After Generations Of My Family Supporting Blackburn, My Son Has Told Me He's A Manchester City Fan
I took my son to the football this weekend to see his team. It isn’t my team, but he’s decided it’s his. It hurts a bit because I’ve opted out of going to watch my team, Blackburn Rovers, on a point of principle. That principle has cost me a bond with my youngest son who has decided to support the closest Premiership team to our home, the one his mates support and the current champions.
His allegiance to Manchester City didn’t come out of the blue. Last season, then aged seven, when he had started to show a bit more interest in football, he went to the Manchester City v Blackburn Rovers game. He sat in the Colin Bell stand with his Mum and saw a one sided-destruction of Rovers by a rampant City side. I sat and suffered this in the posh seats with my eldest lad, and we just chose to take our minds off the abject surrender by admiring the movement of David Silva, the power of Yaya Toure and the way Joe Hart, in City’s goal, completed a fiendish Sudoku puzzle, while leaning on his goalpost.
I felt wretched for my 12 year old son that day. But this was something we had to suffer together, just as we’d enjoyed some epic wins in each other’s company over the last 8 years since he first came with me to watch our team.
But the youngest lad hadn’t quite reached that loyalty point yet, has he? His mates all seem to support City, he goes to school in Stockport afterall. He has nothing to offer in defence of Blackburn Rovers, why he supports them, how good they could be, or what he knows to be positive and enjoyable about supporting them. To him Rovers have become distant, he has no proximity to Ewood Park, no-one from the Rovers Academy will visit his school, but City do. And listening to me ranting about Venky’s will hardly have sold the prospect that choosing my path will offer anything positive to look forward to, and all for reasons he doesn’t understand.
So I did this: I said, son, this is no good. “Look at this team 10 miles from our house. They are beautiful to watch, you can share in their highs with all your friends. It will give you a bond to them. You really don’t have to support Blackburn Rovers you know, follow Manchester City instead, it’s not too late.”
I expected him to say, “but who will take me?” To which I would have answered, ‘well son, at a push, go on, I will, when I can. I won’t ever change my team, but I’ll take you to watch this lot.”
He didn’t say that though, he said, “but Dad, Blackburn is our family team.” His look of confusion and hurt betrayed a fear that my next point was going to be that he was being sent away to an orphanage.
And that, I thought, was that. But over time his interest in football has grown. A trip to Chesterfield to see Adebayo Akinfenwa (A Fifa 13 Xbox thing) didn’t scratch any itch, while his interest in emulating Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero, when he plays at school or at a football party, has grown. Offers to join me and 500 others on a damp Saturday afternoon at Ewen Fields, home of Hyde FC, our local non-league team, hasn’t proved too popular either.
Just to put another bit of context to all of this. There are five kids in our family – that modern construct, the blended family. My eldest is a Rovers fan, of my twin stepsons, one is fanatically Blackburn Rovers, the other is a Spurs fan. Their mother, is, ahem, of Burnley supporting heritage. Our ten-year old son just doesn’t like football at all. And that’s all OK. No wonder the poor youngest lad is confused at all this tolerance.
I still treasure that father-son bond, and two of the lads have shared great moments together at Ewood Park. I can remember with such clarity and such pride walking to Ewood Park with my precious first born – a moment of real joy and an important plank in our growing relationship. Our football link has also been a foundation of my relationship with the Rovers supporting stepson. I love how they have developed their own opinions and prejudices about players – Jordan Rhodes and Scott Dann, mainly - we’ve embraced in ecstasy and muttered in dismay. It reminds me of how I have learned to appreciate football alongside my Dad over the years – he always loves a strong honest centre half, I prefer an overlapping left back. In so doing you get right back then to the essence of what this hold is that football has over people. It is stronger than love, it is akin to a religious moment, it is an authentic union of spirit. My youngest son knows this in his heart.
I got the tickets for City v Leeds through a good friend who goes to the match with her mother. On the concourse of the Colin Bell Stand I bumped into another good pal who was there with his Dad, but who is usually accompanied by his own son. While I was happy enough to provide this experience for him – a 4-0 win over Leeds delivered everything he wanted – a new scarf that he tied like Mancini does, a sublime Aguero performance, some silky Silva skills and a 6000 noisy Leeds fans to provide added entertainment and atmosphere. But much as I could muster up the background context – who was who, why they sang Blue Moon, why someone had an inflatable banana – it wasn’t the same, not even close.
I know there are fans out there who don’t do neutral football, but I’m quite used to it. I get plenty of invites to City and United games through my work, and I always enjoy it. But this was a more bizarre experience, I enjoyed it because he enjoyed it, and I also got more pleasure from it than other things I’ve taken all of our kids to, like, say, Disney on Ice, or Bob the Builder Live. But looking at it through his lens, every box was ticked. My expectations are different, and that’s because football is different now.
Having watched most of my football at Ewood Park I'm rather used to being surrounded by kids and even youths. At City, like most of the big six, everyone around us in the Colin Bell stand was a man in his 40s or 50s or 60s.
A couple of years ago at Spurs – when I took the other stepson, do keep up - I noticed that many of the fans there looked like the kind of men that had sons, but were in groups of other similar men. On the train to the ground from Seven Sisters they were men in their 30s who had been in the pub. Coming out along the High Road there were a smattering of younger fans, and a few women, but the more I looked it was clear that this was an ageing male crowd. This is the way of the Premier League. This is the demographic who are in the habit of attending football. The youngsters, the people with families, can't and don't risk it. Splurging so much on a day out that has that chance of disappointment and yet costs so much isn't worth it. Kids have TV, they have their version of football on the Xbox and other games and I'm sure they wear all the gear. But there are generations missing out on sharing the father and son experience.
Towards the end an advert flashed up for the Newcastle game – tickets from £48 for adults. I was going to suggest that Mum can take him next time, but at those prices? The crowning moment actually came on the morning after the game – walking into school with his City scarf around his neck, he couldn’t wait to tell his mates all about it. Some went, most didn’t. But those Aguero goals will keep him going, raise his stock in the playground and inspire a mazy run.