Football: Why Waddle won't give up the day job

A cultured performer of the past is still up to his tricks - with Torquay
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The Independent Online
SOME PEOPLE will do anything to get a game. At an age when most players would have settled back into the pundit's chair remembering how good they used to be, Chris Waddle has chosen to mix it down in the West Country for Torquay.

The North-east, London, Sheffield, the South of France, Waddle has put in the miles, sampled a hundred frenzied derbies, but this one was for fun and the sheer fear of retirement. Whether a home debut in a West Country derby against Plymouth Argyle was the right prescription for advancing age, only Waddle could judge. He emerged from the 1-1 draw of eight bookings and an unusual sending off, sound of limb at least. It was hard to tell; Waddle always looked knackered.

So why does he do it? "It's a daft question really," he said a touch tetchily. "I'm doing it because I love playing. Too often, we're asking why this, why that, we pay too much attention to age. It doesn't matter whether I'm 37 or 47 as long as I can do a job for someone."

Traffic control is his main task nowadays, when his 38th birthday is an uncomfortably short distance away. Waddle can still shimmy with the best of them; his vision remains intact and his uncanny ability to weight a pass, the true sign of class, has survived his spell in management with Burnley, but Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour would have been a more promising playground for his sort of timeless skills. "He got more time and space at Halifax last week," Wes Saunders, the Torquay manager, said. "But you can see what damage he can do when given space."

From the kick-off, Waddle swung a trusty left boot and pinpointed a pass straight into the path of Scott Partridge 30 yards away. The chance, like several others, went astray.

"You can get frustrated playing at this level," he said afterwards. "But you can get frustrated playing at any level. Sometimes, you make a pass and the player reacts a bit late. I've had that all my career. But this was a typical local derby, competitive, a good bit of banter. I enjoyed it." Chris Somebody, as the announcer greeted Torquay's new star signing.

Though the presence of the odd policeman on Newton Abbot station signalled red alert for the local constabulary and kick-off was brought forward to high noon, the intensity of the English riviera hardly matches the urban passions of Sheffield or North London. This is more like a family reunion and, as with most family reunions, there is a bit of pie-throwing - nothing too unsavoury.

The chairman of Torquay, Mike Bateson, greeted his opposite number, Dan Macauley, with a peck on the cheek. The one scuffle in the first half, which ended with the unlikely sending off of Andy McFarlane, a substitute who had encroached on the field but was not one of the 22 on it, caused a few furrowed brows. There was no red card, just an old-fashioned arm pointing the way home so, technically, a sending off or not?

Cannily, Waddle used the fracas to grab some refreshment. "Grandad, grandad, give us a wave," sang the Torquay fans. He could barely summon the puff.

Mostly, Waddle shuffled to and fro between centre circle and his own penalty box, a slightly bemused figure as the game eddied around him. His first real touch, deep and wide, brought a trademark skip, a drop of the famed shoulder and a stumble, much to the amusement of the Plymouth crowd who, out of respect, kept their jeers to a minimum. Ronnie Mauge, the resident Argyle hardman, largely resisted the temptation to put a distinguished notch on his belt.

Waddle's inswinging corners were a source of constant danger to the visitors' defence, value enough for the weekly match fee for which Waddle travels 300 miles from his Sheffield home each Friday.

Like all decent derbies, honours stayed resolutely even. A penalty by Paul Gibbs who, until the summer was the resident spotkick expert at Plainmoor, cancelled out Scott Partridge's neat opener for Torquay.

"I still felt quite strong at the end," Waddle said. "But I need a few more matches under my belt." A few pounds less as well. For Saunders, a friend from boyhood days, Waddle's experience, his guidance for a young squad, is almost as significant as the fading magic of a Saturday. It is not often European Cup winners pass this way.

Waddle is refreshingly unself-conscious about his appearance. It is full circle, back to putting coats down and playing for the heck of it. After 697 senior games, Waddle has earned that right.

CHRIS WADDLE: A TRAVELLER'S TALE

Year Club App

1980-85 Newcastle United 170

1985-89 Tottenham Hotspur 138

1989-92 Marseille 107

1992-96 Sheffield Wednesday 109

1996 Falkirk 4

1996 Bradford City 25

1996-97 Sunderland 7

1997-98 Burnley 31

1998 Torquay 2

Total appearances 593

Waddle also played 62 times for England, scoring six goals

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