1993. The year the youngest of United’s squad breathed their first. Paul Pogba, Sam Johnstone and Ravel Morrison are all younger than Dumb and Dumber (the film, not the Arsenal centre-half pairing). If that doesn’t make you feel old, stop reading this and go tidy your room – I’m not telling you again.
I myself am not long out of my twenties (well, not that long) and it certainly makes me feel old. In 1993 I was a teenage lad scribbling furiously in my bedroom (steady…), learning dead languages in deader settings, and selling my dinner tickets so I could afford 90 Minutes magazine. The only sky sport I knew of was the javelin, and the internet was kept by Walter Zenga.
It may seem like a long time ago, but it certainly not long enough for a baby to be born, bred and brought on during a midweek Carling Cup tie. I’m old enough to father some of these lads – admittedly the kind of manboy dad who’d appear on Jeremy Kyle – but still…
Such is the relatively year-round presence of football in our lives that each season seems to bleed into the next. We somehow manage to endure the tedium between enthralling transfer windows by watching some games, but in the grander scheme of things it really is amazing how quickly the months, seasons and years pass.
Most of today’s youth won’t recall the Ryan Giggs of yore, making fools of fullbacks twice his age. To them he’s the salt ‘n’ pepper saucy pepperer, fooling around with girls half his years. The Welsh Hugh Hefner, pursuing huge-chested heffers with stories to sell.
But that’s cool. Or safe. Or whatever. Because that’s part of the reason why football is so bloody good. It’s kinda brilliant that you can rub shoulders twice weekly with young ‘uns and old boys you’ve absolutely nothing in common with other than the game you watch and the colours you wear.
Where else would Harry Redknapp, a twitchy old man who curb-crawls the streets of Chigwell in search of football reporters, be allowed to groom athletic young men without it raising some very serious questions? Look at him – one can only assume poisonous halitosis seeps from his crumply old face and thumps you in the nose with every utterance. But you can bet that the Spurs stars of tomorrow hang on his every stale breath.
The grand old Knight of Govan himself has repeatedly stated his greatest satisfaction in the game comes from working with youngsters and watching them develop into men. One could argue that the likes of the Da Silvas, Smalling, Hernandez and Welbeck have as much to do with Fergie resisting retirement than his undying thirst for trophies. Such are the exciting prospects and talent of these young boys, he’d be loathed to allow his successor to preside over their fruition and bloom.
Why resign yourself to a life of SAGA cruises and golfing with granddads, when you can bound into work wearing a Welsh beanie and ridiculously age-inappropriate Nike garb, surrounded by the enthusiasm and competitive zest of ambitious young footballers?
In a way, it’s the same for us mere turnstile turners. As sad as it is to see friendly old faces slowly exit left from our stands and pubs with time, it’s exhilarating to see youngsters and new faces join the fray and chorus. Football supporters by their nature don’t want to grow up. Anyone who devotes the vast majority of their spare time to a sport is a bit of big child. That innate immaturity seeks out youth and it feeds off it.
It doesn’t work in other realms. An old fella going to see The Like looks like a perv. A forty year old wearing skater gear looks like a tit. A forty year old football fan sporting a polyester replica however…also looks a tit – but that’s not the point. The point is football, like Teddy swinging a toe at a stray ball, makes for a great equaliser.
A Spike Island alum can argue the toss with a fresh faced student from Jakarta re Nani on the left, and you’re equals. A cast of thousands can sing in unison regardless of age or follicle fullness and it’s a beautiful thing. It may all sound extremely trite and Nu Football. But it’s true, and it was ever thus.
Football is the one thread of our youth it’s socially acceptable to hold on to, and sharing it with young folk keeps it fresh and relevant. Without them it would be like going to see Status Quo every week for the rest of your life. All strained denim and nose hair. With them, football culture is a living, vibrant, visceral joy.
‘Twas desperately sad to witness the likes of Edwin, Neville and Scholesy wave goodbye last season, but they are now part of our glorious past. The regeneration is already underway. We’ve got the likes of Pogba and Morrison to look forward to – and the kids are alright.