All Posts Filed in ‘Sport / Fun

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You Play Football Long Enough, You End Up Being The Old Guy In The Team

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I’ve written in the past about my footballing (ok a long way in the past – my peak was probably around 15 years ago) and while I would never have made it as a professional or even a semi-professional, I was still able to play to a decent standard by being able to pass the ball. This sounds simple – have the ball at your feet at Point A and kick it to Point B.

But in fact there are a lot of moving parts. Everybody is moving, so you want the person you’re passing it to to be able to receive it knowing that when you kick it they’ll be in a different position by the time the ball gets there – so you pass it to where they’ll be. You also have opposing players who want to stop you passing. And the person you’re passing to also has people trying to stop them. And the opposition can read where your player is moving to so your player might fake where he’s going and you have to anticipate that. And the opposition know you want to pass it so anticipate that. Even though it takes a fraction of a second, when you play with and against clever players, you have to try and stay one step ahead. And that was about the only thing that I could successfully and reliably do and so play to a decent standard. Or maybe I was just lucky with my passing, often it was like my feet knew what to do and they just did it themselves.

Then a few years ago I was telling my brother about still playing football in my late 30s and he said “so are you the oldest guy in the team then?”. I was about to say “of course not” but then I thought about it and realised that indeed I was, and by quite a few years. How the hell did that happen?

Up until pre-coronavirus I was still playing indoor 6-a-side football once a week with one guy my age and a bunch of people in their 20s. While I could no longer do surging runs like I used to, I could still do alright, read the game and pass to the quicker and better players. Although it was damn hard physically to keep doing it. My left hip seemed to be the weak link after a niggling injury I’d had years before but I was keeping fit and flexible with Tony Horton’s P90X2 program (I really should write about that – and I wish it had been around 20 years ago) so I was able to keep going. But I knew my time was coming to a close. Nothing last for ever. Lockdown came and I figured that was my playing days done. I’d had a good run!

Then during one of the breaks between lockdown my girlfriend’s 16 year old son and his friends decided to start playing in a 6-a-side outdoor adult league. And started getting hammered each week by organised, competent footballers. He asked me if I could play and so I thought “what the hell”, laced up my boots and got back out on the pitch. And so it was that I ended up playing football in a team where I was 30 years older than my teammates.

To put it in context, for one of them to achieve the same feat their teammates won’t be born for another 14 years. I must say, I was proud that at the age of 46 I was able to play and not embarrass myself. Turns out I was by some years the oldest guy in the league and definitely not the least fit (top 10% I reckon). But it wasn’t about me at all.

I thought maybe I’d feel jealous that I no longer had the carefree raw energy and fitness of youth but instead I felt privileged to share a pitch with the next generation. Knowing the exciting futures they have ahead of them, that all the fun and adventures I had they still have to look forward to and more. Some of them will make very good footballers and play at a much higher level than I did if they want to. And game by game they’ve been learning to play as a team rather than running around like they do at school. It’s been great seeing first hand how they’ve improved. Even better is a couple of them are naturally gifted footballers so know which runs to make, know how to make a bit of space and think steps ahead of their much more experienced opponents. Which is easy for me as all I have to do is pass it to them and they can make it happen.

Football (sport in general) is a great leveller. If one of them tells me to mark someone or drop back I’ll do it. And vice versa. It’s a team game and there’s no room for some sort of adult / child interaction. We’re all equal out there and it’s really refreshing and energising. I’m sure for them too.

It won’t be long until they’re way beyond me and I won’t be in the same league as them. But to overlap the end of my playing days with the beginning of theirs is something I’ll cherish. While we may not be winning yet (one draw and one win so far), it’s really good fun. I’m hoping I’m around in 30 years time to see if any of them are still playing and take up my mantle of being the old guy in the team. I certainly hope so! 🙂

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A Road Trip around North West Scotland

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I grew up in Scotland and spent my formative years driving to the mountains then hiking up and down them (with a bit of mountain biking thrown in). Even when I moved to Yorkshire at 24 and travelled around the world I always loved coming back to my home country and seeing just what a beautiful place it is. As life got in the way I’d still visit Scotland but hadn’t been up in the mountains for too many years. I decided it was time to break that cycle and have an old school road trip around some of my favourite parts. A trip down memory lane, literally. And Scotland did not disappoint!

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Visiting the Same Glacier 22 Years Apart – Seeing Climate Change in Action

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Way back in 1995 my friends and I took an old MG Montego on a road trip from Scotland to Chamonix in the French Alps which also happened to be my first holiday abroad. I wrote about it a few years ago – The Spirit of Adventure. My abiding memory of that trip was taking a hike up the mountains to see my first ever glacier. I was expecting it to look pristine and white, not covered in rocks and debris so initially asked my friend where the glacier was before he pointed out that everything in front of me was a glacier! You can understand my confusion, this is the photo I subsequently took:

Scott and Gary and the Mer de Glace

Wind forward to the Summer of 2017 where I had the pleasure of spending a few months living in France including a couple of trips to Chamonix. First time was with a friend for a few days and we went up to the highest point a cable car can – the Aiguille du Midi (which was too expensive for the John Conners of 1995 to afford) – and I was hoping once again to catch sight of this amazing glacier I’d seen over 20 years before. Turns out I should have looked at a map – the glacier was on the next set of mountains over. But it was pretty spectacular nonetheless!

