In the game of footer, there is no space for old men

Got a bad back, pulled something doing something silly - a Jimmy Greaves back, as we call it in our house, after the time Jimmy couldn't turn out for Spurs as he'd torn a muscle leaning into the back seat of his Jaguar, or so they say.

I know from long experience of me that painkillers or physio will not help. My body and I are best friends, we do everything together. I will just have to suffer, moaning and groaning, for another fortnight. Forty years ago, when I was 40 years younger, it would have cleared up in three days. Now, I have to expect three weeks.

One of the reasons Paul Scholes packed it in this season, aged 36, was that he had a groin strain last December, the sort that would have been OK in a week when he was 20. Instead, it took more than seven weeks. That was when he began to realise his body was telling him something.

Dog days

Footballers don't age like us. They are like dogs - you have to multiply the number by five to find out how old they really are.

I haven't quite worked out the coefficient - more research, please - but it works on a sliding scale. Around the age of 16, they are physically like normal, fully formed males of 26. At 26, they are at their peak, the equivalent of a 40-year-old. At 35, they are 70. Over 35, that's it: as good as dead.

Rio is past it, all the wise heads are saying, always on the sick. John Terry - just look at the bags under his eyes, the way he lumbers and staggers, poor sod.

Drogba has also lost it and Lamps is about to. As for Michael Owen, football has only been his hobby these past few years, albeit
at £100,000 a week. His real interest is in racehorses. He's a goner, as well.

Their old fans look the other way, hiding a few tears, wondering if they need help across the road, what time the old folks' home closes.

Rival fans jeer, call for the knacker's yard: put them out of their misery. Rio's bones will boil up for glue. Lamps might provide half a pound of lard.

Oh, we can be so cruel, we fans, when our former heroes start ageing. No use saying that they will retire as multimillionaires, so what have they got to worry about? They are human; they do bleed. The back pages can be vicious when they spot the end coming.

These days, our top players are obsessed by "respect" - the receiving of it, not giving it - and it comes up in so many of their interviews.

Clearly they get awfully hurt when they don't get the praise and respect they think they deserve, for their medals, for their years of service, for their England caps, for being Rio or JT, icons in their own minds. Criticism hurts.

The heat is on

Getting old is perhaps the hardest thing of all to handle. What next? They know that they are not all verbal and intellectual giants such as Gary Neville. That's it, when they're finally pushed out or pack it in.

All their support systems - the people who held their hand, paid their bills and looked after their passports - will go. In the old days, they dragged out a few more seasons in the lower leagues, but today they have no need of the money. Anyway, their groins have gone.

For some who have been in the hands of dodgy agents and financial advisers, the money will dry up or disappear. They never learn, do they, that a Baby Bentley is a stupid way to spend money. All you'll get back is washers.

Some wives, who put up with so much during the fame years, will decide to do a runner, now that all he does is moan about his groin, and depart with half his money, or what's left of it.

So, friends, when you are watching England play Spain or Sweden, please be kind. Don't boo or hiss at Rio or JT, should they be wheeled on, Zimmers permitting. Just think of the physical strains and mental agonies that they are suffering. With worse to come.

Newsflash: I just had lunch with my old friend Melvyn and he was telling me about how he strained his back but found great relief in something called Voltarol heat patches.

Now wearing one - and it's excellent. Could be playing again in a week.

Life is good . . .

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 14 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The NHS 1948-2011, so what comes next?