Dear Daley Thompson: As the world's greatest athlete pole-vaults into professional football, a warning that playing for Reading is not the same as looking good in celebrity matches before the Cup Final

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Have you been at the Lucozade? Apparently now that your career as the greatest athlete the world has ever seen is over, you fancy trying your foot as a professional soccer player. You have signed up for the new season with Reading Football Club.

Reading and football - they've never exactly been synonymous, have they? And doesn't starting at the bottom (well, halfway down) seem a little ambitious? You were once the master of 10 disciplines in Olympic competition. I wish you luck, but this could be a sport too far.

Those of us who have seen you playing in those celebrity footie matches before the Cup Final know you look the part. You and Steve Cram, your shimmies and runs and blistering shots stand out like gold medals amid non-qualifiers of tubby-bellied comedians and stork-legged actors.

But nut-megging Jimmy Tarbuck, using your body-swerve to evade some bloke from Brookside and then slotting it past David Frost in goal it isn't quite the same as turning out at Elm Park on a frosty Wednesday night in January.

Have you really spent 20 years denying yourself the good things in life, honing your body to the peak of physical perfection, so that you can end up playing Bristol Rovers reserves?

And there's another thing. It is hard to change sports and make a success of it. For every Nigel Walker, who swapped from Olympic athletics to playing rugby union for Wales, there is a Gary Mason, whose attempts to find something physical to do after retiring from boxing began with rugby league and ended with arm wrestling.

Even Michael Jordan, the king of basketball, is struggling to make it in junior baseball. But you have an extra high hurdle to clear. You are - not to put too fine a point on it - of advanced years. Footballers of 34 are usually referred to in the hushed, reverential tones reserved for Martina Navratilova, oddities performing unlikely physical feats long after their retire-to-run-a-nice-pub-in-the-country-by date.

I suspect that the information that your progress is to be chronicled for a Channel 4 documentary may have something to do with your decision. Your new manager, Mark McGhee (not much older than you, as it happens) is a shrewd operator, who will have spotted the publicity value in that sort of exposure for his club - a sort of Reading: The Movie. Football documentaries are big ratings accumulators at the moment, although we can assume a class act like you won't make a complete bleep of himself.

Remember the column inches Graham Taylor and his meaningless catchphrase accrued?

Mind you, if you were to make a success of it, you could revolutionise one aspect of the game. All those goal celebrations - the cartwheels, handstands and Ryan Giggs looking grumpy - have become very staid. People would pay good money to see you vaulting over the crossbar.

Yours,

Jim White

(Photograph omitted)

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