That retirement comes at such a young age is one of the curious contradictions of football. No sooner has a professional player reached his prime than he is sliding down the other side of his career arc. The overwhelming majority vanish quietly into the distance to retrain as sports scientists, run pubs, or do any one of a myriad of other jobs out of necessity after the end of their playing careers. Thirtysomething men are suddenly cast as rookies again as they start their managerial careers in earnest. Relatively young men, thanks to the over-exposure of the media, seem older than they are.
All of which brings us, albeit in a slightly roundabout way, to the terrible diagnosis that has befallen John Hartson. Hartson had what could be described as a typical top flight career. He started at Luton Town, before a big money move to Arsenal that never quite worked out. West Ham United, Wimbledon and Coventry City all followed, but it was a move to Celtic that finally allowed him to find himself as a player and eighty-nine goals in less than one hundred and fifty matches followed over a five year period. A brief return to England followed, with his playing career closing after short spells at West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City before retiring as a player last summer at the age of thirty-three. In addition to this, he made over fifty appearances for Wales.
The green shoots of a career in the media has been starting to blossom for him. He was a regular guest on Setanta Sports last season and has also been on seen on “Sgorio”, the Welsh language football programme on S4C, as well as occasionally on the BBC. Hartson’s diagnosis with testicular cancer which has spread to the brain sounds horrifying, but the survival rates for both forms of the disease are high if caught early enough. In the case of the cyclist Lance Armstrong, testicular cancer had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain, yet he survived. Hartson is a young, fit man. He faces many months of difficult, uncomfortable treatment, but the sensationalist headlines in the press mask the fact that, until we know better, his condition is treatable.
As much as we can say from here is to wish him all the best, and it is worth pausing a moment from the artificially created world of football “news” to consider that sometimes the real world butts in and reminds us of what is truly important. This can be a cruel world at times, but the only thing that Hartson can do with his diagnosis – as we would all have to do in his position – is face it down and see it off. It should go without saying that the words of support for John Hartson – always a player to divide opinion both on and off the pitch during his playing career – should be unanimous, as they have been so far. There is still plenty of time for him to see through his ultimate aim of a career in management.