Fleetwood Town keeper gets set to celebrate his centenary
Alex Cairns will reflect on his first 100 games at Fleetwood Town as career-defining as he prepares to hit the milestone at Alfreton Town on Sunday.
The 25-year-old celebrates two years since his first Football League start by playing his 100th game for Town in their FA Cup first round clash at the non-league club.
When Cairns arrived at Fleetwood in the summer of 2016, he was yet to start a league game following spells at Leeds United, Chesterfield and Rotherham United.
His first 90 minutes in the league for Town came following their FA Cup replay win against Southport in November 2016.
Now, as they prepare for another cup clash with National League North opposition, Cairns reflected on the highs of his time at Town – specifically reaching the play-offs in 2016-17.
He said: “The play-offs in my first season, to get in there was a big moment.
“Maybe when I look back on my career I will look back on my first 100 games and think that is what made me the man I am today.
“It is a big achievement. I’m looking forward to many more games to come.
“I’m really proud and I’m looking forward to another 100.”
What is the biggest lesson Cairns has learned in those first 99 games? To trust himself.
He said: “I have proven to myself that I can play at this level, if not higher.
“When any dark days come again, I will look at myself and compare where I was to where I am now.
“A lot of lessons have been learned and there are still a lot of lessons to be had.
“I feel like I am a better person.”
And family man Cairns says the majority of his clan will be at Alfreton to mark his milestone.
He said: “I spoke to my dad and reminded him that it is my 100th game.
“He’s buzzing, my mum is buzzing. My brother is on holiday so he cannot come but my mum, dad and girlfriend will all be there.”
Cairns’ non-league experience means he knows more than most about the FA Cup’s importance to clubs lower down the pyramid.
While at Leeds, he was loaned to Stalybridge Celtic for the 2012/13 season, when they missed out in the final qualifying round with defeat at Stockport County.
Fast forward a few years and Cairns has been part of the Fleetwood sides that have dispatched Southport and Chorley at this stage.
He said: “For non-league sides, it is exceptional for them to get the recognition.
“We will have to do a job because we want to get through to the next round.
“I did a lot of my growing up playing in the Conference North with Stalybridge Celtic, so I know what it means to teams like that – it is a massive occasion.
“You need to settle the nerves down quickly and impose your team’s ethos on the other team quickly.
“I know a lot of teams now try to play football but you have to be ready for an aerial battle.
“We don’t know exactly how they are going to play but whatever they bring to the game I’m sure we will be ready for the test.”
That Southport clash two years ago was the start of Cairns’ elevation to first-team regular, when he usurped Chris Neal.
Now, as he prepares to play his 100th game for the club, he says whoever gets the nod on Sunday has a chance to follow in his footsteps by forcing their way into the first team.
He said: “I think any game you end up playing, the manager obviously has faith in you and you use that as your confidence.
“You need to show what you can do. You don’t get many chances in football, I know that, so when you do get your chance you take it.”
Having established himself as Town’s starting keeper, Cairns lost his place to Neal for a chunk of last season.
However, he was restored to the starting team and helped the club retain their League One status before being awarded the number one jersey for this season.
He said: “To some people it is just a number but you work all your career to be a number one.
“To have that shirt is a proud moment. I’m hoping to nail it down and keep hold of it for as long as I can.”