Sunday, 15 April 2012
They think it's all over
The last game of the season for my son's football team and perhaps the last one ever. They went out on a high, winning the game 7-1 and my son almost scored a Geoff Hurst World Cup Final-style running volley of a goal. Sadly, the goalkeeper was a killjoy and saved it. But at least they won. A great bunch of kids and I shall miss them a lot. Although perhaps not Dan, who keeps kicking the ball at me. Very hard. And occasionally in the sweetmeats.
I ran the line for the last time and our little knot of parents who have managed and coached and made teas and put up nets and cheered on the team, gathered around to congratulate the team: a wonderfully eclectic mix of people from all kinds of backgrounds and disciplines. I shall miss them too. Having endured an opposition parent who kept up a running critical commentary of his own team's performance through one entire half, I reflected on how positive we always were as parents. There were only ever shouts of encouragement - never of criticism. 'They've lost heart,' said the miserable opposition parent as I ran the line. 'Perhaps it's the relentless stream of criticism coming from you,' I suggested.
I made an equally bad-tempered interruption to a friend's Facebook thread where a set of mothers were revelling in their sons' dislike for football. Why do boys have to be interested in such 'low-class' and 'macho' things? was one of the moans. There were genuine concerns about boys being excluded because they weren't into football, but mostly it seemed to be more a snobbery about the nature of football. This has more to do with an idea of football supporters, I think. Someone called them homophobic. As though all football fans had the same views. Or that homophobia and racism was restricted to football fans in some way. As though the crowds at Glynebourne were full of people who wouldn't mind at all if their son married a woman of a different ethic origin from theirs. Or a man for that matter.
I have very little time for fan bigotry - of whatever kind. There is a lot wrong with football, from vicious abuse, to the preposterous amounts of money the players earn. And for the record, I did not like football much when I was at school. I associated it with boys I hated and a city I didn't feel any affinity with. Although I would have dearly loved to show them up on the pitch, the truth was, I simply wasn't good enough. I was OK. I was a lot better than they probably thought I was.
But I didn't see any of this as concerning my son, who was always able to kick a ball straight, almost from when he could walk. We spent hours in our garden in Norfolk kicking a ball to each other. When we moved to Cambridge we continued on Lammas Land near our home in Newnham. Those times are very special to me - they were very important too, I think. We had a laugh and my son honed his skills enough to take part in the school team and be part of a team in a local league. Which is more than I ever did.
I'm glad he played and I'm sorry the team is folding. They lost an awful lot of games but they did so with good humour and lot of self-deprecation - and (mostly) with a lot more grace than I would have mustered in their shoes - or should that be boots? Not 'low-class' or 'macho' in the slightest. Perhaps they'd have won more games if they were!
But every Sunday during the season and every Thursday evening they ran about in rain and icy winds wearing an ill-fitting and disastrously orange kit. I suppose they could have been inside listening to Brahms whilst mugging up on their GCSE Physics but I think its a good thing they did something else - something, well, physical. Not everyone has to like football. Not everyone has to like sport. Just because you don't like sport doesn't make it worthless.
Oh - and the rather evocative photo is by my son, Adam Priestley, footballer and photographer. You see - you can do both.