My back went again on Sunday during five-a-side football. Ten minutes in. It’s a muscle strain which goes a couple of times a year and when it does I know immediately. I went straight off and pressed myself against a wall to wait for the medical miracle that would allow me to play the second half.
At half-time I talked about giving it a few minutes, see how it goes.
“Don’t bother mate,” said Dave, who recently spent eight weeks out with a calf injury. “You’ll wreck it.”
Ian, who was playing his first game for a month after ankle problems, rummaged around in his bag and offered me a choice of Ibruprofen tablets, Ibruprofen gel or Deep Heat. “It’s ok,” I said. “I’ve got all that at home. And diazepam.”
“Yeah, good stuff diazepam,” said Paddy, who is ten years older than most of us and has suffered his own chronic lower back problems for at least the last five. “Couple of those and a few beers, you’ll have a lovely afternoon. Watch the cricket. Just don’t for f**ks sake try to play on.”
They were right, of course. If you’ve played football with any group for any length of time you’ll know that nobody ever really changes their playing style, they just get gradually slower and craftier. Ian is a combative, elbowy dribbler, Dave is a selfish goalhanger and Paddy is a beautiful, calm playmaker. I watched through the glass as they started the second half without me. Even though I only played ten minutes it was enough to drench my kit in sweat and it would all have to be washed as after a proper game. I will be essentially crippled for a couple of days. It doesn’t matter, there are far worse kinds of pain.