Twenty-three years ago I played football for a staff team in West London. I was a dreadful footballer, but 1500m track training added to 80 miles/week meant I had a fair turn of speed and I was sometimes able to wear down markers by non-stop running. I could at least give the (usually false) impression that I was a danger.
I remember a player on our side who was so old/unfit/useless that no one even bothered to mark him. He traipsed up and down the wing and every so often our centre half would gently float a pass to his feet, resulting in a throw to the opposition. We offered encouragement, but I could see his frustration and sadness, and consoled him with a beer afterwards.
Three years ago I gave up football. I’m still fit for my age, but I realised with horror that no one was marking me………
I heard that voice in my head, whispering the sad truth, and I listened.
I used to believe that the Sporting Gods didn’t have this problem. They know how ruthless sport can be, and when their ankles/knees/hips/backs start to complain, they listen to them sooner rather than later.
Some exceptions to this rule exist and have a special place in our hearts: Steve Davies, Tugay Kerimoglu, and Carlos Lopez to name just three of my personal favourites.
What drives on people like these? Love of the sport? Fear of their life after retirement? Sheer bloody-mindedness?
Does it matter?
Usually not, but when I hear that Evander Holyfield is signing up to face Nikolai Valuev for the WBA boxing title, I shudder.
He has money problems, and is due to receive $750,000 for putting his life at risk so that we can talk about “the changing of the guard”.
Evander is 46. Forty-six! He will be giving away 10 inches in height and around 100lbs in weight. He hasn’t fought for over a year, and is up against an opponent who has a 70% knock-out ratio. If things go badly he’ll need a lot more than a friendly word and a pint.
If he is choosing not to listen to “the voice”, we should try our best to dissuade him.
Unbelievably, today we hear reports (actually, more like taunts) that one of only three World Heavyweight champions to have retired at the zenith is considering a return to the ring.
Lennox Lewis, one of the world’s few lucky people who can look at himself in the mirror each morning and say, “I have nothing to prove”, is reportedly considering a come-back fight.
Depressingly, many people would back him to win should he decide to take up the offer.
Lennox is an avid chess player; that game of logic and strategy, and I respect him enormously for using his intellect and quitting while his body and mental faculties were unharmed.
The next time he is locked in silent contemplation over the 64 squares, I hope he hears a voice.