Football: Daley seeks break as a shooting star: Owen Slot watches a supreme athlete attempt to conquer a fresh field

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The Independent Online
CAN Daley Thompson play football? John Madejski, the Reading chairman, would love it if he could. Chrysalis Sport would be more than happy too. For it is with Reading that Thompson is attempting to play professionally and it is the Chrysalis cameras that are recording the attempt. If Thompson did turn out to be Lineker incarnate, it would pack out Elm Park next season, and those unable get a ticket could see Thompson: The Season I Set the Endsleigh League Alight, the ratings-grabbing highlights on television in May.

For a 36-year-old, such a programme is the stuff of dreams, even for one who has proved himself the best athlete in the world. Chrysalis's credits include Graham Taylor: An Impossible Job, so if their Thompson footage ever does get shown, they could probably keep the same title and just insert a new name. The trouble with linking show business and sport, however, is that sporting failures rarely make great entertainment; huge failures on a national scale do, but not an ex-athlete failing in First Division football. So Thompson has to succeed.

This is the latest of many ventures in his unsettled athletics after-life which last year briefly embraced motor racing. At Reading, he is involved wholeheartedly in pre-season training and he has impressed all with his commitment. But commitments elsewhere may be a problem. What other footballer on the make would miss the last pre-season week because of BBC punditry duties at the European Championships in Helsinki? In his defence, he was keen enough to have flown back for yesterday's match against Real Sociedad. Thinking of the Reading turnstiles, it was Madejski who paid the air fare.

But does Thompson have it in him to keep the turnstiles clicking? Barnet, on Wednesday, where he was engaged in Reading's third pre-season friendly, provided an opportunity for an assessment. The opinion of Ray Clemence, the Barnet manager? 'He didn't really get the opportunity to do anything.' Indeed he didn't.

Eight minutes from time, Thompson off the bench and into Reading's forward line. He showed tremendous pace in breakaway attacks, though would often get crowded out behind banks of defenders. Then, five minutes from time, a touch of the ball, his only touch. And no one was sure if he had intentionally played a short back-pass, but it was taken straight off him by Phil Parkinson, the Reading midfielder. 'At least I didn't lose it,' Thompson said.

It was his third run-out; he had notched up half an hour on the field and a goal against Leatherhead. But can he do it? His team-mates are not convinced; their admiration for his enthusiasm, his inspirational influence and his non-stop banter is coupled with a 'but' that concerns his age and his late arrival to the game. 'Had he started when he was 23 . . .' Mark McGhee, the Reading manager, mused. 'But if he decides against football, we would be delighted to have him in for training twice a week.'

In the meantime, McGhee is arranging for Thompson to play games with Woking's reserve team. Irrespective of whether the Chrysalis cameras find adequate footage in the Diadora League, Thompson will persevere. 'I've found out that the football life - being with the boys - is a great one. Athletics is a little bit solitary,' he said. So if he fails to land a contract with Reading, his agent will be offering his services elsewhere: '36-year-old footballer for hire, complete with two Olympic golds and travelling camera crew.'

(Photograph omitted)

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