On Sunday, Teddy Sheringham, aged 40 years and 210 days, scored the goals that might just keep Alan Pardew in his job. There’s no question in my mind that any decision to release Pardew on the basis of West Ham’s recent form would have been foolish in the extreme (and West Ham are by no means out of the mire yet), but the fact that Sheringham is still firing in crucial goals in the Premiership deserves some scrutiny.
There is a small part of me which thinks that we shouldn’t be surprised by this. Players are fitter than ever and, no matter what Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger would have you believe, they play less too. Their diets are better than ever, and their entire training regimes are scrutinised and pored over by coaches that are desperate to wring every last drop of efficiency out of their prized assets. Why shouldn’t the modern player last five or six years more than players used to? Well, with the increase in fitness has come an increase in the speed of the pace of the game. They play at one hundred miles per hour, these days. Also, the general standard of the league has improved. Cloggers like Vinny Jones wouldn’t last a second in the Premiership nowadays. It’s entirely plausible to argue that Stanley Matthews, who kept playing until shortly after his 50th birthday because he kept himself massively fit in an era when most players pre-match warm-up was half a carton of woodbines and a steak & kidney pudding.
There is certainly something of the modern icon about Sheringham when he should, having started his professional career in 1982, be something of a relic. He is the only Premiership player who would clearly be able to remember the pre-Hillsborough era, and he spent this period of his career at Millwall, playing week-in-week-out at The Den – precisely the type of place that the post-Hillsborough Taylor Report swept away. His career has been wrapped up in the biggest period of change in the game since it’s formative years. His period at Nottingham Forest coincided with him scoring Forest’s first Premiership goal against Liverpool, but he was sold to Spurs a week later. Along with Brian Clough’s slow descent into madness, his sale may be regarded as the defining factor behind Forest’s relegation at the end of that season – something that, as their current league position will attest, they never really fully recovered from. At Spurs, he was unfortunate to arrive during one of the more turbulent period in their history though, in his second season there, he struck up a prolific relationship with Jurgen Klinsmann,
By 1997, Sheringham was 31, but had never won a major trophy. He was a regular in the England team, and had arguably played the best football of his career for England at Euro 96. Manchester United came knocking, and the temptation of actually winning something for once was too great. His first season at Old Trafford was curtailed through injury, but he completed his second by scoring in the FA Cup final and the European Cup final, as well as winning a Premiership championship medal. He returned to White Hart Lane in 2001, before going to Portsmouth and finally to West Ham. It hasn’t all been wine and roses for him, though. Prior to the 1998 World Cup, he was photographed boozed out of his face and with a cigarette in his mouth, and he was also, for a period, a favourite in the front pages of the tabloids as well as the back.
There aren’t, as you may have gathered from the previous posts on here, a lot of people involved at the top table of the modern game that I have got a lot of time for. Sheringham, however, is an exception to this. The fact that he is still playing at nearly forty-one years old is testament to an extraordinary determination to succeed, and his enduring popularity at each of the clubs that he has graced demonstrates that you really don’t have to be thoroughly obnoxious to have a successful football career.
Edit: As you can see from the first message in the comments section for this post, I appear to have used bad (or at least out of date) sources whilst researching this. You can see the full page that I was referring to here.