The inexorable march of time leading to a major case of “À la recherche du temps perdu”

20 11 2011

A couple of months ago I reached the age of 35. Our society, for some unfathomable reason, regards 40  as the symbolic age for the demographic 34-45 so this milestone is unremarkable for most people. Three months ago turning 35 wasn’t an unremarkable event for me.

For about a decade and a half  the monolithic age of 35 loomed from the distant horizon. I thought it was going to be THE lane change of my life, the point where the hopes of the fast line turn in to the regrets of the slow lane and the miseries of the hard shoulder. I fully expected that my 35th birthday was going to be a dispiriting experience because the milestone had become a millstone.

My fixation with the age of 35 is the result of being a childhood football fan. When I was younger, people – the media and Llandudno’s loud know-it-alls – made me believe that 35 is the age at which footballers are legally too old to be considered proper footballers, or even proper people.

When the know-it-alls saw an “older” player they would usually say something like; “He’s too old!!” or “Send him to the knackers’ yard!!!” or “Oh My God!!!! Is he still playing!!!” They would  issue warnings to players approaching 30; “Where will he be when he loses his pace?!?” The know-it-alls made it sound like there was some kind of footballers’ Logan’s Run. This apparent distinction between footballers was seriously important to the know-it-alls so it became important idea for me too, like them I was a big football fan that wanted to fit in. I thought if this is the case for footballers then this must be the case for everybody else as well.

Panini’s addictive sticker albums and Jack Rollins’ essential dinky football annuals (not the Rothmans books) reinforced my fixation with footballers’ ages by providing a ready supply of facts and figures for comparison. Staring at the stickers (and empty spaces) meant absorbing the information that lay around the stickers (or spaces).

My exposure to an unexpurgated stream of facts put information into the deepest corners of my memory. Some facts were deposited so deeply they are resistant to memory lapses. For example I can still tell you three facts – Kevin Ratcliffe was born in Mancot, Gary Bailey was born in South Africa and by 1989 Ian Rush was still in his twenties – and know that I am correct. The facts were so ingrained that by my University days the following inconsequential incident happened;

….A group of us walked past Chester Street  in Wolverhampton when one of my mates looked at the street sign and spoke to me;

Him – “Do you know what I think of when I see that sign?”

Me – “Yes, it’s missing the word ‘le’ ”

H – “That’s unbelievable, that’s exactly what I was going to say”

M – “Yeah, Chester-le-Street is where Bryan Robson comes from”

H – “Bloody Hell you collected football stickers as well”

Thankfully after  years of not caring about knowing stuff like this I have managed to forget most of the football facts that I used to cherish knowing (This is not a problem, with wikipedia you don’t need to make an effort to remember facts any more.). While I’ve forgotten facts I couldn’t forget my milestone, I couldn’t forget the dread of reaching the milestone, each day brought the day of destiny closer….

Then, the tragic day happened. I arose on that early September morning, a morning that felt like any other early September morning, and  realised something; I didn’t fell any different from the day before. All that dread, all that worry, all that angst, it was all for nothing.  Were the know-it-alls wrong? Surely not.

Now that a couple of months has passed I can say that life with the dreaded milestone is not how I imagined. It feels a little startling to think that so much life has already passed through my mind but I don’t feel washed up. I don’t feel like I’ve lost my pace. I can’t say I’ve noticed actually losing anything.

From one direction it looks like the know-it-alls were wrong because I can’t say I feel that much different from the time I was 18. I know that I look different from how I used to but I never noticed the changes happen, I just ploughed my furrow and got on with it.  I do feel that I have gained a valuable outlook on life though; the prerogative to look down on excitable idiots.

I can’t say that this is the whole story of being 35 years of age, it’s not all sunshine and roses. I may not have noticed the passage of time but who does? Nobody lives life second by second. Consequnetly when you pause for a second to consider life’s question you may feel your age. I certainly have started to feel my age thanks to a few recent thoughts. 

Consider the phrase; “Jack Wilshire is a good young player.” The phrase “(Insert name here) is a good young player” is something that I’ve heard all my supporting life; Ryan Giggs, Steven Gerrard and Gazza were all “good young players” at one time in my life. However when I say “Jack Wilshire is a great young player” at this point in my life I’m talking  about a young man that’s almost half my age. You know you’re getting old when the “good young players” are nearly half your age.

Now consider “older footballers”. I have started to realise that the so-called old players, players that have been in my football consciousness during three decades, are not actually that old. Consider Jamie Carragher. Thanks to the media I think he’s an ancient player that’s  been around forever, well he’s been playing for Liverpool since 1997 for crying out loud. Jamie Carragher is actually younger than me. You know you’re getting old when the players you think are old are actually younger than you.

Perception is an odd thing. I don’t class myself as “old”; I never feel “old” and I don’t think that I look “old” when I look in the mirror, yet I feel that some players are “old” (in other words, older than me). With my mind preoccupied by the passing of time I found this viewpoint a little bit odd as I realised that I’m probably older than most premier league players. I’m sure that if I stood next to Jamie Carragher I would probably look a lot older than him. It’s even more odd that with wikipedia at my fingertips I still think some footballers are “old”.

If I think about this idea in greater detail I can’t actually think of many premier league players that are older than me. I double-checked this idea and I was right;  Out of roughly 700 players attached to Premier League squads there only 18 players older than me;

Shay Given, Andy Marshall, Michel Salgado, Kevin Davies, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Hilario, Marcus Hahnemann, Mark Schwarzer, Ryan Giggs, Steve Harper, Radek Cerny, Rory Delap, Carlo Nash, Thomas Sorenson, Carlo Cudicini, Brad Friedel, Mike Pollitt, Jody Craddock

There are a further 7 that would have been in my year at school;

Manuel Almunia, Robbie Blake, Phil Neville, Danny Murphy, Heidur Helgusson, Salif Diao, William Gallas.

You know you’re getting old when there are so few players of your age playing football. Did you notice how many reserve goalkeepers there are in the list? That’s my level now. I’m in the same group as football’s hidden men, ever-ready…… decrepid…….inactive………..unloved. I’m in the same age bracket as the players that have had better days, the players with dodgy knees, creaking backs and more scar tissue than Rambo, the players that they turn to in an emergency when there’s no other alternative. Jesus, I’ve never felt so old.

Incidentally, when my happiness was already on a downward spiral I noticed that Shaun Derry, one of the oldest looking players in the premier league, is actually over a year younger than me. You know you’re getting old when the oldest looking player in British football is more than a year younger than you. Bloody hell, how old must I look to people?

There was a time when all the players in the Premier League were older than me, then a lot of players were the same sort of age as me. Now there are hardly any my age. It looks like the know-it-alls were right about footballers when they reach the age of 35.

I don’t want to lament the fact I’ve reached 35. I don’t want to lament the lost years and the extinguished hopes. I don’t want to lament the fact that now I’m certain that I’ll never make it as a professional footballer, especially as Jimmy Saville is no longer with us. I don’t want to lament this because I’m not so sure that I’d like to have been a professional footballer. The money would have been nice cushion but the nature of their job and the world they inhabit is distinctly off-putting. Besides, they don’t have as much fun as fans. More about this tomorrow…….

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One response

21 11 2011
Joe Shooman

great piece comrade.. I was idly wondering yesterday how weird it would be to see someone playing footy on telly (or live) who was born in the new millennium. Not that far off, that.

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