It was on a trip to the Great Wall while on tour in China with West Bromwich Albion in 1978 that John Trewick made the quip that is still held up as evidence that your average professional footballer happens to be blessed with a less-than-average intellect. A native of Whitley Bay, next door to the eastern end of the Emperor Hadrian's great Roman Wall, the midfielder was actually indulging in irony when he remarked to a TV documentary crew: "Once you've seen one wall, you've seen them all."
"I said that the other day to the wife about her boobies," Dean Macey volunteered, when the anecdote was mentioned. "It didn't go down too well." Still, if Mrs Macey gets to follow her other half in Trewick's footsteps in the next eight weeks – from Hadrian's Wall to the Great Wall – she might just have it in her heart to forgive her husband for the characteristic steamroller subtlety of his frankness.
All of those with British athletics at heart will be hoping they both make the trip – that the Dean Machine succeeds in his mission of Beijing or, ahem, bust – because nothing could lift the mood among the Team GB runners, jumpers and throwers quite like the radiant presence of the 6ft 5in ball of human sunshine from Canvey Island.
We are, after all, talking about a man who was so excited when he got to the pre-Olympic "holding camp" in Cyprus four years ago that he couldn't sleep, got out of bed, stumbled upon a trampoline in the physio's room and spent the night jumping up and down like an overgrown Tigger.
Back then, in 2004, Macey had to go to Hadrian's Wall country to qualify for the decathlon in Athens, patching up his wounded body to win the Hexham International event with 7,842 points. He proceeded to finish fourth in the Olympics (as he had done in the 2000 Games in Sydney), then won Commonwealth gold in Melbourne in 2006, the only event he has been able to contest thus far in another injury-plagued four-year Olympic cycle.
The weekend after next, though (on 12 and 13 July), Macey will be back in action in Hexham, this time needing 8,000 points to make the Olympic selection cut. "It's shit or bust for me," he said. "It's the one and only chance I've got to qualify but I'd put money on me scoring 8,000 points there, and 8,000 is what I need. I'm going to chuck everything at it on the first day and on the second day not go through the motions but just do enough to make sure I get 8,000 without having to run my nuts off in the 1500m [the last of the 10 events]. That's the plan.
"But it's Beijing or nothing for me. If I don't go to the Olympics I'm not going to carry on. Until I slipped a disc in December I was preparing myself to go to Beijing to win an Olympic gold medal. Now the aim is just to get to Beijing. I was out for two and a half months and if you're going to win the gold you can't give your competitors two and a half months of training while you're sitting around on your arse. I still have enough talent to go to Beijing and do my country proud, and to do myself and my family proud. But this might be my last year. Over the last five or six years, even with everything I've gone through, I've always felt I was good enough to get gold. Now I don't think I'm good enough to get gold and I'm not prepared to go through all of the blood and guts and agony for nothing."
It has been one of the great pities of Great British athletics that the man with the potential to be the greatest all-round athlete of all time has been continually hamstrung by injury. Even when Macey won his World Championship medals – silver in Seville in 1999 and bronze in Edmonton in 2001 – he was swaddled with almost as many bandages as Tutankhamun. "I haven't had many problems in the last two years," the 30-year-old reflected, "just a busted elbow and a slipped disc. But the fact of the matter is they've left me in the situation I'm in now.
"I don't compete that often in England and I'm looking forward to going back to Hexham. There might not be many people up there but I know from last time that they're all knowledgeable. I like the Hexham event. It's got atmosphere and attitude."
Just like Macey himself. "I've been getting a little grumpy around the house," he said. "Apparently – according to the wife – I get like that before every competition: all single-minded and a bit of a pain in the arse. So it's probably a good sign."
The Maceys travel up to Northumberland a week on Friday, the day before the Hexham competition starts – with time for a little sightseeing, perhaps. "I didn't see the Wall the last time," the Dean Machine said. "I went up to do a job, to get the qualifying score. I wasn't bothered about anything else. To be honest, I won't be unhappy if I don't see Hadrian's Wall again this time if I end up seeing the Great Wall of China."Reuse content