THERE was once a night editor in Herald Towers who was known for his apercus. He had them surgically removed. But he remained a man of some wit.

He called the circulation manager Thrombosis, explaining: “He is a clot that impedes circulation.” He described a reporter who preferred a somewhat Bohemian style as The Boy Who Makes His Own Clothes. His critique of cartoonist of a rival newspaper was devastating. “As a cartoonist,” he said, “he has two flaws: he can’t draw and he isn’t funny.”

But his most articulated sentiment came to me this week. Asked if he took much exercise, he would reply: “I get all the exercise I need going to the funerals of my fit friends.”

He was a fervent advocate of the truth that there is a difference between being fit and being healthy. I thought of my colleague when I read that Robin van Persie had been taken off in a match suffering from a torn eyelash. Fair enough, I muttered, one can never be too careful. But it was later explained to me – slowly with hands illustrating precise point – that the Dutchman had incurred a torn eyelid that a) is bound to nip and b) shows yer maw was right about the possible consequences of a rammy at the dinner table.

It illustrates, too, that the supremely fit are never far from a health crisis and, indeed, the professional variety simply play through pain on a daily basis.

Jose Mourinho’s criticism of two Manchester United players who declined to declare themselves fit for duty is so old-school that it resembles General George Patton’s slap on the face to a soldier suffering from battle fatigue. But it also speaks to the emergence of a new culture in football, namely that there are players who will not risk long-term damage for 90 minutes on a Saturday/Sunday.

There are reasons for this. The first may be that modern players might on occasion bump into a club legend. They may be surprised at first to see said legend hobble but subsequent meetings with greats of the past will inform them that a career in football can have significant impact on one’s knees, hips and general movement.

The second reason for failing to put one’s health on the line is the realisation that one is financially secure and that a large chunk of one’s earnings is not predicated on actually kicking a ball. Once bonuses in many clubs were so skewed towards appearance money that injured players would convince managers they were fit to play.

A Lisbon Lion once told me a story of how Jimmy Johnstone repeatedly battered the ball in the tunnel and flexed his ankle violently to show Jock Stein he was ready to play. The manager told him he would start but failed to appreciate that it was Jinky’s other ankle that had been causing the problem.

Now players receive the best medical advice and treatment and, at least at the top end, have little need for bonuses. This, I believe, is a good thing though the old-school type will mutter about the heroes of old playing with an amputated leg. And, curiously, not knowing whose leg it was.

But in team sports it is easier to bow to the realities of pain and possible chronic damage. It is not so in individual sport. The tennis players who will play in the ATP World Tour Finals in London next week will all carry a sponsored racket and an injury. Most tennis players would never play in any tournament if they waited until they were 100-per-cent pain-free.

The stress on their bodies is extraordinary. Andy Murray, for example, has had back and wrist surgery and he is not yet 30. He has endured, too, a host of other niggles and, incidentally, has played all his life with a bipartite patella, which is in basic terms a burst kneecap. It must be assumed that this has the propensity to nip just a little after running thousands of metres after a yellow ball in your day job.

It seems to be part of the code of the individual athlete that the show must go on as Katie Archibald, the world’s best columnist and world-class cyclist, showed this week when breaking her wrist one day and winning a Track World Cup gold the next. Similarly, jump jockeys have been known after a fall to hand their spleen to their valet with the promise that they will be back for it after the next race.

This behaviour is unimaginable to those of us who spent 1997 to 2000 on the sick with a nasty chest cold. But it is a necessary part of being successful in individual pursuits. The racquet sports player, cyclist, boxer and track and field athlete must stretch painfully every day and gauge whether to play on or take a break.

They invariably opt for strapping on the sports shoes and going to work. I do not know if this is a good or even a wise course of action. But it is what they do. And I suppose if they ever become disillusioned with the tennis/athletics/boxing they could always get a job with Mourinho.