The Beautiful Game

Pre-children Saturday mornings used to be about lie-in’s, lazy breakfasts while often nursing a hangover. Now they have become the manic part of my week as both boys have embarked on an early football career, while my daughter dons her tutu at dance class. My role is normally covering the Darcey Bussell side of things but with hubby’s sometimes inconvenient working hours, I on occasion have to cover football training.

I have never called myself a feminist, never been tempted to burn my bra for the cause and even though I have come across one or two neanderthal men in my time, I am able to grin and bear any “woman’s work” type comments. I am lucky to be surrounded by men in my life that have a great respect for women. My Dad grew up with 3 sisters, my brother has 3 daughters and my husband has me, so they haven’t really had an option but to embrace a bit of equality.

But when it comes to the battle of the sexes you need to experience Saturday morning football. From the minute I rock up with the boys, you can almost choke on the testosterone thick air. My boys are 4 and 8 and they are divided in year group, so not very conveniently they are situated on either ends of the field. I’m always late, it’s a talent I have, so normally I’m trying to force football boots and shin pads on younger son while the coach takes the teams (they’re 4 remember) through a pre-match strategy talk. As he rattles on about ‘clean tackling’ and ‘tactical passing’, his not so captive audience fidget and pick their noses.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great football school which is run by the church so friendly, fairly non-competitive and most importantly cheap and includes a free cup of tea and biscuit. But it also means that it is run by volunteers, so each week the coach is looking for helpers to run a team of 5 in the matches. This is my favourite part, the parental audience are heavily out-numbered by Dads not wanting to look keen but absolutely desperate to put their hands up. It’s normally the same few that take part and even though they arrive clad in tracksuits, football socks and gloves they have to go through the whole non-committal responses “I don’t mind pitching in, not fussed, ain’t a problem, either way.” And once the coach has made his decision, the other Dads have to remain non-plussed about it, even though it’s clear they are crushed to not have their hour of being a wannabe Harry Redknapp. I am sorely tempted to turn up one week in full sports gear, jog up and down the side lines, do a couple of over-the-top stretches and lunges and put my hand up for a go. My team would be useless, I still struggle with the offside rule and yes 4 year olds are meant to understand this, but it would be worth it to see the shock on the Dads faces.

I do love seeing my boys do their stuff though, eldest son has been playing for 4 years now so is very confident with his training. But it’s youngest son’s lot that are the most entertaining. No matter what the coach and Dad coaches say to them in the pre-match briefing, along with the wasted time putting them in positions of defence and mid-field, the minute that ball is thrown into play it’s like a swarm of wasps all chasing it elbowing each other, aiming at whatever goal is nearest whether it is theirs or not! Brilliant!

Both our boys are very capable at their game and youngest son, despite his more miniature size compared to the others, he is a little firework zooming about the pitch. However, neither me or hubby are looking to fill out any football academy applications. The way I see it, it is a hobby and dare I say it if any men are reading this, it is only a game…. I really don’t want to put them under any unneccessary pressure to be the best, unlike unfortunately a few of the other Dads with their sons, shouting from the sidelines constantly, showing disappointment when a goal is missed. I’d rather they ace their maths and english then become player of the week. Still, it is near impossible to stay totally quiet on the sidelines, and much to some of the Dads amusement I do find myself cheering and screeching “go on son” then cringing afterwards!

My Dad accompained me to football training recently and another Dad approached him to compliment him on my younger son’s football ability. Obviously no point talking to me, as I’m only there to hold the coats. Anyway, my Dad was grateful of this Dad’s quite over-the-top praise of our boy. I was confused by the whole conversation, no names were exchanged, no pleasantries about the weather, a total football dominated conversation between two strangers. Afterwards, I quizzed my Dad about the football obsession that some men have and he quoted a famous ex Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly who was once asked by a reporter ‘whether people take football too seriously, as if football were a matter of life and death?’, Shankly replied ‘No it’s much more important than that’. Need I say more.

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