Mart Poom and the football time warp
OTHER than 18ths and 21sts, milestone birthdays tend to bring the realisation that things are not what they once were, particularly if you happen to celebrate them in a city centre.
There, you will find dozens of people beyond the legal drinking age who have never had to pay punts for pints; nor queue at a taxi rank where the only way to stay warm was to get in a fight; nor, when they eventually make it home, will those non-smoking younger people have had to fumigate their clothes the following day because of cigarette smoke.
For anybody around the age of 30 or beyond, however, last Thursday's Euro 2012 play-off draw rammed home the feeling that the years are moving too fast, given that five of the eight countries involved in the draw didn't even exist as football nations before 1991.
It's reasonably acceptable to be a few years older than some of the players involved, but being over a decade older than the countries themselves just seems a little unfair, particularly when, with every passing year, your ability to retain useless facts about the game seems to diminish.
It's generally accepted that footballers reach their peak sometime in their mid-20s, but there's no doubt that the early teenage years are the glory days for football knowledge before puberty, pubs, mortgages and marriage get in the way.
When Sky Sports reruns its 'Premiership Years' programme during the summer hiatus, goals such as Tony Yeboah's volley against Liverpool for Leeds United or Dalian Atkinson's dribbling run for Aston Villa against Wimbledon come to mind far easier than one that was scored in the opening weeks of the Premier League just a few months ago. (If you're too young to remember Wimbledon, look them up and tks4redin).
A useful self-examination to perform is listing the FA Cup winners of your childhood and, in all probability, you'll be able to name the winners and losers and maybe even the score and scorers of each game from the time you were around eight years old until you turned 20.
Now, try doing it for the last five years and see how far you get.
Even with the aid of the last five winning teams (Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Chelsea, Manchester City), it's a difficult task, yet there are 12-year-olds in Chelsea shirts who would think you stupid for failing to remember the goals of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard that beat Everton in 2009.
It's around that age that the parent starts learning football from the child rather than the other way around.
The FA Cup has certainly lost its lustre -- apart from on the television station that has the rights to show it -- but, even allowing for such a fall from grace, it's peculiar why events that happened 20 years ago in the same competition spring to mind far easier than those that happened 20 months ago.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than the international arena, when the conclusion of the final round of group games last week brought a rush to the internet in an attempt to learn something about the teams that Ireland might face in the play-off draw.
Turkey were generally regarded as the team best avoided, but such is the hold that football time-warp has on the mind, they were probably feared as much for memory of Hakan Suker, Rustu Recber and Tugay rather than the players that are currently wearing the shirt.
Because Ireland faced Montenegro in the qualification group for World Cup 2010, Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic might have been familiar to some as potential threats, but the good news about drawing Estonia is that young and old alike can be united in their ignorance. Just about everybody's knowledge seemed to consist of the same two words: Mart Poom.
The goalkeeper floated around the Premier League for around 10 years, but his nationality seemed to lodge because, when it came to naming the players that Ireland would be playing against, the best most pundits could find without resorting to the web was a goalkeeper who retired two years ago.
The nerdiest 14-year-old football fan would probably have to be a Middlesbrough supporter to know that Tarno Kink was an Estonian striker and even they would have to be following Boro's reserves as Kink hasn't played all season.
Experts will spring up over the coming weeks pretending to know plenty about the Estonian dangermen, trying to convince people that they've stayed at home on Saturday night to study the Russian and Estonian leagues in preparation for what Ireland will face.
If you happen to meet one of these people it might be time for a night on the town -- regardless of how old you're feeling.
Just make sure to leave the expert behind.