When I was a primary school kid, growing up in the UK, I was a football fanatic like so many of my school friends. I used to play football, talk about football and watch endless games of football on TV, as well as collecting & swapping football cards. It was how we rolled at that age.
My parents were slightly less keen on the topic than I was, yet still encouraged my passion (or at least humoured me).
One year, when I was about 9 or 10, my Dad decided he could hold out no longer and got tickets to take me to a match and, if anything my passion was inflamed still further.
I can still clearly remember my first game – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the anticipation. First impressions that led to a lifelong obsession with my team – Arsenal as it happens, but it could just as easily have been another team. I reckon the emotions of the football fan are pretty universal, regardless of who they have the (mis) fortune to follow.
Nick Hornby’s classic book ‘Fever Pitch’ humorously captured the way in which one’s life and one’s support of a team can become inextricably linked. In the movie adaptation, starring Colin Firth, there is a particularly evocative sequence where a young boy attends his first game with his Dad and is instantly gripped.
The reason I mention all of this is that on Saturday, I took my own son to his first game – at Arsenal, of course (can’t risk his affections being courted by another team at such a formative age now can we?).
Although he is younger than I was when attending my first game, he has been exhibiting all the same signs of an emerging obsession for months now.
He went from knowing nothing at all about football when we returned home at the beginning of the year to being a full-on expert now, with a quite scary level of knowledge.
At first I was a bit concerned that it was my own interest that had been forced subconsciously onto him, but no, his fascination has all been self-generated.
I put it down to the playground effect – football is so much a part of the national culture here, especially amongst boys, that it is almost impossible to escape its clutches.
For several months now, he has been asking me if I can take him to a game and in the end I relented and thought, why not? If nothing else, it’s a good excuse for me to get to see a match.
In many ways, his first experience was different to mine – a large, modern stadium with no crumbling terraces in sight. A stadium where smoking is banned and the food is edible – a far cry from the Bovril-and-Wagon-Wheel combo I ‘enjoyed’ on my first trip to Arsenal’s old ground at Highbury.
But other aspects of our day out were timeless and it was fascinating to experience them all again, but this time through the eyes of a 6 year old boy – the bustle of activity on the roads surrounding the ground, all sorts of Arsenal-themed goodies being sold from people’s front yards, dodgy hamburger stands, programme sellers, scarf sellers, ticket touts, fans enjoying a pre-game pint on the pavement outside the pubs, police on horseback and people everywhere, most wearing something red and white.
There’s really nothing quite like the atmosphere outside a ground on game day.
And with the sun shining brightly and Arsenal winning by an improbably high score, my son was not surprisingly enchanted by the whole experience and is already asking when we can go again.
The only problem now is that he will expect the sun to always shine and Arsenal to always score a sackful of goals. How do I break the news to him?