Wayne Rooney. Photo: Getty
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It’s hard to remember a time when Rooney hasn’t been injured

I hardly slept for weeks during the run-up to the last two World Cups, terrified he wouldn’t make it.

I am always getting T S Eliot and John Lennon mixed up. Easily done. One said he measured out his life in miles and the other in coffee spoons, or was it teaspoons? Any road up, I have measured out my life in injuries.

I don’t just mean my own injuries, though they are markers in my long-legged life. Now, I say to myself, was that before or after I had my new knee? I also date stuff by saying: hmm, it must have been ten years ago, certainly before I had my seizure. That happened on a south of France beach when I passed out, woke up in Cannes general hospital.

But it’s nothing compared with the dreadful, worrying, awful injuries to my heroes, which have happened at regular intervals in my football life.

After Man United got knocked out of Europe by Bayern Munich, the clever clogs in the back pages, who suck their pencils and think of a number, gave Wayne Rooney only five out of ten. They said he was rubbish, didn’t look fit. Dear God, I thought, give him a break. He’s had a poorly toe all week, poor lad. Now he’s got a tight groin.

It’s hard to remember a time when Rooney hasn’t been injured, or recovering from injury. I hardly slept for weeks during the run-up to the last two World Cups, terrified he wouldn’t make it (I was ghosting his autobiog, and yes, his injuries and lousy World Cup form did hurt sales).

At one time, the whole football nation was holding its breath in case Beckham pulled his metatarsal. Can you pull one, or do they break? I used to know. I cut out diagrams from the back pages and pinned them on the bedroom wall, then started worrying the moment I woke up.

Bryan Robson, Captain Fantastic, didn’t they call him, or was it Captain Marvel, was always getting injured before cruciate games, I mean crucial games, getting my medical terms mixed up. We were on tender hooks, another medical term, until he actually appeared on the pitch. Which he usually did. He put himself through pain for our sake. He should have been known as Messiah, not Marvel.

Gazza, goodness, he was a heavy load to bear. I used to close my eyes when I watched him play, knowing that at any moment he was going to do something stupid. Sometimes it was funny, like picking up a Mars Bar thrown by some rival fan who had been shouting “fat bastard” at him, and eating it. At other times it was a mad, wild lunging tackle of an opposition player, the goalpost, the mascot, or the referee, which usually resulted in him being the one injured.

Back in the Sixties, I lay awake at night hoping Jimmy Greaves would not get injured. This rarely happened on the pitch: he didn’t move fast enough to get hurt, restricting himself to strolling around the penalty area, as if not bothered, but his little eyes glinting, taking everything in, being a natural-born poacher.

Off the pitch, though, weird things happened to him. He once got himself a new Jaguar, leaned over into the rear seat, something went in his back, and bingo – he was out for ages. Oh, the worries he caused me.

Today, there seem to be more injuries than in the past. It could be the modern flimsy boots, which give so little protection, or the speed of the game, yet the players themselves are supposed to be fitter, healthier, can run further and longer. Most teams, at any one time this season, have had at least three regulars out injured. Arsenal have been missing Walcott, Wilshere, Ramsey. Man United have had van Persie to worry about as well as Rooney. Wenger was asked the other day about Arsenal’s injuries. He hinted that personal medications could be to blame, players using hair restorers, slimming pills, sex pills – all unknown to the club – which could be having nasty side effects.

Oh no, that’s all I need. With the World Cup coming up now, I have to worry what they get up to in the bathroom and the bedroom, not just on the pitch.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, India's worst nightmare?

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The joy of only winning once: why England should be proud of 1966

We feel the glory of that triumphant moment, 50 years ago, all the more because of all the other occasions when we have failed to win.

There’s a phrase in football that I really hate. It used to be “Thirty years of hurt”. Each time the England team crashes out of a major tournament it gets regurgitated with extra years added. Rather predictably, when England lost to Iceland in Euro 2016, it became “Fifty years of hurt”. We’ve never won the European Championship and in 17 attempts to win the World Cup we have only won once. I’m going to tell you why that’s a record to cherish.

