It’s December 2007, and I’m watching Queens Park Rangers play Colchester United at Loftus Road. More specifically, I’m watching Teddy Sheringham – who has a Champions League title, three Premier League titles and 51 England caps to his name – feature in what’s comfortably past his 700th match.
He’s 41 years old and slower than all around him, perhaps including the referee, but I can still see the sparkle of his touch and his mind. What a pleasure, what a privilege.
I like it when a sportsperson stays in their game for as long as they can, for the love of the sport and because they’re a long time retired. Why quit before you have to?
There is the whole “I would rather people ask why I retired, rather than why I don’t” thing, but I’ve always felt more affection for those who stick in the game for as long as they can. Hang up your helmet after one Formula 1 title if you like, but give me Teddy or Barrie ‘Whizzo’ Williams, who was still racing cars until just a year before his death at 79, any day.
It shows they love doing it as much as we love watching it. Even as an occasional plodder around a kart or race track behind people much better than me, and sometimes only managing to enjoy it several days after the event, I can’t imagine ever turning down a race opportunity.
But I think, as of recently, I get it. I was on an event a while ago (they all seem a while ago now) with a former F1 and GT driver who’s now a brand ambassador for a car maker. I won’t name him because he had had a glass of wine and might not want to be quoted in case he changes his mind.
Would he ever do more endurance racing, I wondered? “The trouble is,” he didn’t really allow himself to be anonymously paraphrased, “I’ve raced against the best drivers in the world. Now I could be up against amateurs, which can be really frustrating. You don’t know what they’re going to do.”
Okay. If you’ve challenged at the sharp end of an F1 grid, I can see how it could be difficult, irritating, maybe even dangerous to race a middle-aged bloke whose ability to push money around all week is what allows him to push a GT3 car around at weekends.
So I think I stand corrected. While I still have the utmost respect for those who keep playing for as long as they possibly can, fair dos to those who feel they’ve done their time.