Ryan Giggs’ recent decision to retire from playing Premier League football will have struck a chord with many men of a similar age the length and breadth of the UK. Giggs won 13 Premier League titles for Manchester United, and 34 trophies in total, over a 23-year professional career, which yielded more than 1,000 appearances for his club and his country, Wales.
He turned 40 late in 2013. An evergreen, inspirational professional, his decision to hang up his boots to concentrate on developing his coaching career with Man U - as assistant manager to new head coach, Louis van Gaal – marks the end of an era. It may also lead to footballers of a certain generation asking themselves the same question: just when should you stop playing football?
The answer surely must be simply this: whenever you cease to enjoy playing the game. In this regard, Giggs can’t lose. He might not have to put his body through another gruelling pre-season but he’ll spend every working day for the foreseeable future getting his football fix, and it’s highly likely he’ll be taking part in five-a-side sessions at United, where his undiminished skills will compare with any of the existing playing squad. He won’t be able to resist.
The love and lure of football is too strong for many to ever completely give up. The intensity level may reduce, and the standard of competition may decline, but there is nothing to say that it’s serious Saturday afternoon league stuff, or bust. Midweek, and weekend, five and six-a-side leagues are plentiful and hugely popular with players of all ages and, to a certain extent, all abilities. With shorter match times, smaller playing areas, and multiple substitutions, footballers who are short of peak fitness can still enjoy a game and make a contribution.
If you can’t find a team to join, there’s always the option of forming your own – which is usually a lot more fun, in any case. Groups of friends and work colleagues do this all over the country. All that is required is to approach a local club, enquire about joining one of the leagues, and register your team. Once accepted, you’ll need to find a playing kit – if it’s a company team, it shouldn’t need too much persuasion to cajole a sponsorship deal from the boss (even better, unless the boss has two left feet, get him in the team), and away you go.
The team will probably need a few footballs, for match warm-ups and to play with during the game, and it might be a good idea to instigate training sessions, particularly if some of the squad are rusty. Newitts has a full range of football training aids, including pop-up goals (perfect for putting in the boot of the car and transporting to the training pitch), bibs and training slalom poles – if you want to really knuckle down and get players zig-zagging in and out of obstacles to work on their agility and movement. Hey, who said it was only a game?
So, although you may feel, like Giggs, that you’ve passed your prime as a footballer, there is hope still. If yours is a lifelong love of the game, there’s no reason to put those boots to one side just yet. You can rediscover your inner football star!