Archive for August, 2010

The young adult and I hauled ourselves up at 4.10 am for the 4.45 am kick-off.
Spurs would soon be playing Manchester City in their first game of the season at White Hart Lane, and every football fan will tell you that opening day is one of the best on the calendar.
We have, over the years, seen a few together and been to a few together on visits back to England.
One of those, the start of the 2002/03 season, saw us on the supporters coaches heading to Merseyside for an opening day at Everton. I’d brought him to away games before, but there’s something different about an away game on opening day; the grass smells wonderful, the weather’s usually deliciously warm, the kits are fresh and the voices loud.

I’d had an enormous row with my own father the night before the match when he came to visit us at my Mums. Years of bottled frustration at his bizarre behavior since their divorce had finally got to me, and I had screamed like I’d never screamed at him before, walking an emotional tightrope off which I’d suddenly, abruptly, fallen. Regular readers will have learnt in columns gone by that my dear Dad has some psychological health issues, which as they unfolded explained some of his bizarreness (solo trips to Norwegian icefields to camp alone and study the light, etc)…as we left in the morning to get to the Spurs coaches, I’d asked the young adult (then still ‘the boy’) if I’d woken him up, and if so how sorry I was.
“I counted 43 ‘fucks’!” he said in reply, grinning, and we burst out laughing.

We bought the new shirt before boarding the 9am coaches, and we got stuck on the motorway, nearly blistered in the heat and nearly died from the absurdly high-volume conversation from the two oddballs beside us that wouldn’t die. By the time we got to Everton, it was 2.50, 10 minutes before kick-off, and with the traffic blocked, the driver let us out about 1000 yards from the ground and so we sprinted to make sure we got into our seats to see that first kick-off of the season. Blue skies. 80 degrees. Adrenaline pumping. We started singing. And jumping. And singing more. We went one goal down, but then, in the 63rd minute, on our side of the ground, Matty Etherington looked up from 25 yards out and smashed in an equalizer off the underside of the bar; I turned, looked at the boy and it ‘happened.’ That beautiful, congruent electric moment of pure unity and joy sizzled between us, and as we hugged in celebration I knew it was much more…

Football, as you will have gathered, is very, very important to many men, to many fathers, to many sons. I could write a book about why it has been so for me. And as I look around his room in these last few days before he moves out for college, as I look at the little named shirt on the wall, the one I got him when he was 3, the one he wore when we went to our first game together in 1995 (an awful 0-0 draw at home with, coincidentally, Everton) I feel the tears. I don’t know what sort of tears they are, happy, sad, both, neither, resigned, resolved, proud, probably all of the above and virtually none, I really don’t know. But I do know that as we sat around the corner of Danny Coyle’s watching a beautiful display of football from Spurs this early morning, as the banter flowed, the hope rose and the stresses and aggravations of a sometimes shit shit world were locked in deep storage for a couple of hours, something triggered my memories, and thus I find myself staring at the first-ever shirt I got him.

I remember when he fell for a striker called Michael Owen who played for Liverpool. He told me, at 8 years old, he wanted to follow Liverpool. I didn’t stand in his way. He got a Liverpool shirt. But somewhere inside it mustn’t have felt right, because sure enough, less than two years later he was back loving Spurs, back sharing with me.

I look around the room…there’s another set of crutches which he had to use for his recently torn ankle ligaments. Some clothes. Shoes. An unmade bed. A razor sits in his bathroom. It’s cleaner than it’s been in a couple of years, and that’s because he’s leaving next week for college.

I steadfastly refused to believe I would get emotional right before he left college. Why? How would I know? Probably some macho bullshit? Nah. More like plain, simple, potent denial. But here I am, a week before the day he moves and I can feel it’s going to be a roller-coaster, one that I’ll stay on which will still throw me for a loop once in a while.

He’s staying with friends tonight, the same friends he’s spent increasing amounts of time with over the last couple of years, really great people who I love and admire for both their way as people and their love of him. It sometimes feels a little strange that he’s over there as much as he is, but he is 18. And when I was 18, I was spending weeks at a time 6000 miles away in foreign lands, feeling that I knew the whole thing lock stock, not actually acknowledging my parents beyond meals and laundry. I wasn’t being rude I was being a teenager. We got on and I was, of course, decent to them, that’s pretty much what teenagers do, and if your skin is too thin to know it then you will be tortured by this rite of passage all children, yours, mine, theirs, take.

He won’t need to see me getting all emotional, all he’ll need is to make a trip to Target for some new t-shirts and underwear and lunch together on Tuesday as go to Danny Coyle’s to see Spurs try and pull one off against the Young Boys of Switzerland at the Wankdorf in our Champions League qualifier.

But I’ll be playing my own highlight reel. The wheeling of the bike after the gym every morning, the trips to Legoland, the British castles, the primary school trip to Mexico where I chaperoned too, the family vacation in Mazatlan where he gashed his foot open but we soldiered on, the guilt of him growing up in 2 houses a mile or so away from each other since he was 3, the happiness of knowing he will be in the same bed night after night for a whole year for the first time since he was 3, that first pint as a 16 year old in the Billy Nick, the 25 yard winner from Atouba at Newcastle in 2004 and the drive with Crystal Waters and ‘100% Pure Love’, our love of Defoe…

When I saw Spurs reach the Champions League this May by beating Man City in Manchester, I would’ve loved to have shared that winning goal moment with him. The singing. The celebrations. But it wasn’t an option. I couldn’t do it to him despite how much I wanted to. he needed to be home taking advantage of every minute left in his high school life, because he was on the verge of blowing this future college place, this excitement, this great life journey he’s about to enjoy in the dorms with it’s parties and people and relationships and self-discovery and some studies too. So no. It couldn’t happen. Because truth be told, it was the beginning of the end of the teenager, and the beginning of the start of the young adult.

He’s going to have fun. He’s excited. He’s already half there mentally and I’m sure the family member he’ll miss the most by a country mile is his sister. I won’t be bugging him all the time. I won’t be checking in every 5 minutes. But he will be on my mind. And wherever we are, when Spurs are playing, we’ll find each other, even only for a few texts or a quick chat.


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