The boy has wisdom beyond his years. “You learn more about yourself in the tough times than you do in the good times,” says James McClean. Less a boy now at 27-years-old, arms inked akimbo with tattoos on either side, he still maintains the boyish innocence with which he made his name at the Brandywell in Derry City as a thin but steely winger in Northern Ireland all those years ago – a country which has suffered more blood-stained tough times than most people would care to remember.
GONE ARE THE DAYS WHEN CHILDREN would take to the muddy patch of turf outside their homes for an unceasing summerfest of relenting, unending football.
Many days of many childhoods were littered with the laughter and crocodile tears, gashed knees and hurt egos of playing makeshift football, street football, out of what could be gathered.
Nothing lasts forever. If a footballer’s legacy to the game is to be summed up in their farewell game or testimonial, then they and the fans that try to imprint some lasting legacy on their beloved hero, will always fall short.
Power is a wonderful thing. It gives a man authority. It gives him a sense of one-upmanship over his compatriot. It instills brewing self-confidence. It sews fatal seeds of non-existent capability. When a person is intrusted with power it creates a figment in their mind that they are greater than they would have even their own minds believe to be. In medieval times, Kings were chosen on the basis that they were divinely selected by God, and hurried down a superstitious path of entitlement and privilege. It is a delusion, power. A game of mirrors, fog and shadow.
It was once thought that the full-back was the least important position in football. Caught between not being an out-and-out centre back and unsure over its attacking possibilities, the full-back was marginalised and labelled as insignificant.
“My dear boy, the people who only love once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect—simply a confession of failures.”
– Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray
The last year has seen the conclusion of countless footballer’s careers. As is the same with every year. Some, amateurs playing in lower divisions. Others may have made it as a mid-ranking professional. These men may retire in an aftermath of overwhelming regret – what could have been; what should have been won; what should have been if not for a lapse of determination or self-belief. But despite this, their retirement is their own. They took the decision to enter the world of football on their own accord and likewise, have decided to end it as they see fit.
On the 10th of August 2014 Liverpool football club beat Borussia Dortmund 4-0 in a seemingly irrelevant friendly at Anfield. On that particular Sunday the sun shone long and radiant along the Merseyside turf. A wonderful atmosphere of cordiality enveloped the crowd where both Liverpool and Dortmund fans alike shared in the pre-match traditional chorus of Gerry and the Pacemakers’s You’ll Never Walk Alone.