With 351 players already registered, and 15 teams champing at the bit, the new Maccabi Masters League season is ready to kick off.
For some, pre-season training has been a relentless schedule of jogging, sprints, triathlons, shuttles, sit-ups and stretches, followed by one-touch, two-touch and three-touch games, heading practice, shooting and penalty-taking. They have been working through the summer with nutritionists, coaches, hypnotherapists, aromatherapists, psychologists and marriage guidance counsellors. They are at the peak of their physical being, and totally focussed on making this season their best ever, despite their receding youth and hairline.
For the remaining 348, the story is a little different.
Since they stopped playing in May, they have added another inch of ‘muscle’ around their waistline, and have only run once, and that was to get to Gate 54 at Stansted for their Ryanair flight to Malaga, previously advised as departing from Gate 22.
They have, to be fair, watched the World Cup, thus improving their overall knowledge of the beautiful game, and probably expended several thousand calories screaming at Wayne Rooney, and making wild hand gestures at most of the England players.
Luckily, in Masters football, particularly in Division 2 (the over 42s), it does not require anything more than a brisk stroll to outpace most full-backs, so anyone who can actually manage to run will probably be made captain, at least until he gets injured.
But there is another side to the story.
Grown men, even middle-aged bonding as one. The immeasurable spirit of the Team. Every week, reliving a lifetime of footballing memories; every week, reinforcing the indomitable and life-affirming camaraderie. Laughing and joking together like teenagers.
Masters football is a thing of grotesque beauty and wonder. And despite the gentle teasing of wives and children, eager to ask again and again: “…aren’t you a bit old to be playing football?”, we all know how much older we would suddenly become if we did hang up our boots.
Masters football is a privilege, and none of us should ever doubt that fact. So long as we can do up our own laces, so long as we can still remember how to reach the ground, and recall most of the rules – even if we don’t always follow them to the letter – we’re going to carry on being kids at heart, even if only for two or three hours a week.
Playing Masters football should be a standard NHS prescription. It is by far the most effective way to delay the inevitable onset of old age. And provides marvellous entertainment for those who turn up to watch from the sidelines.
This season, we have two new teams in the League – a second team for South Mancunians, and the newly-formed Hendon Harriers (pictured). But there are places in several teams in both the over-35s section (Division 1) and the over-42s (Division 2).
We play on superb pitches, including the magnificent Barnet FC training ground at The Hive and enjoy able and committed referees.
Masters football has always been more about the enjoyment than the winning, but once the whistle goes, a natural competitive spirit coarses through our veins, and heightening the pleasure.
If you’d like to join the growing ranks of Maccabi Masters, call the league Chairman, Stuart Lustigman on 020 8958 8767 or email: StuartLustigman@aol.com