Nice view at the top! I'm the one on the left

A few weeks later I returned and this time I had a better of idea of the glacier I’d originally seen – I reckoned it was the mighty Mer de Glace. So I figured out how to hike there and one morning that’s exactly what I did. Rather than being a lazy tourist and taking the funicular railway to the top I walked – starting straight up a ski slope (those things are pretty steep and relentless to walk up). And after a couple of hours I found myself in truly spectacular scenery.

The Mountains above the Mer de Glace

It was shortly after I was in for a bit of a shock. Turns out the glacier has receded dramatically over the 22 years since I’d been. To the point where there are signs on the cliff as you go down showing you where it was in a given year.

I couldn’t help but feel sad – upset if I’m honest – to see such a dramatic difference in such a short space of time (22 years really isn’t long at all). The sheer volume of ice that’s melted just boggles the mind, but it wasn’t until I finally got around to scanning in the negatives of my photos from 1995 that I was really able to compare the before and after as it just happens that I’d taken pretty much the exact same photo 22 years apart (I’m nothing if not consistent).

The photos were taken at around the same time of year and it’s pretty clear that the rock and green line is significantly further from the glacier than it used to be. When you multiply that by how long the glacier is, that’s a hell of a lot of ice that’s no longer there. When you look at a photo like those above and see the difference it’s pretty unsettling. But when you walk there and see it with your own eyes and remember what it looked like before, it really does bring it home to you how our planet is warming. We live on a beautiful planet, but it’s fragile.

A couple of generations from now that glacier will be entirely gone. Enjoy it while you can.

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A Few Days Snowboarding In Chamonix

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Some friends and I went to Chamonix this year for 4 days of snowboarding and skiing. Turns out it’s not the cheapest of resorts if you like a few heavy nights out (as we did) but the conditions were very good considering the comparative lack of snow on previous years. Beautiful scenery in the shadow of Mont Blanc too as I’m sure you’ll agree!

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The Tour De France Comes To Yorkshire

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I’ve watched the Tour de France on TV for probably 20 years and have driven up and down the insane mountain climbs they go up and power down, always marvelling at what I believe to be the toughest endurance sport on Earth. While Lance Armstrong may now be a disgraced rider that doesn’t detract from how much I’ve loved and love the sport (and even knowing the performance enhancing drugs he took I still loved watching him power up climbs and take the races by the scruff of the neck back in the day – great entertainment). So to hear it was coming to Yorkshire and pretty much past my house I couldn’t wait to see it!

That day came yesterday and the first stage passed Addingham (a couple of miles away and so a short walk) and the second through Silsden, the village in which I live. To say it was an amazing experience would be to massively understate things. Watching it on Eurosport as I’ve done over the years but see all the places I’ve spent the past 15 years of my life was awesome, and to see these guys shooting past at incredible speed in the flesh was a dream come true for me. Even better was seeing just how many people had turned out to watch – people were EVERYWHERE! The people and countryside of Yorkshire did us proud.

I took a few photos, but you really needed to be there to feel the atmosphere and appreciate just what amazing athletes these guys are!

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A Few Days Snowboarding In Borovets, Bulgaria

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Myself and a couple of friends spent 5 days in Borovets, Bulgaria to do some low cost, high fun skiing and snowboarding and were, to say the least, very lucky with the weather (in that following a season with very little snow, it snowed just before we arrived and through most of our time there). Perhaps unsurprisingly we took one or two photos which you can find below.

If you’re on a budget and are only going for a few days I’d highly recommend Borovets. If you’re going for a week or more you might get bored as the resort isn’t anywhere near as large as a place like Morzine, for example. But it was just right for us!

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Snowboarding, Morzine, 2012

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Regular readers may recall I went on a friend’s stag do snowboarding way back in 2009 and that I had a fantastic (but knackering) time. It was such a great laugh that 6 of us went again to Morzine in France (about an hour from Geneva) and, it won’t surprise you to hear, I took a few photos!

Europe has seen some incredible snowfall this season but also some startling low temperatures – certainly the coldest I’ve boarded in. However the conditions will still superb and a great time was had by all. Enjoy the photos! 🙂

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An Experience Only Counts When It’s Shared

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I’ve always tried to have a positive outlook on life and make the most of it when I can. To that end I’ve made a point of spending as much time as I can doing interesting things be they climbing mountains, riding a mountain bike, sitting on tropical beaches, eating at nice restaurants (and some rubbish ones), going to see good (and bad) bands, fishing small rivers in the middle of nowhere, camping in beautiful surroundings, being torrentially rained on while camping and a thousand other things big and small. Rather than spending a life watching TV, staring at a computer screen (now doesn’t count as I’ll switch it off when I’ve written this), I’ve always wanted to go outside and live a life full of experiences.

