The old man said: “I know what it is to be young, but you don’t know what it is to be old.”
What I believe he actually meant was: “I know that Ronaldo was fantastic last season, but you never saw Cruyff, or Best, or Pele.”
Coıncidently, I said it recently to a group of my students. They looked at me blankly (so no change there from limits of functions) and then traipsed off home to their laptops and Youtube.
The next day saw us talking about that goal in the 1970 final. No, not Pele’s; Carlos Alberto’s thumping shot after the best build up in World Cup history. Some of them had viewed the Cruyff Turn, but struggled to come to terms with the idea that this was groundbreaking (“I can do that!” was said many times), and others asked me why poor old George had been unable to find the right treatment, what with all the money he must have had.
Not exactly what I had expected, but all undeniably true from their perspective.
So why do people my age go all misty-eyed at the mention of these names?
The word Nostalgia literally means "the pain a person feels wanting to return to his native home, fearing never to see it again".
Our native home. Our youth.
Some people feel nostalgia for 60’s fashion, or for Duran Duran, or for Mum’s stew on a cold January evening. A large number of us feel it for Sport; for Cruyff, Best and Pele.
We talked about them in our school playgrounds; we argued about them with our Dads (they had seen Stanley Mathews and Duncan Edwards, so thought we were quite mad); and we watched them on Black and White TV with those different coloured footballs and strange horns sounding from the terraces. I cut my knee whilst lost in Cruyff-daydream-land in my backyard and wondered whether a girl called Elaine would notice I existed if I could only once dribble around three defenders and lob the keeper. I never did, and she didn't.
As I approach 50, my youth is an Eden from which I have been cast out, but from where I still remember feelings of innocent sporting awe.
I do know what it is to be young. And yes, I fear never seeing it again.