Archive for category Football
My parents hated football. Somehow I grew up to love it. I think it was because we only got 3 channels on TV in those days so the only time you saw football it was a big occasion. Either the FA Cup final (which quite literally lasted all day) or a big England game. Both came with a sense of a very big deal which appealed to me enormously. Also we lived very close to Brighton’s old ground, The Goldstone. On Saturdays in winter the street would fill with cars and men in blue and white scarves would get out of them and walk to the ground. You could hear the crowd from my road. Particularly you could hear the orgasmic roar when Brighton scored. All this and the fact my parents specifically loathed it is what got me interested in football.
Eventually one of my dad’s pupils (he’s a music teacher) called Joan and her boyfriend Fraser agreed to take me to games. This was when Brighton had a very good team indeed and had pushed their way for the first time in to the top division. I remember games against Liverpool, Man United, Everton. Spicy derbies against Palace. Joan and Fraser always kept me safe but actually being there just magnified my interest in what was a completely different world. Cigar smoke, chanting, obvious swearing and the odd fight in the crowd. On the field incredibly skilful players like Peter Ward, Mark Lawrenson and later Michael Robinson and Steve Foster. Most players were British, quite a few were internationals, many didn’t bother with shinpads and tackling from behind was routine.
When Joan and Fraser couldn’t take me Samir did. Samir was a family friend, an avuncular Lebanese professor who, away from sport was constantly engaging. At football he barely said a word. It was like his studious nature made him observe every nuance of the game and, having escaped civil war in Beirut, he was hardly likely to be put off by the odd skinhead scrapping in the North Stand.
Soon though I felt old enough to go unaccompanied. Again when I asked my parents they initially demurred but eventually I was allowed to go ‘as long as I went in the Family Stand’. My first solo game was against Wimbledon and we won 2-1 with a long range screamer from the marvellously alcoholic and be-mulleted Frank Worthington. I went in the Family Stand and it was boring as anything. Next game I went straight in the North Stand, right behind the goal in the singing section. From here I started to meet people who to this day I count as some of my very best friends. A community. As soon as I was able I went to away games and as soon as I was old enough I went to the pub before matches. We froze our knackers off in Oldham and colonized the pool tables of back street locals in Brighton.
All this is a very long way of saying that football for me is much more than 90 minutes of men running around. My wife still doesn’t understand when I want to leave a bit earlier than she thinks it would take me to get to the ground for kick off and that’s because I want to see my friends and have at least one pint beforehand. Ideally two or three. Don’t get me wrong, for the 90 minutes the game’s on nothing else matters and I am completely absorbed in the match but it wouldn’t be anything like the experience it is without the chance to have some Real Ale and bit of banter first.
On our next home game I am dropping this routine.
A good family friend has wanted to take her son to the new ground for ages. I got her tickets for the game against Watford on 29 December and, since Boy and her son get on very well I said we’d come too. I’m swapping my normal seat in the comfortable rowdiness of the West Stand Upper for a family seat in the quieter East Stand. There will be no pub, the focus instead on ensuring the kids have an enjoyable day out at the football. Hot dogs and programmes will be bought, I suspect, and colours worn with pride.
I worried I was forcing it down his throat but he now attends football club after school and works with Will, a coach from Albion In The Community. He’s been to a couple of their mini-kickers sessions and has a training top, replica kit, a hand clapper and flag. He is very excited about going already. Meanwhile I’ve abandoned my normal football bravado and turned in to Worried Parent. I shall have to ensure he has a wee before we leave. I will have to pick a train time that won’t be too crowded yet won’t get us there stupidly early or, instead, have us queuing for ever. I have no idea how to do this. I will need to check his hot dog is properly cooked, protect him from swearing and confrontation. Most of all, since he is scared shitless by people dressed in giant animal costumes, I shall have to protect him from the mascots, mascots who are there specifically to come up and say hello to 6 year old boys. Bugger.
But there are so many elements of it that I AM looking forward to. Getting off the train and seeing the stadium rise like a giant spaceship from the ground. Explaining the game and who the players to look out for are. Maybe taking him to the club shop and letting him add to his collection of Brighton stuff. Hoping we score. Hoping we win.
Selfishly a part of me worries he will enjoy it too much. When I do go in the comfortably rowdy West Stand Upper it is with Best Friend Of All. He has 3 boys but both of us leave the kids behind. Recently I have been unable to make a couple of games and he has taken his sons, in rotation, in my stead. They have enjoyed themselves immensely and are bugging him to go again. If Boy enjoys himself (and as a parent I will have failed if he doesn’t) he will want to go again too. If he does we are already talking about getting tickets for the kids. This could be the end of one era and the start of another. Much less pub. Much less banter. Much more parenting.
Then again it could be a specific bond, father to son. I am very close to my Dad despite his dislike of football. Our special bond was swimming. My mum cannot swim so he taught me and my brother and it was always our special time together. Both my wife and I swim and so swimming for us is family activity on family days. Football may be our Father to Son male bonding. And I know my mates understand. We’ll see how it turns out.
