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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! 🙂