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The Last Word: As David Beckham bows out, spare a thought for the ordinary players facing a crueller end

A farewell without the fanfare

The Prime Minister doesn't bother to court cheap publicity by sending his regards. No forests need to be felled for celebratory supplements in the public prints. Social media bids farewell with a whisper rather than the familiar spittle-flecked bellow.

For most footballers it ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Retirement isn't an option but an enforced necessity. It is acutely personal, strictly business. The consequences are profoundly challenging for those who don't have the refuge of a television studio or a racing stable.

Life goes on in the shadow of the carousel. It is uncomfortable, unnerving and unfair but it produces rounded, grounded characters. Ignore the stereotypes; these are men of merit, who deserve a moment of your time.

For every David Beckham there is a Jody Craddock, a family man of equally impeccable character but greater depth. Peter Murphy has been as loyal a servant to his club, Carlisle United, as Jamie Carragher has been to his, Liverpool.

Romain Larrieu might not have achieved as much in management as Sir Alex Ferguson, but he has a more intimate insight into the human condition. The former goalkeeper has had his perspective shaped initially by national service in the French army and latterly by two bouts of testicular cancer.

He admits: "I don't have a job and don't know what I'm going to do next." Thirteen years at Plymouth Argyle ended last week when he was dismissed as their assistant manager, a role he assumed 18 months ago in response to the club's financial plight.

Larrieu is 36 and has put down roots in Devon since his release by French side Valence in 2000. He has played without pay and discovered that cancer is a mental as well as a physical test because of its insidious ability to sap self-confidence.

The inner strength he has acquired in living with the possibility that the disease may recur became pertinent once he became a victim of regime change. Argyle's new manager, John Sheridan, went back to his old club, Chesterfield, to employ coaches with whom he is familiar. Larrieu's face simply didn't fit.

Craddock has also learned to put the vagaries of football into context. Wolves have given him a testimonial to mark the end of his 17-year career, which began at Cambridge and flourished at Sunderland before he spent a decade at Molineux.

He is driven not by the accumulated memories of 581 senior matches but by the precious nature of life itself. He and his wife, Shelley, lost their four-month-old son, Jake, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Another son, three-year-old Toby, was diagnosed with leukaemia 12 months ago.

Craddock's testimonial will support the Birmingham Children's Hospital, where Toby is being treated, and the Balls to Cancer charity set up by Wolves fan Mark Bates. His successful secondary career as an artist will make transition easier than it is for many fellow professionals.

Murphy has scored winning goals for Carlisle in the Football League Trophy final at Wembley and in the play-off final which enabled the club to return to the Football League in 2005. Twelve years and 417 appearances (a Carlisle record for an outfield player) ended in a carefully calibrated time-slot in manager Greg Abbott's office.

Abbott became emotional when he confirmed he would not be offering Murphy a new contract. "Don't worry about it," said the player. "No, I do worry about it," replied the manager, forced by financial necessity to deliver the same, potentially life-changing, news to six other players.

Murphy is 32, a dangerous age for an unemployed footballer. He is getting married next month and has a young son to support. He has a veteran's resilience and rationalises his situation by insisting "things move on, nobody died". He must hope interest from Kilmarnock hardens.

Local heroes have a finite shelf life. They tend to be discarded casually, if not forgotten quickly.

Rather them than the multi- millionaires who have invaded our consciousness in the dog days of another overhyped season.

Dettori returns: legend or liability?

The formalities of Frankie Dettori's return to racing have yet to be completed, and the questions linger. Will he be treated as a legend or regarded as a liability? Probably both, such is the curious nature of his sport.

Racing relies on the distraction of his cheeky-chappie persona, even if suspicions persist that it is shallow and self-serving. He is the only Flat jockey to generate mainstream popularity, regardless of the implications of his positive test for cocaine.

Kieren Fallon, his most viable contemporary, is also tainted by a history of drug use. More recent Flat champions such as Ryan Moore and Richard Hughes are indistinguishable from the rest of the wizened, small men who are at the sharp end of the bloodstock industry.

Dettori chose the standard return route of a confessional TV interview, in which his body language was as unconvincing as his suggestion that his rejection by the omnipresent Sheik Mohammed led to "depression".

He has been tested 16 times in the past two months, but his comeback has been delayed by the French authorities. Their British counterparts, revealingly quick to crush a crass attempt to name Dettori's proposed comeback race in his honour, will need to remain vigilant.

Future drama

It is puzzlingly fashionable to be scornful about the failure of Sir Bradley Wiggins to survive the Giro d'Italia because of illness. The Modfather will be back, fit and firing, for his defence of the Tour de France. His rivalry with teammate Chris Froome will be one of the psychodramas of the summer.