Nostalgia runs deep as seniors thrill fans

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The Independent Online

The arena's call-line was advertising nights which would feature neither the slim nor the young. Creaking joints would be cranked into action and you hoped no one would be so out of condition to be embarrassing. But if you will spend your hard earned on concerts by Robbie Williams or Tom Jones that is the risk you have to take.

The arena's call-line was advertising nights which would feature neither the slim nor the young. Creaking joints would be cranked into action and you hoped no one would be so out of condition to be embarrassing. But if you will spend your hard earned on concerts by Robbie Williams or Tom Jones that is the risk you have to take.

Outside the Manchester Evening News Arena on Wednesday that element of chance had disappeared completely. The performers the 5,000 or so souls were queuing to see had absolutely no chance of being at their best, indeed you wondered if some of them would not need a visit to the intensive care unit at the nearby Manchester Royal Infirmary by the end of the evening. As John Barnes said while patting two stone of extra cladding round his midriff, "Footballers don't age well".

They may not, but nostalgia seems to get more sprightly by the day. Not so long ago sportsmen were like old soldiers who did not die but faded away to become publicans, plumbers or pundits on television or radio. Now the world is so awash with seniors events you suspect most of them are playing too often to find time to pick up their pension. Golf and tennis have thriving tours and football, inevitably, is following suit.

The Fired-Up Masters, a six-a-side tournament for old pros aged 35 and older, is currently going on to find the best (perhaps that should be least worst) club in the country and to the amazement of those who think these sort of things ought to be the province of alcohol-fuelled middle-aged fools striving for lost youth, the event is proving to be a success. Five thousand at the MEN is a lot better than nearby Bury get through the gates and some of their players are guaranteed not to need Sanatogen or oxygen to last a match, while the television audience on the satellite channels is said to be a lot healthier than some of the participants.

This week it was the North-West's turn to provide a team for October's final in Nottingham so the "legends" of Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and City crossed aching joints and burgeoning beer bellies in pursuit of lost youth. The sight had a ghastly fascination even if it was not always pretty. How many people had seen Wayne Biggins score for Manchester City, for example, or Jimmy Case play the ball instead of the man? And was anyone surprised that Paul Walsh, who is now an agent, moved quicker and more elusively than anyone?

The event also had its ring of authenticity. As Bryan Robson left the pitch with a back injury you could have been back in the Eighties. Clayton Blackmore was as impressively tanned as ever, Peter Beardsley hared around as if he could get back in the England squad, Ian Rush looked leaner than a lamp post and an Everton squad that included such "legends" as Stewart Rimmer, Joe McBride, Alan Irvine and Paul Lodge somehow never looked likely to win the thing.

Liverpool were the club of the Eighties and their players of that vintage, not surprisingly, were also the team of the Over-35s, comprehensively beating Manchester City 5-1 in the final. Barnes, who had resolutely denied any interest in being competitive beforehand, emerged as the player of the tournament.

"There are players who take it very seriously, who want to perform," the former Liverpool and England winger said. "Chris Waddle, for example, tries harder now than ever he did when he was a professional, certainly he runs around more, and Peter Beardsley is the same. From my point of view it's a question of seeing old acquaintances and friends."

Is there not a risk that a rickety performance might devalue treasured memories? "I'm quite secure in what I did in the past," he replied. "I don't have to try to live up to that because there is no way I can. Which is not to say how great I was, but how bad I am now. There will be people trying to relive things, running up and down, but it won't be me. You're talking to the wrong person." Hmmm.

Blackmore, who scored the goal of the evening with a ferocious shot from his own half, was not as coy. The former Manchester United and Middlesbrough full-back is desperate to stay in football, having been released by Barnsley and having spent most of last season on loan to Notts County. "You get to 35 and people think you can't do it, I've been getting that for three years. But the older you get the better you look after your body and I'm fitter now than I've ever been.

"I just hope to raise a few eyebrows. I played in a beach football event last weekend and scored three goals in the final even though we lost 5-3. Afterwards Brian Talbot, who is at Rushden and Diamonds, asked me what I was doing next season so you never know what something like this can bring. I'm in the shop window.

"Of course you miss the great days when I was at Manchester United but I just want to play football whether it is in front 5,000 or 50,000 and I think I'll go on as long as my body will let me. My old man finished when he was 42 and I hope I'll do the same."

Given what we saw this week in Manchester, 42 would be a conservative estimate. And the image of a grey-haired Roy Keane trying to tackle someone with his Zimmer frame is looking like an increasing likely prospect for the television screens of 2050. Nostalgia, it seems, is what it used to be.

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