’ve got books at home on sessions and ideas which is something I was advised to do and have taken on board as you’ve got plenty of reference points.”
It seems Neal Bishop’s career in football has a long way to go, even when the time comes to hang up his boots as a player.