In my maiden football season, it wasn’t until the fourth or third to last game that I scored that coveted first ever goal. I don’t remember the goal so much as my celebration: I turned and sprinted to Dad and jumped into his arms. Looking back, it’s a pretty nauseating Kodak moment: you’d think we’d won the World Cup or something. One of my teammates’ grandmas who worked with Dad was at the game; for years afterwards whenever we bumped into each other she’d remind me of that game (the more the years went by the more I’d blush and pretend it never happened).
The third point of a Dads and football triangle tends to involve sons. Not so in my family. As my little brother became passionate about dance, I developed an obsession with football. Mum used to say (actually, probably still does) that with her kids, she got a Bend it Like Beckham and a Billy Elliot. Neither she nor Dad ever pushed us either way, we just gravitated towards our interests as kids tend to do.
Like most kids, my first ‘games’ of football were with Dad in the garden. One on one; rush goalies, first to 10 goals (it was a little while before I realised that this wasn’t quite how the professionals did it, but there’s certainly merit in the idea. No more of this goalless draw until the 100th minute malarkey of recent international tournament finals). I’m not sure when exactly it was he stopped letting me win and I was genuinely beating him (and crowing about it during dinner afterwards). At least, I hope at some point this happened.
Probably being a bit of a Daddy’s girl, it’s not surprising that it was with Dad that I had the all important Talk. And by Talk I mean ‘What team are you going to support?’ Talk. We were in Waiheke’s Lazy Lounge (which was owned by a couple of Liverpool supporters – a pennant hung near the counter. I later found out that one of them had followed Forest during the Clough years. Obviously I’d seen red.). A bowl of chips (a poor bribe) was placed on the table between us.
“So, Ella, now you’re getting into football, you should probably think about supporting a team”
“Yeah? What teams are there?”
“Well, there’s Derby County, the team I support” (Dad’s from Derby).
(I chewed a chip, thoughtfully. Something didn’t quite fit.)
“What about from Nottingham?” (Where Mum’s from.)
“Weeeellll… There’s Notts County. And Nottingham Forest, who your cousins Ross and Tom support.”
I liked the sound of Forest. Much more interesting than Derby. And so I declared I would support Nottingham Forest. And Dad deeply regretted suggesting that there might have been a choice.
Years later, reading Fever Pitch, I got a sense of what my betrayal might have meant if Dad was more militant about these things. The following passage still draws a chuckle whenever I return to it:
There must be many fathers around the country who have experienced the cruellest, most crushing rejection of all: their children have ended up supporting the wrong team. When I contemplate parenthood, something I do more and more as my empathetic biological clock ticks nearer to midnight, I am aware that I am genuinely fearful of this kind of treachery. What would I do if my son or daughter decided, at the age of seven or eight, that Dad was a madman, and that Tottenham or West Ham or Manchester United were the team for them? How would I cope? Would I do the decent parental thing, accept that my days at Highbury were over, and buy a couple of season-tickets at White Hart Lane or Upton Park? Hell, no. I am myself too childish about Arsenal to defer to the whims of a child; I would explain to him or her that, although I would respect any decision of this kind, obviously if they wished to see their team then they would have to take themselves, with their own money, under their own steam. That should wake the little sod up.
When Dad visited the UK later that year for family reasons, he was under strict instructions to bring back a REAL Nottingham Forest shirt (eight year olds, it turns out, are demanding creatures. In those days you could only get Nottingham Forest shirts at the City Ground – for obvious reasons this was the last place he wanted to go).
But he came up trumps, pulling a little red bundle out of his suitcase on the day he got home. There was just one small snag (although the shirt would come to be covered in them over the years) – the precious shirt was sized 12-13. I was a rather skinny eight-year-old. “You could probably wear it as a nightie or something…?” No chance – I wore it until it became indecent to do so – snagged, bobbled, and ever so slightly too small.
Then there’s the football matches he’d come to – juggling his roster as much as he could so he’d be able to make our Saturday junior league games, making the trek to away games all over Auckland – when he’d have preferred to stay in bed instead of getting the 8am ferry to Auckland, and chipping in with the home game pick ups of opposition teams (a Waiheke United tradition).
Dad’s never been one of those shouty sideline types (thank god) – instead he was a calm, supportive pitchside presence. And, importantly, he’d relent to my pestering for a post-match McDonalds, and remind me to pull my head in when I took losing a game particularly poorly.
Saying this proper thank you to Dad probably comes several years later than it should. I guess having finally flown the nest this year has made me reflect on just how much time Dad’s put into me and my football over the years.
So, thanks Dad. Happy Father’s Day from Wellington.
Sorrynotsorry for choosing Forest.
Categories: Other Football Topics
Waiheke Islander currently in exile in Wellington. Supporter of Nottingham Forest and England, through thick and thin (there's been plenty of that). As a player is somewhat averse to the offside rule.