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A sporting life

The news of Tiger Wood’s serious car accident in California yesterday has been dominating the world’s news media outlets since it happened and will have saddened many – and not just golfing and sports fans.

At this stage – before the investigations are completed and the facts established beyond a reasonable doubt – I don’t wish to speculate here about the exact circumstances and cause of the crash. In the context of my thoughts this morning they don’t really matter anyway.

Woods is a sporting icon who – some might argue – has proved to have feet of clay. At one stage he dominated his chosen sport like few others have dominated theirs.

He was (and is?) a global sporting star but over the past ten years – and inevitably in his athletic decline – he has experienced a spectacular fall from grace, not least in his private life in which he had to deal with some serious personal demons.

The subject of my post today is that which attends but a tiny proportion of the human race – those supremely-talented individuals (mainly sports stars but also artistic performers such as ballet dancers and – perhaps stretching my category slightly – those in the entertainment industry, supremely-talent or not, whose stellar success was/is dependent primarily upon their youth) who, after bestriding the world, perhaps receiving uncountable riches and adoration like gods for an-all-too-brief period, then inevitably later have to come to terms with returning to the same “terra firma” upon which we ordinary mortals spend our whole lives for the remainder of theirs.

Rusters of a sporting bent will be able to think of examples of world-famous sporting heroes who simply retire and disappear from public view to enjoy their retirements with their families and friends; of those who continue their association with their sport/game by going into governing administration, or coaching, or team management, or perhaps by acting as a personal manager/agent to the sporting giants that come after them; and of those who “draw a line in the sand”, take a deep breath and reinvent themselves by going into business, or media punditry, or politics, or a walk of life a million miles away from that which afforded them their former sporting glory.

Today I’m thinking of all the former sporting stars who today make a living by being television pundits on “their” sports, of those like Mick Channon – former multi-club and England footballer – who later became a leading racehorse trainer.

Or Gary Lineker who morphed into first a football pundit, then a football presenter, and finally (arguably) now a more than competent all-round television presenter who at one time manage to persuade the BBC to pay him the best part of £2 million per annum for his services.

I’m also thinking of the likes of Bjorn Borg (tennis) and Barry John (rugby union) who “retired” – some might contend far earlier than they needed to – when apparently still at the height of their powers.

And of those like footballer Jimmy Greaves, whom I never met but once appeared at the subject of an edition of ITV’s This Is Your Life long after his golden years.

A producer who worked on the programme later told me the answer to the question I would have wished to ask him (“Why risk destroying your legendary reputation by playing on years after your best?”) – at the time, after a spell with Chelmsford, Greaves was then playing for Barnet. Said producer, a big football fan and a talented player himself, had asked him exactly that.

Greaves’ reply was straightforward: “Playing football is what I do. I cannot play anymore for a First Division club, so I’m playing where I can. And if one day I cannot make the Barnet first team, I’ll play for the Barnet second team …”

It was difficult to take issue with his logic when – in my own case, at the peak of my sporting powers – I’d have been hard-pushed to get picked for the Barnet fifth team (if they had one) never mind their second!

All I’m contemplating this morning is the fact that when you were born gifted enough, and worked hard enough – and had the mental determination – to maximise your talents and become a sporting god … quite often it’s hard to later “come back down to Earth”.

Here’s wishing Tiger a swift recovery from his injuries.

About Tom Hollingworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a former deputy sports editor of the Daily Express. For many years he worked in a sports agency, representing mainly football players and motor racing drivers. Tom holds a private pilot’s licence and flying is his principal recreation. More Posts