When I was 11, having just arrived from Scotland, the head of the secondary technical school I was being sent to asked me what I wanted to be in life. I said a footballer.
At 16, entering Carlisle Grammar sixth form, I said I wanted to be a teacher. Just to please my mum. At 21, at Durham University, I decided I wanted to be a journalist, despite the useless university careers people being no help whatsoever. I often think, on my daybed, what if I had achieved my first ambition in life and become a footballer?
The normal, half-decent Premiership regular is a multimillionaire – but God or at least Sky has played a rotten trick on them. They get showered with untold riches at a ridiculously early age – yet they can’t enjoy them. They can’t drink, take drugs, stuff their faces with burgers, like normal lads of their age. Thirty or so years ago, they could and did, getting smashed several times a week, hoping to sweat it off in training.
They own luxury villas in Barbados with infinity pools – but can rarely go – and blocks of flats in Dubai they have never seen. They have three top-of-the-range luxury cars but hardly drive further than the training ground.
So how do they fill in the long hours? You start at 10am, finish by 1.30pm and the rest of the day is your own. Organising the evening’s shagging takes time, plus shopping for clothes or another car. Tattoos are useful. They do fill in time and space.
The top stars have sponsorship commitments, with Nike or Adidas paying them £1m a year for a photo shoot and handshakes, but clubs don’t like their stars doing too many, getting their minds and afternoons overloaded.
The boredom is appalling – they all moan about it, admit it’s hard to cope, hanging around hotels, sitting for hours on coaches and planes. The only vice available, which they can indulge in from home, in private, is gambling.
One side result of the incredible money in football is that top clubs can afford to double up on stars. Because of this, they are likely to spend a lot of their playing life not playing – on the bench, doing nothing.
Think of the stress, the humiliation, the depression of being Hugo Lloris, the first-choice goalie and captain for France, aged only 25, for whom Spurs have paid £12m. With outfield players, you are likely to come on as a sub now and again, given a chance to shine, but goalies rarely get subbed.
Against Reading on Sunday 16 September, Lloris was again a spectator. He could moulder and die unseen over the next few months or even years, till he retires – by which time we will have forgotten he ever existed.
Retirement comes in your thirties, when most normal workers are getting into their stride, about to reach their peak. OK, so you have millions stashed away, but what do you do all day in retirement? If you are fit enough to do anything, that is.
In the October copy of FourFourTwo, there’s an interview with Joe Royle, the ex-Everton and Man City player and manager. He talks in passing about having two metal knees and a metal hip –making him go off like a bomb when he goes through airport security. Pretty normal, for ex-players, to be crippled with arthritis by their sixties.
Law of attraction
So, O wise one, what would your ambition be now, if you had to start your life all over again? Hmm. Hold on, I’m thinking.
I wouldn’t say being a footballer this time. I am happy as a word shifter and should be, having got away with so much for so long, but I think if asked now for my fantasy job, I would say a QC.
As with professional footballers, it’s only at the top that lawyers make loads. So you’d have to be a QC, not a run-of-the-mill barrister. You are self-employed, so don’t get bossed around and can pick your jobs. You don’t get injured and your obscene pay lasts not just ten years, as in football, but four decades. You don’t have to retire, just slow down when you feel like it.
A much better life than being a footballer. Not sure about the shagging, though . . .