Sunday, December 1, 2013

What Daddy does at the football

Izzy burst into tears when I turned off Pixie Hollow to watch the game. 

The fairies were flying busily around the wood, minding each others’ business as fairies do, and then suddenly, without warning, mean Daddy turned them into magpies in black and white stripes, running and kicking a ball with some people dressed in red. 

When she’d calmed down, which was a whole chocolate biscuit later, I sat her on my lap and together we watched the game. It was her first football match.

Every other Saturday afternoon Daddy goes to the football. 7 years ago, when I first came back to Newcastle, I could only buy season tickets in the corner. In 2009, the humiliation of demotion from the Premier League brought one bonus: so many supporters cancelled their season tickets in disgust, I had the pick of the ground. Now my seats are so close to the manager’s bench, I can hear Alan Pardew shouting out the orders. 

However, this Saturday’s 5.30pm kickoff against West Bromwich Albion clashed with an early dinner party, so I was consigned to the sofa with Sky Sports HD, a cold beer, and strict instructions to look after Izzy while Mummy got ready. 

 That was when I discovered that my 4-year-old had absolutely no idea what I did “at the football”. 

“Look,” I shouted out, as I danced round the room with Izzy in my arms after Gouffran scored the first goal, “that’s Daddy’s empty seat – just behind the man in the suit”. 

While Pardew embraced his coaching team, and 50,000 euphoric fans jumped from their seats, Izzy was obediently screaming “Toon, Toon – Newcastle!” 

But as the game resumed, she suddenly became thoughtful. 

“Daddy, which one is you, then?” 

“I’m not actually there, Iz,” I laughed. “I’m here with you. 

“Normally I’m there at the football, but this is happening now – they’re actually playing the game in Newcastle while we’re watching them here.” 

Now she was really confused. She clearly had no concept of live television. The picture cut to a wide shot of the stadium. 

“Look,” I said, “look at all those people – that’s where Daddy sits.” 

“No,” she said slowly, treating me like an imbecile. “When you go to football, which one of them is you?” 

She was pointing to the players on the pitch, deftly passing the ball through the maze of evil red players. I found it easier to explain the game to her in terms of good and bad fairies. Never trust a red fairy, I’d said, even if he only plays for West Bromwich Albion, and beware fairies with red and white stripes who play for Sunderland – they are truly evil. 

“Oh Izzy, I don’t actually play football when I go.” 

“But you go to football lots.” 

“Yes, I go to watch the football, like all those people there.” 

“So why don’t you play with them?” 

She was very disappointed. 

“Because that man is 27,” I said, pointing at Johan Cabaye, who was lobbing the ball up towards Remy, “and I am 61”. 

“No, Daddy, he’s 4, and you’re 15” 

Then I twigged. I was wearing my old sailing sweatshirt. It has a large number 15 on the back. Cabaye is our number 4. 

 “And look, that man’s only 3,” she said, pointing at Davide Santon. “You’re much more bigger than him.” 

“He’s actually 22,” I said.

“No Daddy, he’s 3, and you’re 15. You must promise me you’ll play when you go to the football.” 

“So why do you think I should play, then?” 

She broke into the biggest, warmest, happiest smile. 

“Because, Daddy, you would be the best: you have the perfect shirt, and the perfect shape, and the perfect shoes”. 

As she snuggled up to my post-middle-aged spread, I looked down at my worn brown slippers. 

“Yes, they are the perfect shoes, aren’t they?” 

Not even Sissoko’s superb winning goal, which raised my team to the dizzy heights of fifth place, could make me prouder than I felt at that moment. 

“Oh Izzy,” I said. “I do love looking at the world through your eyes”.

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