Over the past few days, I’ve spent a bit of time looking back to the years I spent playing cricket – a quarter of a century at senior club level – and much as it doesn’t take much for me to start reminiscing, I usually try and avoid dwelling on the fact that those days are now behind me.
It’s not that I wouldn’t want to still be playing; it’s simply that parts of my body (specifically my hips) are badly worn, and considerable pain is the only guaranteed outcome if I attempt anything even remotely athletic.
While you’re playing whatever sport(s) you happen to enjoy, you rarely contemplate what life will be like when it’s all finished: the training, the games, the camaraderie….
I was never the best player on the field – for many years I wasn’t even the best player in my house! – but I was lucky to be able play with and against some fine cricketers, a good number of whom had played, or would play at test or one day international level. But whatever your sport, and whatever your level, one thing is for certain, it will one day come to an end. The reason will vary, but there will always be that morning when you wake up and you’re not the person you were the day before.
I vividly recall my final game for Gateshead Fell… at Tynemouth in 2004. I’d played with what would later be diagnosed as a degenerative hip condition for a couple of years; every week, I’d patch myself up, and go onto the field, safe in the knowledge that I’d be barely able to walk the following day (and often the one after that as well). I kept going because I loved the game – still do – and I couldn’t imagine not playing.
In the end, I had no choice but to listen to my body, but it was a very sad man that left the field that September afternoon eleven years ago. People will always tell you to make the most of your sporting abilities and opportunities because “you’re a long time retired” – and trust me, you are.
You are left with countless memories, and maybe even a few mementoes and press cuttings (unless you had a vindictive ex-wife…), but the first time you venture back into the dressing room as an “ex-player”, you know it’s not the same – nor will it ever be again. Friendships made through a shared love of sport tend to last, which is great, but whether you coach, or simply choose to spectate, you cannot recreate that feeling of being part of a team.
Most of this blog was prompted by a long conversation I had with Ria Small, who plays netball for Premier League 2 club Grangetown, and Super League with Team Northumbria. Ria is still a young woman, but she mentioned the “r” word during our chat – no more than in passing – and it just struck a chord. I felt it only right to give her the “long time retired” speech, but although the words come easily, believe me the reality is a lot harder to accept… even a decade down the line.
I rarely go and watch cricket these days, but I have started following the fortunes of Grangetown’s Premier netball squad (and offering my services as a writer/reporter of little or no repute). I’ve watched a lot of netball in my time (mainly involving my daughter, who now plays for a club in Edinburgh), but although I’d met some of the Grangetown players and coaches a couple of times, I wasn’t totally sure about going along on a more regular basis.
I needn’t have worried. I’ve been made to feel very welcome. I’m really enjoying watching the games, and being able to contribute my uneducated thoughts on proceedings. The best thing of all though is being able to watch a talented squad enjoying not only the game itself, but also the time they spend together. I can’t turn the clock back (much as I’d love to), so I’d like to end by saying “thank you” to the Grangetown girls for giving me one last glimpse of the competition and camaraderie I miss so much.