But experiences alone aren’t what drive me. What matters to me is sharing those experiences with someone else and it’s something I’ve only recently realised I do.

Whenever I go hiking on my own my mind seems to switch into “training mode” and I use it to test and improve my fitness. I’ll have one earphone in listening to podcasts and push myself to my limit (to firstly see what it is) then I’ll keep pushing until I’ve gone to the top, back down and am taking my boots off at my car. I don’t even stop at the summit, I just keep moving along, resting when / if I need to. Sure I’ll take some pictures and admire the scenery, but to me it’s training – all physical and mental.

Contrast that when I do the same hike with someone else. This time there’s no earphones. No test of fitness. No pushing myself (unless I’m hiking with Nick who’s always fitter than I am). And I definitely do stop at the summit. When I’m on my own the objective is the mountain, but when I’m with someone else the aim of the day is to spend time with that person and enjoy that time with them.

Experiences only last a fleeting moment and they’re gone for ever. But the memory of those shared experiences is what stays with you and if I can sit having a pint with that person years from now and re-live them (like getting stuck in a bog and having to crawl out of it) and laugh then that’s what counts. That’s why I love taking photographs – you can capture a shared moment and relive it for years to come (click below to see a full-sized picture of ‘The Many Hairstyles of John’):

Team Photo Montage

I suppose it comes back to the way I make “important” decisions. I picture myself lying on my deathbed decades from now going over my life in my head while staring at the ceiling. When I need to decide something now I try to see it from that point of view – knowing that my life had been lived and I can dispassionately make the right call. In the same way I ask myself what memories will stand out for me? It’s not the mountains or the beaches or the camping or the food or the drink or the bands or cleaning out that blocked sink. It’s not the things themselves, it’s the people I spent those times with. It’s them I’ll remember and the places and events were merely a backdrop to that most important and easily overlooked thing in the 21st century – human contact.

So the next time we’re out for a drink or something to eat, hiking up a mountain, buying a new pair of shoes while I complain that my eyes hurt from the bright store lights or anything else, remember that it’s not a race or a competition for me and what we’re doing doesn’t matter so much. I’m living my life in the moment and sharing that experience with you. And to me that’s all that matters.

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John Does Yoga

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I mentioned a while back that I’d been going to a physio to deal with the ravages of age combined with being kicked around a football pitch. It turned out that it was nothing to do with age and everything to do with me having no flexibility at all. I started spending time every day stretching and noticed a dramatic improvement in recovery times after games and improved movement during them. But then my physio started nagging me to try yoga and how it would be perfectly suited to me and I’d be crazy not to at least give it a go. So I did. And to show I was serious I actually cut back on a game of football a week to go to yoga instead.

Like many men I thought that yoga was just a bunch of attractive women in a room bending themselves into different positions, showing how flexible they were and that I’d find it pretty easy and relaxing. I was right about the first part, however completely wrong about the second.

I started going to an Iyengar Yoga class weekly and found, much to my surprise, that I rather enjoyed it. The first thing I was wrong about was it being relaxing and easy – I quickly learned that some of the sessions can be really hard work. Holding positions for periods of time that require quite a lot of strength it turned out I didn’t have meant I was sweating in no time. However after every session I’ve come out feeling great, relaxed and really glad I listened to my physio! Since yoga concentrates on good posture and doing the positions correctly I’ve found it a lot more useful than just doing stretching on my own – having an instructor really helps to make sure you’re getting the best out of it.

My middle back (which has always been stiff and inflexible) is starting to actually have movement in it, my endlessly tight hamstrings are gradually loosening and a lot of aches and pains I was living with from playing football are no longer there. In fact my footballing has definitely improved as my movement is better, my flexibility is improved and my recovery after playing is a lot better even than when I was stretching daily (no more hobbling around for days after a match). Heck, I even bought my own gear so I can practise at home:

My Yoga Equipment

While just doing stretching can be a bit tedious and easy to give up after a while, yoga’s one of these things you can spend a lifetime getting better at and while there are some things I can do, there are many I’m awful at. However the motivation to improve and feeling myself improve (albeit slowly) makes me keep coming back for more.

The one thing I was right about was the room full of attractive women. But while I was worried I might find it incredibly distracting it turns out that you lose yourself in what you’re doing so don’t have time to ogle the ladies (and that’s the line I’m sticking to!). Plus a few men go and they’re definitely not my type!

So while the last time I recommended going to a physio and doing flexibility work, this time I’d definitely recommend trying yoga whether you’re male, female, an athlete, a couch potato, old or young. Give it a go, you won’t regret it! And don’t be scared, I guarantee you won’t be as terrible at it as I am! 🙂