So, Paul Scholes makes a football comeback aged 37. Why, he’s a mere spring chicken.
Thierry Henry returns to Arsenal after a break of four and a half years. Seems like five minutes to me.
And earlier this season, Steve Claridge came out of retirement to sign for Gosport Borough at the age of 45. Nice try, sonny.
To my own surprise, I’ve started playing again at the age of 50 – over eight years since I last kicked a ball in anger (or even mild annoyance).
Even more surprisingly, it was my wife who encouraged me when the idea of a dads’ team was mooted by the father of one of our son’s classmates.
My first reaction was that joining in was an utterly ludicrous idea – but by the next day, this had been downgraded to ‘hardly feasible’, and the day after that I was researching cheap Astroturf trainers and shin pads online.
I threw out my old boots and pads a few years ago, sure that I would never need them again – and not wanting to use them, if truth be told. The last time I played, I returned home to phone my mum with the usual match report, only to discover that the paramedics were fighting a losing battle in her living room.
OK, that may be too much information for you – though perhaps that’s better than too little information, as we’ll come to later. The point is that for a long time, I associated playing football with the memory of a terrible event.
But with the passing of time – and a renewed enthusiasm for football engendered by the transformation at Carrow Road over the last three seasons – I felt able to give it another go. Fired by that enthusiasm, not to mention a large Mars bar and two Red Bulls, I stepped onto a pitch again last Friday evening.
It wasn’t long before there was a series of niggly confrontations and bad-tempered disagreements – not between me and other players, but between different parts of my own body.
Brain: Right, run into that space over there.
Legs: B*gger off, we’re not moving. This was a damn stupid idea in the first place.
Brain: Don’t you call me stupid. I know, I’ll get Arse into gear. That’ll shift you.
Arse: We’re with Legs on this one. The only gear I’m prepared to engage is reverse.
Brain: Ugh, how distasteful.
Legs: Look, Brain, it would be different if this body were 20 years younger.
P*nis: 30 years, more like.
Brain: Who asked your opinion? C*ck.
Legs: You’re just expecting too much of us.
Brain: Well I don’t hear any complaints from anywhere else. Lungs, for example.
Lungs: (inaudibly) Can’t… breathe…
Legs: Tell you what, we’ll try and get over there later this evening. In our own time, mind.
Brain: Oh, don’t bother. Too late now, anyway.
I didn’t mark my comeback with a goal, as Messrs Scholes, Henry and Claridge did – but like a novice golfer who hits just enough decent shots in an otherwise scrappy round to persist with the game, I think I did enough to give it another go.
And after the match, one of the opposing team said that you couldn’t tell it was eight years since I last played. I waited for the follow-up – I was expecting something like ‘I’d have guessed 20…’ – but it never came.
Those are the nicest things that have, and haven’t, been said to me for ages.
I have a feeling I’m going to be the last City fan to read Darren Huckerby’s book.
I didn’t buy it when it came out, thinking I was bound to get it as a Christmas present – but then my family and friends all assumed someone else would get it for me.
Still, while I wait for my birthday to come around (when I’ll probably now get three or four copies), I’ve got a couple of other books to keep me going: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and Chris Sutton’s autobiography.
Very different pieces of work, obviously, but they do share a key theme: the unreliability of memory.
“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed,” says Barnes’ narrator – and Sutton certainly proves that when he talks about City’s 92/93 season. (I was going to say ‘City’s never-to-be-forgotten 92/93 season’, but that’s clearly not the case.)
“We had two games that ultimately defined our season – Aston Villa and Manchester United at home.” Fine so far.
“We lost 3-1 to Manchester United in the first of these games.” It was 3-1, but it wasn’t the first of the games; we played Villa the week before.
“We then lost narrowly to Villa, 1-0.” Er, no, we beat them 1-0 with a goal from John Polston who’d become a dad the previous night. He continues…
“We got to the FA Cup semi-final in 1992/93.” No, we didn’t. That was the year before.
Sutton mentions that Fleck wasn’t fully fit, which should have jogged his memory; the latter moved to Chelsea before the start of the 92/93 season.
Perhaps these details matter more to fans than to players. But they’re hardly minor ones.
There are other memory lapses in the book too. While this is apparently meant to be a frank ‘warts and all’ account (“I was acting like a complete a*sehole” – p.53; “It was brainless behaviour” – p.67; “I was an absolute disgrace” – p.124), there is no mention at all of the child he fathered in his youth with an air hostess or of the alleged spitting incident in a Soho restaurant.
Perhaps these events were omitted out of embarrassment, or because his family didn’t want them brought up – but I’d have thought that since the stories are in the public domain, they would have been addressed. When you know you’re not getting the full story, you can’t help but mistrust the rest of what you’re reading.
Ah well. Still better than Kevin Drinkell’s book, anyway.