The world's oldest football player is 74 and has no plans to retire
Israeli Isaac Hayik just topped the previous Guinness World Record by 21 years. And he's living proof that age is nothing but a number.
In his 68 years playing football, Israeli goalkeeper Isaac Hayik hasn't suffered a major injury. Whether that's a product of luck, skill or a combination of both, he can't say.
But close calls? There were plenty of those. It's a rough sport, and he's taken a few blows. One, specifically, happened in November of last year, when his team, FC Ironi Or Yehuda, met a rival club for a crucial game on his home turf.
He watched the ball inch closer to the box. As he'd done many times before, he prepared for a save.
Instead, he felt a sharp blow to the head, and lost his footing.
As the referee hovered and Hayik got to his feet, he realized what had happened: the rival striker, a 20-year-old powerhouse, had attempted a header into the goal. The referee issued a red card, sending the striker off. The striker appealed to the ref. "I'm very sorry, sir," he pleaded, "but the goalie's hair is white, and the ball is white. I couldn't tell the difference."
Seeing his point, Hayik approached the ref and made his own plea. "Can you put him back in? It was an honest mistake."
It was a hard "no." Referees' calls are final. Hayik shrugged, gave the young striker a pat on the back, and played the rest of the game. All 90 minutes of it.
Now Hayik, a 74-year-old goalkeeper who's been playing since he was 6, is sitting in his living room in Or Yehuda, the place he grew up, raised his five children and fulfilled his passion for football. He loves telling stories like this, to whomever will listen. He regales them on a radio show every Friday night. His kids have heard them dozens of times.
And now, the world is hearing more of them, too. That's because Hayik just became the world's oldest active footballer, according to the Guinness World Records, beating out a 53-year-old in Uruguay by a pretty wide margin. The Guinness folks awarded him the certificate after watching him play a full 90 minutes against Maccabi Ramat Gan. (They lost, but Guinness didn't hold it against him.)
Calling it a "source of pride" for him and his country, Hayik said he has been invited to the home of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to celebrate the milestone. He'll be taking his two granddaughters along.
For Hayik, the record is more than a career achievement; it's proof that anyone can succeed in living out their passion, no matter how old they are.
And, as passions go, this is one Hayik just can't seem to let go. When his family emigrated from Iraq in the 1950s, they were placed in temporary housing. With little money or resources, Hayik did what many 6-year-olds do – he went looking for a ball, and some kids to play with.
When he couldn't find a ball, he made one, out of old socks.
When he didn't have a goal, he made one, out of discarded wood.
When no one else wanted to play goalie, he did – and realized he really, really liked it.
In fact, he's never played another position – sans the occasional penalty kick. He's never wanted to. In goalkeeping, he feeds off "the energy of the youth," he said. He can go toe-to-toe with players a third or even a quarter of his age – some of whom are the in-the-flesh grandchildren of the men he played with in his heyday – and not feel intimidated.
"The goalkeeper has the most responsibility on the pitch," Hayik explained to From The Grapevine in Hebrew, as translated by his son, Oded. "If the goalkeeper messes up, it affects everything in the game. It's all on him."
And that, Oded added, is essentially how Hayik lives his life: "He is the person who keeps everything together. You can see the best of him come out on the pitch, because it's exactly how he is [in life]."
Indeed, he is right at home playing goalie. But what about, you know, actually going home? As in, retiring? Hanging it up? Lounging on a beach somewhere, enjoying his twilight years?
To that, another hard "no." "Mentally, I could continue until I'm 120," he told us with a chuckle. "Physically, I'm always saying that a catastrophic injury is the only thing that will keep me from getting out there. Because I am always going to have the force and the energy and the passion for the game. That never goes away."
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