The Middlesbrough tickets arrived yesterday. My son asked if one was for him. With the smallest pang of guilt I had to tell him no. He didn't look overly disappointed. He has no concept of the distance we will have to travel on Sunday. Not the best on long car journeys, my eight year old struggles with the eight minute trip to school so eight hours in the car in a single day would be too much for him. And for me.
My boy loves his football, more so playing than watching. Any father who is in to football takes great pride in seeing his child take up the sport. And many, including myself, can't help live their football lives through their child. It is difficult not to.
My son turned eight only recently. For his birthday he asked for a football shirt. A Tottenham Hotspur shirt. Living so close to London it was inevitable that he would end up supporting a London team. As sure as night follows day, he was never going to support my team. A League One team from up North, my team would always be way outside his radar in terms of geographical location and footballing quality.
An eight year old can be easily influenced. My son went through a stage of supporting the team of whomever he had seen most recently. If we visited friends from near Warrington, Cheshire, he would declare that he now supported Manchester United. If the son from a long-time friend of the family came for a sleepover, Liverpool would be his team of choice. One of his best friends at school supports Chelsea and my son, for a while, would follow suit. When he attends football courses with Fulham they become flavour of the month. From my own football trips he has grown up wearing a number of different football kits, ranging from England (all the white, red and blue variants) to RC Lens and PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona. My son even supported Dartford for a couple of weeks after I took him down to Princes Park on this FA Cup run back in September. And I plan to take him back. Kids of that age are fickle and understandably so. He is eight and following a number different teams is not an issue for him.
He used to tell people that he supported every team except my team.
When I myself was a similar age, I remember making a conscious decision about which football team I was going to support. That was a seminal point in my life. I had a choice of supporting my father's team, Manchester City, or a team that my best friend at school supported. I chose the latter. Only now do I realise how much that must have hurt my father. He used to take me to many games at Maine Road, and I hold dear those memories. My father is still a season ticket holder. If I ever said I never once felt slightly guilty about not choosing to support Manchester City, the team the rest of my family support, I would be lying. I harbour a soft spot for them still.
But I am determined not to influence my own son in anyway. He has to choose himself. But when he asked for a Tottenham shirt it arrived like a bolt out of the blue. Of all the London teams he could have gone for, this was the one I had hoped for least. Fulham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Charlton, Crystal Palace - even Reading. But Tottenham? Just like me a generation ago he was influenced by his best mate. His very best friend at school, who he has probably been friends with longest in his short life, supports Tottenham Hotspur and always has. Poor child.
When he asked for the shirt I was shocked. That initial response quickly gave way to a feeling of sickness - that awful stomach churning sensation that comes with the knowledge that you will have to do something you don't really want to do. Something unpleasant, but unavoidable. When I finally went to buy the shirt I asked the teenager behind the counter for a brown paper bag. She looked at me blankly. I couldn't be bothered to explain.
So now my son has another shirt for his collection. I cannot tell him not to wear it. I cannot refuse to take him to a Tottenham game, if he asks. The only saving grace is that if he becomes a true Tottenham supporter, he won't even want to go to watch them. He'll just sit at home and moan. But whatever happens, whatever football choices he makes now or at any point in the future, I will still love him more than I can ever explain.
I just hope this is a phase he's going through and it will pass. I really, really do.