Two reactions to the same incident made me reflect on fatherhood and fecklessness – how being a Dad doesn’t come with a pre-programmed sense of responsibility.
‘Duh,” you might say “– was ever thus. Man up and move on.”
Maybe, maybe not. Here’s what happened. We’re at a match (not my beloved Brentford this time), in a “home” section of the ground, but not the cheap seats/terrace. The team are having a frustrating afternoon on the pitch, and it’s rubbing off on the fans. A goal down with ten minutes to play, and the visitors nick a second. It’s game over, surely.
Well, down and to our right, a big-bellied bearded guy jumps out of his seat and gesticulates furiously to the away fans’ section. But this is not goading – it’s celebration. He’s one of them! And he’s over-the-moon at the unexpected beckoning win.
Look, I know how it works. You want to get to the game. Tickets for away fans are scarcer than hens’ teeth. So, you find a way into the home fans’ area, pay more than you would normally, leave your scarf and shirt at home and sit there, incognito, knowing that to reveal your true affiliation would be….well, unthinkable.
So far so good for beardy-man except, except, he just couldn’t control himself, could he? It’s almost as if he felt compelled to accept the inevitable hostility from the fans around him, and certain expulsion from the ground, in return for 20 seconds of frenzied celebration.
Well, ok – I can sort of understand that. Except. Except, that’s not quite how it panned out. First off, Mr Beardy doesn’t seem to want to go. The stewards are trying to shepherd him away from irate home supporters and towards the nearest exit. But he’s literally bigger than both of them put together, so it’s a challenge to say the least.
Things get a bit fraught now. A few seats down from me there’s another big bloke. He’s on his feet now and looking to, shall we say, support the stewards in their efforts. And he’s tense. Oh yes, there’s a cauldron there waiting to spill over. “Where you going Dad,?” says his young son hurrying behind him. “Wait here, just wait here,” motions Mr Angry.
Well fortunately the stewards use skills, diplomacy and possibly a threat of arrest, to manoeuvre Mr Beardy out of the ground. And then I see that he too seems to be at the match with his son – a boy, older, than Mr Angry’s , around 14 I’d say, is in the adjacent seat. (I might be wrong about a family connection – but it doesn’t excuse what happened next).
Mr Angry sits back down but two minutes later he and his son are off. In fairness, most of the rest of the ground seems to be off too. Now the gangway to the exit takes Mr Angry. right past where Mr Beardy’s young neighbour is still sat. And it’s all too much clearly. From a standing position, Mr Angry leans down and sticks his face right into the young seated man. Nose to nose he’s giving him both barrels verbally. The youngster looks petrified, says nothing, does nothing, but can’t look away. Mr Angry must be filling every square millimetre of his field of vision.
It seemed to last forever, but it must only have been 10 seconds before the crowd all around bellowed for Mr Angry to back off, and the two (relatively) diminutive stewards used their powers of persuasion once again. What both kids were feeling is anyone’s guess.
Talk about innocent victims here. Everyone parents in their own way and there is no playbook. But you do have to ask why fathers take kids to the game if they are unable to look after them – unable to put their own feelings to one side.
How shocked, if at all, should we be about this? And on the plus side, the vast majority of the crowd were direct and prompt in stressing their displeasure, supporting the stewards, and wrapping the teenager up in a protective blanket of good will. And whilst there were verbals – plenty of them – no fists were raised, or punches thrown.
Once again, football reflects life – there are always some people who do bad things, but the majority have a clear and generally compassionate sense of right and wrong. And the mantra for our time – Don’t be a dick – applies everywhere.
Don’t ask me where or when this all happened. It wouldn’t be fair to enable the individuals to be identified. So if you think you know the location, chances are you’re wrong. But that doesn’t mean this sort of thing is isolated in just one place.