*I say first. I took him to Withdean, our old ground, because we were playing a Cup game no one was interested in and we could get tickets together for me and Best Friend of All and all the kids. It was one of the dullest games on record and he was too young and we left at half time. I don’t count it. Saturday will be his first proper football experience.
On Saturday the football season finishes. Well not really. In fact, all you football haters out there will be disappointed to know that the Championship (which Brighton are in) has another week after this Saturday. It’s just that we’re away so I’m not going. Then the Premiership finishes a bit later and we have the FA Cup Final, the Champions League final and the playoffs. Then it’s Euro 2012 which will go on for some considerable time though not if you’re an England fan or player. Then there’s football in the Olympics. I think there will be friendlies in July and then, in August, the domestic season will start again.
So you see, the season never really stops. What I mean about this coming Saturday is that it will stop for ME. It will be the last time I go to the Amex and watch my beloved Super Seagulls and cheer and drink Harvey’s and fart a lot until August. Except the farting bit. I’ll still probably do that.
This frees up each and every weekend for Family Time.
We didn’t do much “going out” family time last summer what with Baby being still very small and us being still very knackered. We’re still knackered but she’s bigger. I vaguely remember the boy at this age and if my memory serves me correctly you need to be equipped roughly like this to cope with all eventualities
Even that may not be enough eyes and arms. Baby, as I may have mentioned is just a teeny bit more adventurous than the Boy was.
For a start she considers herself a mermaid and any body of water she sees as a bath for her to dive in to. She has to be variously chided, reigned in or scooped up every time we go to the beach before she embarks on a world record attempt for toddler-swimming the Channel. One of our local attractions is Drusillas and they have an open air penguin pool. That’s off the list then. I am not rescuing her from a giant bath full of penguin poo.
She’s also learning to talk at the moment. Quite well really. However one word she struggles with is ‘horse’ which is a shame as she’s aces at recognising them. Specifically she points at them and yells ‘WHORE!” at the top of her voice. So farms are probably out.
Then there’s the Brighton Pier . Ooops. Water again. *imagines Baby tombstoning*
Maybe the Brighton Wheel? Nope. She’s a fantastic climber. Bound to be seen as a challenge that. *imagines buying tiny toddler size crampons*
Pub lunches? I wouldn’t put it past her to outdrink the visiting Bikers and start a fight.
In fact the safest place for her might just be the football. Roll on August.
(N.B. not really of course. I’m sure we will visit all these places and more during the summer, Sussex in the summer is actually my favourite place ever in the world and there’s loads and loads to do. But I will miss the football just a teensy bit.)
So today was a football day. I think I’ve previously mentioned this is mine and Best Friend of All’s time away from family though we have recently talked about taking Boy and his 3 Boys. In the end we decided to leave it another season. This morning when Boy picked up his Brighton flag and asked if he could come (he can’t, it’s all ticket and he doesn’t have one) I briefly regretted this. By the end of the train ride home however I knew we were right to leave ourselves sans children at the Amex again next season.
After the game the train back to Brighton pulls in and everyone piles in to a carriage. Just as the doors close cue a HUGE tantrummy shriek from a kid ‘somewhere’ on it. Like the wail of a banshee. Like a wolf’s howl recorded at 33rpm and played at 78. And it goes on and on and on until:
(all below speech is very loud and directed to the whole carriage)
Brighton Fan 1: Will someone PLEASE shut that kid THE FUCK UP.
Brighton Fan 2: Give him a dummy. Or some Skittles
Brighton Fan 3: I think Skittles are the problem. I think he’s had about 10 packets.
Middlesboro Fan: I thought it was nice down here. Is that’s what it’s like to live here really?
Brighton Fan 1: He could be one of yours.
Middlesboro Fan: I hope not. He’d be on our train back to Boro. 7 hours of that? FUCK NO. He’s yours.
Brighton Fan 4: He could be reliving the moment you hit the post at one up.
And so on and so on.
I could see some of the speakers but not the child. I had no idea who the parent was or what was going on with the parent. There was certainly no riposte. It was quite intimidating.
Terrible isn’t it? Or just brutally honest.
Imagine the same scream in a packed Giraffe restaurant. Or an NCT play group. Dozens of middle-class parent eyes on you. None of them saying a word. Just thinking. Leaving the parent to their paranoia. Their maybes.
What would you prefer?
A small explanation of my schizophrenic Twitter feed with apologies – and reverence – to Nick Hornby who was doing this sort of stuff years ago, much, much better.
A bit of a history lesson is needed. When I was a young man I was a Brighton fan and an Old School one at that. I stood on the terrace behind the goal with my mates and I went to every away game I could and it was fun. Or at least it was until the finances at the club started to unravel and a “Foul Politician and A Man From Lancashire” (copyright the mighty Booney) sold the ground and nearly killed the club. Luckily, at the last minute the club was rescued by a very nice man with not much money called Dick Knight. The ground was gone though so we groundshared in Kent for a bit before coming back home to play in an athletics stadium. An uncovered one with terrible views and very few seats. Still I got a season ticket and became Old School only in the seats on the side. If we lost I was inconsolable all weekend. Meanwhile Brighton were not getting planning permission for their new ground.
