The perils of turning 30
This week I have reached the career threshold that all footballers dread. I have turned 30.
There is no getting away from it, it is quite a milestone and from a personal point of view it has given me a chance to reflect on my career.
On more than one occasion, I was more than a little sceptical as to whether I would still be involved in the game when I got to 30. So from that perspective I am pleased to say that I have achieved this.
Where did the time go (see I already sound like an old man!)?
I remember thinking when I was a 16-year-old YTS at Coventry City that if I played football more or less everyday until I was 30, I would be brilliant! Unfortunately, for various reasons it has not quite panned out like that but it has been a heck of a journey and I am sure there are still a few twists and turns ahead.
The big question I have been asking myself is, where do I go from here?
In the not too distant past, reaching the age of 30 was basically considered to be the beginning of the end of a footballer's career. However times and also attitudes have changed. Players today can comfortably carry on into their mid-30's.
There are numerous reasons for this. One is that players are now better educated in looking after their bodies, both in terms of the food they eat on a day-to-day basis and also the physical fitness programmes that we follow.
From my own perspective I am not that concerned about losing my pace because as I have mentioned before, it is not an attribute I have in abundance!. In fact if I got any slower , I would be going in reverse!
Another reason is that there have been significant advances in the medical side of the game. For example, in years gone by, a cruciate ligament injury meant almost certain retirement for a player. Now you can be fully rehabilitated and back playing in little more than six months.
It is not just the actual treatment for injuries that has improved but also the injury prevention methods now employed at clubs. For example, after I recovered from my hamstring injuries, it was not just a case of going back training and hoping that the injury would not come back.
I was given a set programme to follow that includes various different exercises, some that increase the strength in the hamstring and some that increase the flexibility of the muscle. It is not a 100% guarantee but at least you are being pro-active in the prevention of future injuries.
Many precedents have been set by players playing well into their 30's, with many actually making these twilight years their most successful. I have had the pleasure to play with some of them over the years, the likes of Steve Ogrizovic, Roland Nilsson, Gary McAllister, Kevin Richardson, David Burrows, Brian Borrows and closer to home my old man.
At the time I respected these players but now I think of them more as an inspiration. Please let me know of any players that you know of, who enjoyed the best years of their careers after they reached 30. From my point of view the more you can think of, the better!.
All of these players influenced me in a positive manner but I would have to single out Roland Nilsson as the one who influenced me the most. Roland was simply the ultimate professional and one of the most under-rated players I have ever come across.
When I say under-rated, I mean in the public domain because he was certainly not under-rated by his team-mates, so much so his nickname around the club was quite simply 'legend'.
I now look back on those days and wonder what kept Roland going? What kept him being the fittest guy in the squad even when he was the oldest, what kept him going to the gym after training when the rest of us were on the way home?
My opinion is that it was his professional pride, the desire to not let his performance levels dip and ultimately putting in the hours to make sure this did not happen - something which I am going to have to take on board in order to extend my own playing career.
Staying on the subject of fitness, people often ask me how do the fitness facilities in the lower leagues compare to that of the Premier League? The answer is that there is a big difference, simply because of the cost involved in acquiring the latest equipment .
At Notts County we might just have found a solution to this problem. We have recently been introduced to a product called "TRX" . The fitness coach described it to me as a complete body workout that you hang from the door. Us footballers are a sceptical bunch, so straight away, I was thinking "here we go another gimmick" but I have to say, I have been proved wrong.
The story behind the product is that it was designed by someone in the SAS (instantly got me listening!) who realised that soldiers who were posted at locations around the world where there was no fitness equipment rapidly became unfit. So he created this bit of kit that they could hang on tanks or trees so the soldiers could get a good workout .
Obviously there are no tanks at Meadow Lane but suffice to say this piece of equipment is now an integral part of the fitness regime at our club because of the quality of work we can get done with something that can fit within the tight financial constraints of a League Two club .