Most weeks there are news stories about the chronic health problems and deaths of sporting legends. This week we learnt that former England cricket captain Ted Dexter had died, and that former Middlesbrough, Leeds and England footballer Alan Peacock was diagnosed with dementia in 2018. Like Denis Law, who announced his dementia diagnosis earlier this month, he wanted to raise awareness of the issue.
I have supported Leeds United since childhood, and the roll call of former Leeds players who have died over the last 18 months includes many of the club’s all-time greats. Last year, in this piece, I wrote about the recent passing of Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter and Trevor Cherry, all former defenders and League title winners with the club. Jack Charlton also won the World Cup with England in 1966 and his death meant that more of that team were dead than alive. Fellow England defender Nobby Stiles died last October, so now there are only four surviving members of that World Cup winning team: George Cohen, Bobby Charlton, Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst.
Over the last six months three more former Leeds greats have died: Peter Lorimer and Frank Worthington within two days of each other back in March and Terry Cooper late last month. They complete an afterlife starting XI of Leeds players from my time watching football that is almost as good as any starting XI made up of living players. (Many of the club’s greatest strikers are still alive, thankfully, including my own sporting hero Allan Clarke.) The starting XI includes three players who are younger than me and all played for club in the 1990s: David Rocastle, Gary Speed and Philomen Masinga. The full team is listed at the end of this piece, but first a joke that my son’s godfather told me some years ago about football in the next life.
Two old men have been friends since childhood and are reaching the end of their lives. Football has been a lifelong passion for both of them, and they played in the same teams for decades. They both hope that there is football in the afterlife and they make a deal: whoever dies first will come back and tell the other about it.
One of the friends dies, and a few days later visits his mate.
“Good news?” he asks, “Is there football where you are now?”
“Good news and bad news,” his friend replies. “There is football, we’ve got a great team, and we’re all playing as well as we did when we were when we were young.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“Big cup game on Saturday week … and you’re in the starting XI.”
The Leeds Afterlife Starting XI
Goalkeeper: Gary Sprake (1945-2016)
Defenders: Terry Cooper (1944-2021), Jack, Charlton (1935-2020), Norman, Hunter (1943-2020), Trevor Cherry (1948-2020)
Midfielders: Gary Speed (1969-2011), Peter Lorimer (1946-2021), Billy Bremner (1942-1997), David Rocastle (1967-2001)
Attackers: Frank Worthington (1948-2021), Phil Masinga, (1969-2019)
Sub: Paul Madeley (1944-2018)
Manager: Don Revie (1927-1989)