Then something happened that meant I wouldn’t be a season ticket holder at all. I was offered a project in my company’s Asia Pacific division and we grasped the nettle and moved to Sydney. Then Tokyo. Then Taipei. And I had the best four and a bit years of my childless life. Football played a small part still as I became 5th choice Centre Back for the reserves of a crazy Expat drinking club football team but I was no longer a regular on the terraces or in the seats.
Then we did something immensely stupid wonderful and decided to have a child and when we succeeded we moved home so he could be born somewhere where the midwives spoke English. I know. Overprotective first time parents eh? And Brighton did not have their new ground but I did have my new son and I enjoyed playing with him much more than sitting in the rain watching Andrew Whing kick lumps out of people. Bad fan. I went from time to time, usually the first and last games of the season and a few of the mid-weeks but I did not have a season ticket and to all intents and purposes I was a raving lunatic father and not a football fanatic.
Then we got planning permission for the ground. And a very nice man with shitloads of money called Tony Bloom paid for it. I joined the bandwagon, the Johnny Come Lately army (or more Johnny Came Back) and got a season ticket and this season I started to Go Again Properly. I look forward to my Amex Stadium Saturdays like I used to look forward to birthdays. I leave as soon as permitted and meet my childless friends and we talk Man Nonsense and drink real beer. My football mates have been friends through thick and thin bound by a love of the team, proper beer, silly japes and a disregard for bullshit. Then I go to the ground and meet my Very Best Friend Of All who has 3 boys and not a shred of bullshit and we spend a couple of hours shouting, singing, clapping and swearing (particularly me). Then I have a swift half with the others after and go home. And all the stress of work, commuting, sleepless nights, Lego retrieving and Baby locating have gone, washed away in to the Amex ether.
And because it does I come home these days having left the result behind if we lost, happy to be a parent again, looking forward to Middle Class Sunday. Which is a post for anther time entirely.
A long time ago, when Boy was a baby, Mrs Slightlysuburban enrolled him in Mini Music classes. There we met a lovely lady and her son who continue to be firm family friends. While Boy and her son are now in different years in different schools they go to each other’s birthday party every year. When this year’s invite dropped through the door I was actually volunteering to take him for it was to be a football party.
I say “actually volunteering” because I have made it my habit to avoid kids parties wherever possible. Do I want to give up a whole portion of the weekend to sit in some draughty church hall while Coco the Fucking Clown turns balloons in to, well, balloons and 15 three year olds high on Haribo, Pom Bears and Fruit Shoot dribble snot on my jeans? No. But as Boy gets older the parties have got better and the glorious prospect of “dropping him off” starts to raise it’s head. A recent party just before Christmas saw just 6 kids from his class invited to the birthday boy’s house. Each one was taken by a Dad and while we had the option to leave them the kids just went upstairs leaving the Dads drinking the host’s flashy lattes, eating his Heston mince pies and talking bollocks about football for 2 hours. That was a new kids party high.
But a football party? I had to take him. There would be other dads. There would be football. We might even get to join in. Oh yes. As it turned out I didn’t get a game but I did get another large coffee and a dad chat while Mrs Slightlysuburban spent the day fishing Baby out of the cupboard under the sink and counting shape sorter bits. So I was definitely winning. Except for one thing. It has caused me a huge problem.
We’ve played a bit of footy, me and the boy, but not nearly enough. The kids he was playing with and against were all a school year older and it showed. He was, truth to be said, woeful. He ran away from the ball. He air-shotted. He failed entirely to run up when it was penalty shoot out time. He was the football party equivalent of Billy Paynter. Or Richard Tiltman. Or even Glen Thomas. And he loved every minute. He came off the pitch red cheeked, drowned in sweat and begging for a football party for his birthday.
So I have a parent dilemma, for there are things he’s very good at. He is, for his age, a very good artist and can be sat for an entire afternoon with some paper and pens. My mum’s best friend is a gallery curator and she rates his stuff. Also he loves joining me in the kitchen for a session of making good, bad and plain weird family food. So have I been remiss in neglecting to teach him football which should be such a basic Dad task or have I just been helping him with what he enjoys and is good at? And if I now teach him football will that be it for the drawing? And will that be my fault or his decision? And how do I fit time in for fixing Baby’s handiwork if I have to do football AND drawing AND cooking AND helping with his school work? Agggh!
Maybe I could teach him by taking him to Brighton games and getting him to sketch what’s going on? After all the offside rule is now on a 50p piece. It’s a very small step from that to coaching him in heading technique by getting him to draw Gordon Greer as an invading Alien who’s twice the size of the sun.