I was seven in 1966. Our telly was broken so I had to watch the World Cup final with a neighbour. I sat squeezed on my friend Colin’s settee as his dad cheered on England with phrases like “Sock it to them Bobby”, as old fashioned now as a football rattle. When England took the lead for the second time I remember thinking, what will it feel like, when we English are actually Champions of the World. Not long after I knew. It felt good.

Wembley Stadium, 30 July 1966, was our only ever World Cup win. But let’s imagine what it would be like if, as with our rivals, we’d won it many times? Brazil have been World Champions on five occasions, Germany four, and Italy four. Most England fans would be “over the moon” if they could boast a similarly glorious record. They’re wrong. I believe it’s wonderful that we’ve only triumphed once. We all share that one single powerful memory. Sometimes in life less is definitely more.

Something extraordinary has happened. Few of us are even old enough to remember, but somehow, we all know everything that happened that day. Even if you care little about the beautiful game, I’m going to bet that you can recall as many as five iconic moments from 50 years ago. You will have clearly in your mind the BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous lines, as Geoff Hurst tore down the pitch to score his hat-trick: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now”. And it was. 4 - 2 to England against West Germany. Thirty minutes earlier the Germans had equalised in the dying moments of the second half to take the game to extra time.

More drama we all share: Geoff Hurst’s second goal. Or the goal that wasn’t, as technology has since, I think, conclusively proved. The shot that crashed off the cross bar and did or didn’t cross the line. Of course, even if you weren’t alive at the time, you will know that the linesman, one Tofiq Bakhramov, from Azerbaijan (often incorrectly referred to as “Russian”) could speak not a word of English, signalled it as a goal.

Then there’s the England Captain, the oh-so-young and handsome Bobby Moore. The very embodiment of the era. You can picture him now wiping his muddy hands on his white shorts before he shakes hands with a youthful Queen Elizabeth. Later you see him lifted aloft by his team mates holding the small golden Jules Rimet trophy.

How incredible, how simply marvellous that as a nation we share such golden memories. How sad for the Brazilians and Germans. Their more numerous triumphs are dissipated through the generations. In those countries each generation will remember each victory but not with the intensity with which we English still celebrate 1966. It’s as if sex was best the first time. The first cut is the deepest.

On Colin’s dad’s TV the pictures were black and white and so were the flags. Recently I looked at the full colour Pathe newsreel of the game. It’s the red, white and blue of the Union Jack that dominates. The red cross of Saint George didn’t really come into prominence until the Nineties. The left don’t like flags much, unless they’re “deepest red”. Certainly not the Union Flag. It smacks of imperialism perhaps. In 1966 we didn’t seem to know if we were English or British. Maybe there was, and still is, something admirable and casual about not knowing who we are or what is our proper flag. 

Twelve years later I’m in Cuba at the “World Festival of Youth” – the only occasion I’ve represented my country. It was my chance to march into a stadium under my nation’s flag. Sadly, it never happened as my fellow delegates argued for hours over what, if any, flag we British should walk behind. The delegation leaders – you will have heard of them now, but they were young and unknown then – Peter Mandelson, Trevor Phillips and Charles Clarke, had to find a way out of this impasse. In the end, each delegation walked into the stadium behind their flag, except the British. Poor Mandelson stood alone for hours holding Union Jack, sweltering in the tropical sun. No other country seemed to have a problem with their flag. I guess theirs speak of revolution; ours of colonialism.

On Saturday 30 July BBC Radio 2 will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final, live from Wembley Arena. Such a celebration is only possible because on 16 occasions we failed to win that trophy. Let’s banish this idea of “Fifty years of hurt” once and for all and embrace the joy of only winning once.

Phil Jones edits the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2. On Saturday 30 July the station celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup Final live from Wembley Arena, telling the story of football’s most famous match, minute by minuteTickets are available from: www.wc66.org