ISN’T it time you gave up football and did something more age-appropriate?” my wife suggested for about, oh, the 837th time.
It’s an understandable sentiment given the grim sight that beholds her as I fall through the doors every Sunday evening after five-a-side.
My face crimson, legs creaking and sweat soaking my threadbare and ill-matched footy gear, a rather fetching red England top, circa 2002, white shorts, blue socks and orange trainers (stay your beating hearts, ladies, I’m married you know).
She often doesn’t know whether to fetch me a cup of tea or a defibrillator. Given that the mad 60-minute runaround is the only exercise I get during the week, the defibrillator is increasingly looking like the better bet. I could do with a jolt before I step onto the footy pitch if the truth be told.
Her latest plea for me to retire gracefully from the Beautiful Game followed my detailed explanation of how I nearly broke my leg again in that great sporting arena (Marden Bridge sports hall, Whitley Bay, since you ask. A floor to ceiling curtain separates the footballers from the occasional trampoline club).
Rather than a wild tackle cracking a fibula, it was one of the now all-too-common comedy football falls that nearly cost me my leg.
It’s clearly an age thing. Once you get over 40 the ability to commando roll and spring back to your feet disappears. Instead, when tripped, you go down either with the speed and grace of an unhooked medical student’s skeleton or you fall in the manner of an inebriated stiltwalker in a high wind.
I managed to combine both after standing on the ball, but somehow managed to land the full weight of my backside onto my foot, in much the same way that saw footballer Alan Smith break his leg for Manchester United many moons ago.
By the grace of god I managed to escape with a bruised toe and my leg, but not my dignity, intact.
Alan Smith and Richard Ord: One promising player’s soccer career almost destroyed by a freak accident, the other ending up in Newcastle’s reserves. Such are the fine margins between success and failure.
Anyway, my wife saw my latest brush with injury as a sign from the gods. “Why don’t you play snooker instead?” she said.
“Werbeniuk!,” I said. “There’s still life in the old dog yet. I’ve got the rest of my life to play snooker. Stanley Matthews was still playing at the top level of football when he was 50.”
“But you nearly broke your leg... again,” she said.
“And if I break it I’ll give up,” I promised her.
“But you didn’t last time did you,” was her final word.
So when is the right time to give up? And what is it that drives us to keep playing? Glory or stupidity, the former I like to think.
Unless you’ve slotted the winner past Nigel from the edge of the area, sending the drinks bottles flying at the end of another 35-goal thriller in a sauna of school sports hall, I guess you wouldn’t understand.
One man who might understand is the magnetic draw of football is Martin Brennan, who features on our centre spread today. He lost his sight playing the game in 1950.
“I was 18 at the time and I lost my sight through heading a ball,” he told the Echo. “The impact detached my retinas and I had five operations to fix it.
“They did manage to put it right and they told me I couldn’t do anything like football again.”
Did he give it all up for snooker? No chance.
He said: “After a year I went back and I lost my sight completely.”
Now aged 79, Martin doesn’t appear bitter and lives life to the full. What I loved most of all, however, is his comments on the heavy football that caused his injury.
“In those days,” he said, “we played with proper balls, not the balloons they have got today.”
I’ll remember that as I drive home from five-a-side this Sunday nursing another gammy leg and my head, like a slavering Labrador’s, hanging out of the open driver-side window trying desperately to cool down.
Football... don’t cha just love it?