Will Grant want a changing of the old guard?

DAVID CUFFLEY One always hesitates to use the word "veteran" to describe a particular sportsman for fear of causing offence.


One always hesitates to use the word "veteran" to describe a particular sportsman for fear of causing offence.

What constitutes an old campaigner in one sport may well be a comparative spring chicken in another.

When he finally hung up his cue in 1992, former world snooker champion Fred Davis was 78 - the oldest professional sportsman in the world at the time.

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These days, another ex-world champion, Steve Davis - no relation - is regarded as a golden oldie of the green baize, but he won't be 50 until next year, and he's still ranked number 11 in the world.

It's fair to say that walking round a snooker table for hours, stooping occasionally to pot the yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black, carries more risk of mental exhaustion than serious physical damage, though one imagines it has its share of aches and pains and your feet must be killing you after a late-night session at the Crucible.

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Golf, too, has its share of old stagers. Arnold Palmer, 77, retired from tournament golf only two months ago, though he won the last of his seven "majors" 42 years ago.

Much was made of the fact that Australia had six players over the age of 35 in the squad for the first Test against England in Brisbane, but it seems to have done them little harm over the past few weeks. And if they need any extra guile in the spin bowling department before the end of the Ashes series, they can always throw in 35-year-old Stuart MacGill to assist 37-year-old Shane Warne.

What, though, qualifies as a veteran in the world of modern professional football?

West Ham's Teddy Sheringham is earning plaudits for still appearing in the Premiership at the age of 40, while Gary Speed is still going strong in the top flight at Bolton at 37, having just become the first man to play 500 Premiership games.

Dion Dublin, 37, voted the Canaries' player of the month for November for his performances at centre-half, is further proof that age is no barrier if you're one step ahead in your thought processes.

But not everyone wants to go on forever. City's Darren Huckerby appears to have a different view of what constitutes the autumn of a player's career, and clearly has no intention of attempting to carry on beyond his mid-30s, perhaps not even that long.

Before the start of the season, Huckerby, just 30, was hinting that he would hang up his boots sooner rather than later.

And he rather confirmed that impression last weekend - just before he signed just a one-year extension to his Carrow Road contract.

Insisting that he would be taking things one season at a time from now on, he argued: "I've been at a lot of places where people have signed ridiculously long contracts when they haven't got it in their legs any more, so I won't do that.

"I'll play year on year until I decide that I can't do what I do any more.

"My aim is to see every year out and see how it goes. I don't want to be sitting here three or four years down the line and just sitting on the club's money."

Admittedly, pace is such a key element of Huckerby's game that when it comes to assessing his likely shelf life, he is not necessarily a typical example. And one would imagine that, as one of the club's better-paid players, he can probably afford to take a more philosophical view of the future and take things a year at a time.

But one wonders whether his outlook is shared by others on the City payroll either beyond or approaching the big three-O.

When Youssef Safri celebrates his birthday in January, the Canaries will have seven first team squad players aged between 30 and 37, and two more knocking on the door at 29.

The average age of the 12 players who played some part against Sheffield Wednesday last Saturday was between 27 and 28.

Without sitting down with a copy of the club history and calculator for the next seven weeks, I cannot say whether that constitutes one of the oldest City line-ups of modern times. It's not a veteran line-up in the true sense of the word, but one would imagine the average might drop a little if and when manager Peter Grant gets out his chequebook in January, and further still when it comes to deciding who he wants to keep in the summer.

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