So it makes you rich, but is it worth the years of pain?

I played football well into my forties, park football, on Sunday mornings, till I couldn't play park football any more, could hardly walk any more, could hardly get up in the morning. I was in treatment or in bed all week, only staggering up in time for 11 o'clock on Sunday morning in order to go out there, get knackered, then go through the whole process again.

Yet I was supposedly a sensible, mature, grown-up person, with three children, two houses, lots of commitments, oh so much more in my exciting, fulfilled life than piddling park football. So why did I keep going for so long, when my body was clearly screaming at me, "Time's up, Hunt"?

I still can't believe that, after a cartilage op at 42, and recovering from it, I continued to play for another five years, until I had to have another cartilage out, from which my right knee never really recovered. Potty or what?

Hence, I have great sympathy with those stupid, dopey young footballers - the real ones - who, when they are injured and can hardly move, willingly accept some dodgy painkiller (or dodgy advice) administered by a grizzled physio whose qualifications are as dodgy as the painkillers, purely in order to get out there and get stuck in. Only to give their body another clattering. It's their job, they tell themselves. Get injured, and someone else will take your place. Bottle it, refuse to go out when carrying an injury, and you will soon be on your way, son.

They have nothing else in their lives, poor things. It's all they've ever known, all they've wanted, so they ignore what their body tells them, mouthing cliches about "I'm doing what millions would love to do, lucky me, getting paid to have fun".

The truth is that the best fun in football is playing it for fun. Those Sunday mornings were sheer pleasure. Playing it professionally - that's very rarely fun. Mostly, it's physical grind and mental stress. Players come off with raging headaches, not just aching limbs. But when they're young and fit, thinking they will always be young, and fit enough to recover in time for the next match, what they don't want to hear is some research figures just released from Leicester University.

Half of our pro footballers will end up with arthritis. One in three will need surgery. One in six will be registered disabled. Frightening. Not that any young footballer will ever be frightened. No more than smokers get to fear smoking by thoughts of what's to come.

Nowadays, every time my arthritis plays up, when my knees are absolute agony and I can't get out of bed, I think: oh God, you fool, why did you carry on when you knew you were crocked? You knew you'd have to pay for it. Yes, I know, I might have got arthritis anyway, but I didn't help myself, did I?

It is, in fact, OK at present, thanks for asking. I've kept it at bay with a brilliant drug called Sulphasalazine. I hope, touch wood, that I'll never need surgery. Unlike poor Tommy Smith. You would have thought the sight of him hobbling around would scare the shit out of any of today's players.

Which is why I honestly, sincerely, deeply believe that players deserve whatever they can get. The transfer system is ridiculous, out of control, going to ruin football, should be altered, and soon will be. But a million a year for regulars in the Premier League, while stupendous compared with days gone by, seems to me pretty fair, all things considered.

Consider their short working life - ten to 15 years - plus an early death or a crippled old age. Top barristers can earn much the same, but they can stay at the top for 30 years and don't need handfuls of painkillers to get off the bench. Editors of national newspapers might get the push, but the pay-offs are big, and all they get by sitting at their desk is a fat bum as opposed to broken bones. Film stars, if they are male, can go on for ever - even baldies such as Sean Connery - with no one kicking them up off the ball or up the arse.

In TV, the only possible damage is to your ego, not your shins or your fib and tib. Des Lynam's got a contract for £5m, plus £5,000 extra for working on a Saturday. He does so little over the year, presents so few progs, then talks for hardly more than seven minutes max, that his only fear must be sleeping sickness. No doubt he's got that covered in his contract. Falling asleep through boredom probably means he gets penalty payments.

If Brooklyn Beckham ever grows up and decides he can't do accessory modelling for his parents for ever, then he'd be mad, given a choice of careers, to go into football. Now, talking about football, that's much safer. Or if he does well at Eton, gets some half-decent grades in ancient history and environmental studies, he could go into public relations. No chance there of being booed by the crowd, ridiculed in the tabloids, stalked by halfwits, hounded by the paparazzi.

The clubs, needless to say, don't care. They are experts in taking one game at a time, living for today, with no thoughts for the long-term good of their charges. They aim to squeeze them dry, pound them into a pulp, then throw them away, buy some new models, and moan about the prices.

Is Rio Ferdinand getting £30,000 a week at Leeds? Does Roy Keane get £50,000 at Man United? I dunno. But I bet you one of them, at the age of 55, will think the money wasn't enough for what came afterwards.

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