IT only seems five minutes since John White was handed his professional debut for his home town club Colchester United by Phil Parkinson.

Now 18 years and nearly 550 career appearances on since appearing as a second-half substitute for Gavin Johnson against Cheltenham Town at Layer Road back in 2004, the popular Southend United defender is preparing for a special testimonial to celebrate his impressive career.

"It absolutely flies by," said White, as he prepares for his special game at Roots Hall on Sunday, part of the Essex Charity Cup's Rivals Unite Day.

"I know everyone says it and it's a cliche but it really does.

"Before you know it, it's gone and you're wishing you had more time."

There aren't too many players who transcend the divide between Essex football's two professional football clubs like John White.

The 35-year-old spent more than a decade as a first-team player at Colchester, having joined them at the age of 11.

White played more than 250 times for the U's, helping them clinch a historic promotion to the Championship in 2006.

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He then swapped the north of the county for the south, joining Southend United in 2013.

In his long spell with the Shrimpers, the versatile defender has made 281 league and cup appearances.

The latest of those came yesterday as a late substitute in their final National League game of the season against Torquay United, at Roots Hall.

White has also enjoyed plenty of success with Southend, skippering the side and helping them secure promotion to League One via a play-off final win over Wycombe Wanderers, in 2015.

It has been a successful career for the popular ex-U's defender, who says he is proud of what he has achieved.

"It doesn't happen too often where you have a player that plays for rivals but for almost an equal amount of time," said White.

"It's almost impossible not to build up those bonds and those relationships with not just the players, but the fans, the staff and everyone at the club.

"There's the people in the background that people don't see all of the time, like the groundsman and stewards and matchday staff.

"You see them every other week for years of your life and it's great to be able to share it with them a little bit.

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"I've played for a similar sort of time for both clubs but my head is probably telling me to stay with Southend, because it's my Southend testimonial!

"I'm proud of everything I've achieved in my career.

"That's with thanks to my friends and my family around me, who have helped me through the tough times and celebrated the good times with me.

"As there always is with football, there are so many highs and lows.

"There aren't too many bits in between.

"There's so many memories but as much as anything, it's the good people that I've met along the way that I won't forget.

"The obvious things I think of when I'm looking back are the promotions - they speak for themselves.

"There are obviously huge moments I remember but there's also the smaller moments, like sharing a laugh with someone, having a joke with someone.

"I find those moments easier to come across, when someone brings one up and it puts me back to where I was, when it happened.

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Stalwart - John White has played more than 500 games for Southend United and Colchester United Picture: MATT WILKINSON/FOCUS IMAGES LTD

"I've realised that it's not going to last forever, especially when you get over 30 and I've tried to take the positives, wherever I can from it, because I know it's coming to an end.

"I don't think it will hit me properly until I've finished, whether that be at the end of this season or whether that be in two, three or four years time.

"It's nice especially in more recent times to have technology in place to have so many more photos than I did previously.

"It gives you those memories and something to look back on.

"From time to time, I will just sit and look back at the photos on my phone going back over years and years and it does put a smile on my face.

"There's pictures like when I took my little boy to his first game at Colchester and walking him around the pitch when he was less than one year old.

"It's stuff for me to look back on when I'm old and past it and talking to the grandkids!

"At the moment, it's about looking forward and looking at what's next.

"I don't know what avenue is next, whether it's carrying on in football, an opportunity that comes up outside of football.

"I'm trying to be as open minded as I can to see where it takes me."

White was a young member of the Colchester squad when they clinched promotion under Parkinson, in 2006.

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He played 41 times for the U's in their historic season, including on the final day of the campaign when they drew 0-0 at Yeovil Town to go up to the Championship.

"Seeing photos of Yeovil away and days like that instantly put you back in the emotions you were in that day," said White.

"I can remember things as clear as anything like the bus journey back from Yeovil, the night out after that, the game itself being a bit scrappy and then the elation of the final whistle going.

"I bumped into Parky recently when we played Wrexham and he was full of kind words.

"He was gutted that he couldn't make it but he obviously has other things he has to do that day with the FA Trophy Final!

"He's had such a big impact on my career, bringing me through and trusting me with playing for him.

"It's nice to know that he wanted to be there, even though I know he can't be, which is shame.

"There's so many more that I'd like to have invited but there's only so many you can have on the day."

A host of former Colchester favourites have been confirmed to play in the testimonial, which takes place at Southend United FC on Sunday.

The likes of Sammie Szmodics, Karl Duguid, Anthony Wordsworth, Pat Baldwin and George Elokobi have all been confirmed to play for Colchester in the match for U's academy product White, along with current U's players Freddie Sears and Tom Eastman.

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The testimonial is part of the Essex Charity Cup's Rivals Unite Day, which is raising funds for Justin Edinburgh 3 Foundation and will also include a game between Southend and Leyton Orient.

White added: "It's really nice to see people wanting to show their support, whether that's with time, or sponsorship or donations, whatever it may be.

"I want everyone to have a good day, whether that be the fans or the players themselves.

"I want everybody to have a good time and ultimately, raise a lot of money for charity."

The Rivals Unite Day will start at 11.30am with a match between a Southend XI vs Leyton Orient XI.

A Colchester legends side will then take to the pitch in the 2pm kick-off, against a Southend legends side.

There will be live music pitchside at the event and a number of other family activities.

The event will then finish at 4pm, where fans can watch the final day of Premier League action.

There will also be an auction as well as a raffle which will help to raise vital funds.

Tickets, which are on sale now, can be found here

Adult tickets cost £12, up until the day before the event.

They will also be available on the day at a price of £15, whilst those under 18 can go for just £5.

For more information, follow @EssexCharityCup or email ryleedoe@outlook.com