Hope, friendship and the purest fun – how over-50s football made me love the game even more
To be sure of the magical power of football I can watch Lionel Messi slalom through a defense or be thrilled by a Liverpool comeback on their extraordinary run. Or I can grab my boots, as I will do this Sunday morning, and join a group of old men miraculously transformed into kids.
Transformed mentally, I should clarify. There are limits to what can be done with bodies that creak and groan like an ancient wooden boat in a storm just by pulling on the socks and boots in the dressing room. Welcome to over-50s football where boyish dreams and middle-aged realities come together, with consequences that can make us laugh till we weep.
I have always loved football — for as long as I have loved anything — but I am not sure I have ever loved it as much as rediscovering the joys of 11-a-side at a time when I had assumed that like, well, going for a good hair-cut, it had gone forever. The professionals — even when they reach the exalted status in the management of a Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp — will tell you that nothing can ever match playing the game. Amen to that, even if the wind is howling and humiliation is just one failed trap or shinned pass away.
For some of us who have reached an age where we assumed playing the game on full-size pitches was finished, coming across over-50s football has been like finding a reinvigorating potion that can turn back time, defying sensible rationale. Are those really little thrills of pre-match butterflies in the morning, wondering if this will be the day when it all comes off and the ball arrows into the top corner? If that 40-yard pass will drop, just once, onto a team-mate’s toes? An added buzz comes from playing at Anfield with a Beauy mate of mine, Mark Gibbins where the Mighty Reds play their beautiful game. I ran out thinking that this is where King Kenny’s shooting and dribbling skills took Liverpool to European Cup triumphs. And I continue to dream…
You can feel that there is a little of that something in the air; that just breathing it in on the beautiful green of the Beauy Reserve might give you a burst of a Stevie Gerrard hat-trick. So there are dreams but mostly there is laughter. “Give and go!” I shouted to Terry in my first match as he laid the ball off. “I’m sixty-effing-one!” he replied, hands-on-hips. “I’ll give it but I’m not going anywhere. A friend playing his first 11-a-side match in more than 20 years recently found himself charging into the box, space opening up for a shot. Unfortunately, the ball was on his wrong foot and the excitement that the net might soon be rippling was too much. In the surge of adrenalin and the tangle of limbs, he managed to hit the corner flag while pulling his hamstring. The game had to be halted — partly for a substitution but mostly so everyone could stop giggling.
From all demographics, from 50 to quite a few deep into their 60s, we come to run around or walk fast. Walking football with zero running has been promoted for those of thinning hair and expanding waistlines and maybe there will be a time when it comes to that. But not yet. The “Super Vets” games are coming round again and they are free of the argy-bargy of so many park pitches. There is no chasing after players half your age and little risk of injury from a daft tackle if only because no one is going to waste precious energy hunting you down. For all that has changed through the decades, it is football as when we started out; full of hope, friendship and the best of fun.
So, on Sunday, we will gather our boots and shin pads and head off to the match with our anticipation and our dreams. Sport brings its happy little miracles and, at 56, I count this among them.