Sunday, 13 November 2011

Football dads

 I have become a football dad. Okay I was already one last season but that was football-dad-lite and came free. For a start it was, whisper it, a church league. There was always a prayer before kick off and one of the hazards was a certain coach who seemed to enjoy asking me, in a Columbo style line of questioning, to remind him which church we went to. My son’s team, despite being an overspill squad, won the league in what turned out to be a nail biting close to the season. This season he is playing for an eleven a side team and I am suddenly one of the squad drivers. Last week in the car park one of the boys remarked on the soft suspension and I became aware of just how low I had let the tyre pressure get. Now coming from a family of panickers I always get a sinking feeling when confronted with something as simple as a flat tyre. It feels like fate has caught up with me and has decided to show me I was never meant to be a vehicle owner (Our family panicking is well founded and not totally irrational – my dad once tried to fix the gas cooker in the camper van we had borrowed off the metal work teacher. We all found his resulting lack of facial hair rather amusing but inwardly each of us decided never to try and fix anything ourselves again.) Added to this I was low on petrol last week and failed to go to a garage between then and todays game. In my defence I don’t drive to work and on the days I work at home I spiral in a panic wondering how on earth I can do anything in the window of time between dropping the youngest son at school and the eldest returning home progressively early. So off we set to the rival pitch in the southwest (we are southeast) hoping the tyre will hold out and the petrol won’t run dry. I decide that my habitual favourite, Brian Matthew is not the moral boosting sound the boys need on their way to the game so put on my cd of wry Swedish Utopian-pop by a group called Komeda, “There’s a place where you can go if you want to have fun… microwave, computer for the child” No no no that is just depressing I think and catch a glimpse of one of the boys yawning in the rear view mirror. My father never had trouble with slippage between his choice of music in the car and the need to gee up the players. He seemed to have a great time coming to my matches in a fake fur coat and giant red hand knitted scarf – all very tom baker. My abiding memory of my father at my matches is of him sharing a good joke with the fathers of my teammates. They were laughing at grown up stuff from a world that I would one day be initiated into. I felt sort of proud that I had a dad who was there to watch. That simple really. At other times I would accompany him on the longer drives with Horsham Town FC. He was always very proud of how, when the players complained that he was driving slowly, he was able to explain that his grey Wolseley actually was cruising at 60mph.
      Last season, in the church league, I discovered my untapped depths of primordial passion and quickly learnt that simply shouting "come on the Fire" (their overspill suffix) was sufficient but even that was deemed too much by my son. My own father was the same (as my son) and frowned upon parents who bellowed and instructed their sons that they were playing like fairies. I also learnt that hassling the referee in the appropriate manner does get results. If he doesn’t give a free kick the first time with enough vocal criticism he will think harder next time. To be honest the team was a real Bash Street Kids mixture of personalities with a real sense of camaraderie. This, however, is not why they won the league. No the coaches son was probably the main reason. My boy was not without his moments of inspired performance and I swear I heard his teammates referring to him as “A freak” due to his sudden inclinations to run past several members of the opposition and score from an impossible angle. My Son The Freak I thought proudly.
This season he is a centre forward in an eleven a side team. You don’t get the ball much when you’re a centre forward in an eleven a side team but he is very happy. He did win a penalty this week and fired a couple across the goal – all very useful but we are yet to see The Freak emerge.
We actually (We!) joined the squad a few games into the season and consequently had no idea that yesterday’s fixture was a minor grudge match. Half way through the second half we took the lead due to a freak free kick going through the legs of their hitherto goliath-like goalkeeper. He cried and we cheered. The anguish spread to the rest of the team, one of whom fouled and then slapped our other centre forward. Wrong choice. He then leapt and pivoted whilst swiftly removing his shirt in the same movement. I am not fluent in the semiotics of football attire and have since learnt that this manoeuvre means I want to knock your block off but not bring dishonour upon the badge of my club. After the game the coach congratulated the boy on the grounds that she would have refrained from taking her top off if someone had slapped her. She is a great coach and somehow brings imagination to a rigorous structured approach. My son is lucky to have found his way into the heart of the team. He says they are good friends after only two games. Indeed, the leaping shirt removing player had greeted me with an “hello Arthur’s dad” from the touch line before kick off and after the game I struggled to find a good line in why he should not have tried to knock the block off the member of the opposition who had slapped him. The sight of all the parents piling onto the pitch, one mother bundling up her son with the primal scream of a simple “noooooooooooo” had been the nearest I’ve been to being in a Mike Leigh film and yet I failed to find the script for myself as the avuncular newcomer who spread a message of peace through the under twelve football world. Oh well its training today so you never know.

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