Peter Crouch. Photo: Getty
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What to do with all those pensioner footballers, washed up at 35?

A soccer stud farm!

Until I was 80, I never mentioned my age. I had always been taken for younger. Harold Wilson in 1947, aged 31, grew a moustache to make himself look older when he became a cabinet minister. I grew one in my twenties to look like a proper journalist. When I arrived to interview someone famous, I still often got shown the tradesman’s door.

Now, I endlessly drag my age into the conversation.

“I was talking first, don’t you know how old I am?”

“Yes, certainly I will have another glass of Beaujolais. I am 81.”

“That was my seat by the way, so gerrup. You do know how old I am…”

There are certain professions in which people are scared to reveal their age. Acting is one, which is why so many actors lie. If you are good enough and big enough, though, you can still be in work.

Pity the poor footballers. Age defines them, then very quickly limits them. They are hardly into their career before it starts to get mentioned. Towards the end, they are constantly stigmatised by their age, as if they have caught some awful disease.

“Peter Crouch, at the age of 36, is still able to get up in the air…” That was the Sky commentator when Crouchy came on as a sub to head a vital goal for Stoke against Leicester.

Mr Crouch is 6ft 7in – of course he can still get up in the air. From my long observation of the human race, I can reveal that men do not shrink in their thirties. That happens later.

Did I mention I was 81? I was well over 6ft when I was young – oh, yes – and have my passport to prove it. (A fiddle, of course. It was the period when you filled in your own height on your passport form, so you could write anything.)

There are quite a few players performing well in the Prem despite being in their mid-thirties, such as the 36-year-old Gareth Barry at West Brom. Petr Cech, the Arsenal goalie, is 35 (Buffon at Juventus is 39 – but goalies tend to last longer).

Ryan Giggs got to 40 still playing for Man United, but no modern player in a top division anywhere is likely to beat Stanley Matthews, who was playing in the First Division when he was 50.

Footballers can last a bit longer than they used to, thanks to modern diets, fitness regimes, medical treatment and the fact that they hardly ever drink ten pints after a game, as English players used to do.

But what has happened with the enormous increase in transfer fees is that once you get into your late twenties, your age becomes a label, especially if you are in a young team such as Spurs – or, now, England – with so many teenagers or 20-year-olds coming through. In your early thirties, you are suddenly washed up, knackered, as far as financial value is concerned.

Clubs regularly pay £50m for only moderately decent players – if they are the right age. The suits see them as an investment. If the manager goes off them in a couple of years, they will still be young enough to have a good resale value.

I can’t think of many occupations in which, once you enter your thirties, your career trajectory is as good as over. Wayne Rooney has got dumped by England and given away for free by Man United – yet he is only 32, nobbut a lad.

A top club is rarely going to buy you when, like poor old Crouchy, you get to 36 – but at least Stoke has signed him for another year. Yet you could still be playing some of your best football.

Instead, you are considered worthless – time to be put out to grass like an old nag, or sent to stud.

That could well be perfect for old footballers wondering what to do next. A soccer stud farm! Shagging all day! Help to produce the next generation of players. I would quite fancy that myself, but I’m not sure my sperm would be up to it.

Do you know how old I am? 

“Diary of an Ordinary Schoolgirl” by Margaret Forster, with an introduction by Hunter Davies, is published by Chatto & Windus on 7 December

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 30 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The most powerful man in the world

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Four key thinkers more deserving of a revival than “Trump’s philosopher” Ayn Rand

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely.

A recent story in theTimes carried the headline, “Trump’s philosopher is heading for your local pub”. The philosopher in question was Ayn Rand, whose works The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957) have been a profound influence on the American right since they were published, and are apparently enjoying a resurgence.

The story went on: the previous week, “about 15 people packed into a room above the Plumbers Arms in Victoria, central London” to discuss Rand. You read that right: 15! Three more than a dozen! Their cups runneth over indeed. We later discovered that Britain’s first Ayn Rand Centre is being set up. Moreover, new groups dedicated to Rand have popped up in Reading and Milton Keynes.

Everything about this story was designed to make me angry. For one thing, Rand was above all a novelist, not a philosopher. For another, it’s generous to suggest that the star of America’s Celebrity Apprentice, who is also the current occupant of the White House, is deeply familiar with her overall body of work. He said he enjoyed The Fountainhead; that’s some way short of her being a favourite philosopher.

But the thing that really riles me is this fashion for stories about intellectual fashions. Last year, apparently, there was an upsurge of interest in, and sales of, George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. During the financial crisis, displaying knowledge of Hyman Minsky’s oeuvre became the columnist’s trope du jour – just as, in the recession that followed, flaunting one’s knowledge of John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory was a mark of cool and learning.

If thinkers have enduring value, it is because their ideas are timeless, not timely. So here, apropos of nothing in particular, are four other key thinkers that are being unfairly neglected.

1. Polonius The true hero of Elsinore, who manages to distil in one speech more wisdom than the self-indulgent prince manages over five acts. Where Hamlet’s meandering vanities take him hither and thither to no great end, Polonius speaks the language of uncommon common sense to which this column aspires. And how prescient is he? His “neither a borrower nor a lender be” anticipated the post-monetary policy era four centuries before Mark Carney took the reins in Threadneedle Street. And his advice to “Give every man thine ear but few thy voice” is the perfect coping mechanism for social media. 

2. Judith Kerr If you have young children, chances are you are more than familiar with Kerr’s seminal work, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. In it, Sophie is having tea with her mother in the kitchen when a big, furry, stripy tiger knocks on the door. It joins them and promptly eats and drinks everything in the house, forcing the family to go out for a special dinner when Sophie’s father comes home from work. Naturally, I don’t approve of the stereotypical gender roles in this plot; but the message of instinctive generosity and openness to unfamiliar outsiders, with unforeseen benefits for family life, undoubtedly carries lessons for our age of mass migration and rapid demographic upheaval.

3. Meryl Streep Less neglected than my other candidates for your attention, I’ll grant; but I really think Meryl Streep’s assertion, when asked in 2015 by Time Out if she was a feminist, is crucial. She said: “I’m a humanist.” In doing this she proclaimed the connection between feminism and universal ideals, placed feminism within a broader philosophical tradition, and revived interest in humanism at a time when religiosity is again on the march. Given the current conniptions over gender in our public domain, this was an important contribution, don’t you think?

4. Humphrey Appleby Have you noticed that, amid the toxic warfare over Brexit, the once unimpeachable integrity of Britain’s civil servants is now being traduced? Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised them only the other week. I recommend he revisit Yes, Minister, in which the peerless Nigel Hawthorne played the ultimate British bureaucrat. His dictum that “a cynic is what an idealist calls a realist” is both plausible and the perfect coolant for our
overheated democracy.

Back to the Ayn Rand philosophy club: I don’t believe I’ve tried the Plumbers Arms in Victoria. But I’ll make an exception if some New Statesman reader is prepared to start the first UK society dedicated to the propagation of these thinkers’ ideas. Anyone fancy a pint? 

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The polite extremist