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.