The Beautiful Game

Another word cup season has rolled around and with it has come a host of memories.

As well as the fact that England will probably go out on penalties, there is an additional sadness for me this time.  Whilst I’m largely grateful for the fact that I’m barely registering the football this year, it’s not the same for Youngest Son.  He would have loved to have watched the games at home with his Dad.  Football was something they shared.  Youngest Son loves the fact that he, his Dad and his Gramps all support the same league team (QPR), and like his Dad, Youngest Son wears a football top more often than a normal T shirt.  Football is also the way he’s tried to keep in touch with his Dad since he left – he’ll never talk about his feelings, but he will talk about ‘stuff’ and in lieu of saying ‘I love you and I miss you’ he has texted E about football matches and players.  It’s another occasion where I feel a bit lacking. I’ll do my best to be a substitute, but I don’t think I quite cut it.

I don’t mind football.  I don’t even begrudge TV being taken over by it (although I do wish they’d leave Holby City alone). Mind you, having said that, I don’t see why BBC and ITV can’t just put the football onto a free-to-view dedicated channel without disrupting their main schedules?  ITV3 and ITV4 could do with more viewers and who watches BBC Parliament except for masochists (who would probably really enjoy the pain of watching England compete)?  If they can’t do that, can’t they just move their main channel schedules on to another channel for a month (those same BBC Parliament viewers would probably love the endless agony of EastEnders)?

For the 22 years I lived with E, when they rolled around, two four-yearly football tournaments (the World Cup and the Euros), would dominate our home.  In the early years we’d hang an England flag out of the window, get the beers in and join in with the fun.  Before we had the children we’d go to the pub and cheer (or stare in disbelief) along with the crowd.  I was never as into it as E, but E loved it, and I loved him – it felt churlish to not at least try – and at least there was beer, so it wasn’t all bad.

Three of my children were born in World Cup years.  I remember taking Oldest Daughter, in bump form, to the local pub to watch the opening rounds of the World Cup (where I drank lime and soda, sat on an uncomfortable bar stool, and felt far too sober).  Youngest Daughter was two weeks old when it started and I was let out of hospital early on 10th June 2006, not long after Youngest Son was born, so that ‘Dad could watch the England match’ (E didn’t ask for this, it was just assumed that all the Dads would like to watch the match).  Only Oldest Son had the courtesy to not be born in a World Cup / European Championship year and I am eternally grateful to him for this (this might also explain why he’s the most chilled out and least stressed of my kids?).

E loved watching sport.  He wasn’t very good at it himself, but he loved watching other people play (a bit like his attitude to porn).  When he lived with us, whilst he certainly never dominated the TV, or demanded to watch it, there was an unspoken assumption that if there was an England match being played it would be on our TV.  E even fought the jet lag to watch England draw with the USA on one of our first visits to Singapore.  Football was E’s thing and it will, rightly or wrongly, always remind me of him.

Whilst I don’t mind the football itself so much, what puts me off watching it at home is the commentary.  I’ve always found raised male voices sound quite threatening and the commentators’ endless shouting makes my nerves jangle a bit.  I also find football commentary so unnecessarily over-excitable.  I know England likes to put their fans through it, and I know winning is a rarity, but the commentators’ reaction when a player gets near a goal is astonishing.  The player is only about to score (or, more likely not score) a goal.  That’s his actual job.  That’s what he’s paid an amount that equates to the GDP of small country for.  A professional footballer spends his working life training for the facilitating, or preventing, of the scoring of a goal.  I get that he is playing other people with the same training and that therefore the scoring of a goal is a brilliant thing, but the commentators’ reactions still seem massively disproportionate (can you imagine if it was female commentator shouting like that?  The accusations would immediately be that it was ‘shrill’ or hysterical, or ‘over-the-top’).  I’m not suggesting that goals are met with a polite round of applause (like when Prince Phillip opens a pair of ceremonial curtains), and I think the cheering and singing of the crowd is brilliant, but please can we just get the commentators to calm down a bit?

Mind you, I might be more forgiving of the commentators, or even be more into the football, if we won a bit more.  In the early years with E (before I felt the agony of the England team lose a zillion times), I totally fell for the whole Football’s Coming Home vibe.  But now, as each tournament rolls around I get that sinking feeling of defeat before it’s even started.  Frankly, my nerves just aren’t up to watching an England game anymore.  It’s like a Football-y form of PTSD – I’ve seen so many occasions when England have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, that I just can’t bring myself to watch them.

It seems that Youngest Son, however, is made of stronger stuff.  He’s got his wall chart and his sticker book and, with the optimism of someone who’s only been watching England play for a few years, he has high hopes of making the finals.  I watched his crestfallen face the other night when England lost their lead and then saw his delight when, with seconds of stoppage time to spare, they went a goal up and I felt a mixture of recognition and pity.  If he’s going to be an England fan (as well as a QPR fan – the poor kid) he’s got a long, hard road ahead of him. I must admit though, his enthusiasm is infectious and, for a brief moment, I did even catch myself wondering whether to watch the next game with him.  Penalties anyone?


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