Monday, September 03, 2007

Fields where glory does not stay

Radio silence this week because (a) I've been ridiculously busy and (b) it's hard to be flippant about things like young men dying.

Three players -- Antonio Puerta of Seville, Chaswe Nsofwa of Hapoel Beerhseeba in Israel, and Walsall youth team player Anton Reid -- have died of heart failure in the past week or so, and a fourth, Leicester City's Clive Clark, also collapsed during a game but is now recovering.

I didn't know any of these players; I'd never even heard their names before. And yet I can't help being saddened by their deaths. They were young; you can't help wondering if any or all of their deaths could have been prevented; and they died playing a game that they -- and I -- love. Although I don't know if that last part makes it better or worse.

As a fan, I know that there's a sense of transience inherent in the game -- players get older, teams break up -- but it's not usually brought home in such a brutal fashion.

The other piece of sad news for me this week was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer announcing his retirement, after 11 years with Manchester United. He scored 126 goals for the team in that time, most notably that stoppage-time goal in Barcelona to win the Champions League. And yet he was never what you'd call a superstar. Instead he's something that seems to be even more rare in football these days: a thoroughly decent man.

I didn't really start following United and the Premiership until just a few years ago, by which time Ole was already starting to be plagued by the injuries that would eventually bring and end to his career. Still, he's been a fixture at the club, and his retirement is just the first of what I imagine will be a series over the next few years.

I don't like to think about it, actually. For one thing, I hate change. For another, it makes me worry about the day when my own knees give out and I can't play anymore either. I guess I'll have to have kids so that I can stand on the sidelines of their games and shout things.

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