January 12: the melancholy of the ex-footballer

There is a mildly tragic melancholy about the ex-footballer. Footballers from the eighties and before you understand. They made money but not that much money. I remember asking my dad how much Bobby Charlton earned. £100 a week was what my dad thought. He was probably about right. When their career was over they put their savings into buying a bar in Spain or a garage in Stretford and that was it. Then, a couple of years later, you read about them selling their cup medal and England caps for a few quid.

Today money is not the issue. If you are earning £100,000 a week, you don’t need much of a career. But the melancholy abides. What do they do after the punditry gig falls through? Lots of golf, obviously. A fair deal of gambling. The purchase of a racehorse? But what do they do on a rainy Tuesday afternoon flanked by their twin garages in their dreadful suburbs?

I remember reading an article in the French newspaper ‘Liberation’ on the death of the legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin, the ‘Spider’.The modest, not to say poverty-striken, life he had eked out after his career as a goalkeeper was over. Peter Handke’s novel ‘Angst des Tormanns vor dem Elfmeter’ (The Anxiety of the Goalkeeper at the Penalty kick) evokes the emptiness of all that non-match time. When I was a boy travelling in the minibus to play a match after school, I remember looking out of the window at normal people in the street, people who didn’t have a cup match coming up in half an hour. What empty lives they had, I remember thinking.

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