So far, so good, as far as going back to school is concerned.

Indeed, the last day of the holidays – usually one for acting like a hermit – saw DS1 reminding me that we were supposed to be getting his feet measured.

“I thought we were going to get my feet measured,” he reminded me, mid-morning.
“Yes. Do you want to go now?”
“Yes,” he replied, unexpectedly.

Half an hour later he was the proud owner of some shoes that fitted – lace-ups, if you will – and none of the reluctance (to put it mildly) of our last visit to the shoe shop.

Maybe the fact that we were also heading to the sports shop that morning to kit him out with some football boots might have had something to do with it.

The boots were also purchased with the minimum of fuss. They were yellow, of course.

Every day, since he has been back at school, I have come down in the morning to find him already dressed in his uniform. Some days he’s even had his shoes on.

Gone, it seems, is the requirement to have breakfast before dressing.

I don’t know what the rules are for breaking the rules, but whenever the rule gods call an amnesty it’s always a welcome relief.

The laws of football

Last weekend I took DS1 to see the mighty Chelsea take on Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup – ah, the magic of the cup.

“Is it time to go yet?” he asked, about two hours before the time we had agreed we’d be leaving.

After much discussion, we compromised on leaving 30 minutes earlier than originally planned. On the plus side, he was happy to go by train – not even a murmur of complaint (we usually go by car, but Saturday parking is a nightmare). Additionally, our earlier departure meant the tube would be less crowded.

Having said that…

The mainline train element was, as usual, straightforward. We got a double seat together on an uncrowded train, and he even ate his sandwiches on the journey – something he usually doesn’t do; he has an aversion to eating in front of others.

The underground, though, was a slightly different story. As we embarked on to a relatively empty tube, for our one-stop journey, he freaked. Refusing a seat – see how empty it was – he clutched the pole by the door.

“You said it would be empty,” he cry-whispered.
“It is.”
“It’s not.”

I shielded him from the rest of the carriage and he began to relax. ‘The keeper of how you phrase things’ jabbed me in the ribs. “Use ‘should be’ less crowded, not ‘will be’ next time, he (no, probably a she) told me.

She’s always wise after the event.

On the down side (of our earlier departure), there would be a lot of hanging around before kick-off.

One of my usual football mates was also taking his son and we had planned to meet up beforehand for lunch, but DS1 wasn’t having any of it.

Although he knows them well, the rules (these ones have yet to be given an amnesty) are: we take sandwiches, we go straight to the ground, we go to the shop, we go inside the stadium, we watch the game, we go straight home. We don’t meet anyone else and certainly not in an establishment that’s licensed to serve food and/or drink.

We’ve been here before, when I’ve had to ‘accidentally’ bump into the others in the street, but this time – as if to make sure this couldn’t happen – DS1 insisted we were in our seats an hour and a quarter before kick-off.

Even then, there was time for a minor incident in the club shop.

Shop ’til you pop

Chelsea’s away kit is a striking yellow this year, which has naturally caught the eye of the boy.

I tried to manage his expectations before we set off, that shirts are very expensive, he already had loads of kits etc., but what can you do. It’s part of the day out. You take the boy to football, you go to the club shop.

And he, as far as he was concerned, was having a yellow shirt no matter what.

Despite my minor protestations, I was chuffed he wanted to wear his colours, and I was more than happy to get him one. The mistake I made was not discussing the name and number printing before we set off.

The correct size of shirt located – there was no chance of getting him a larger size, despite my well-reasoned argument that it would last him longer.

“But, Dad, I’m nine. So I need the 8-10 size.”

This would be the case whether it fitted or not.

“Right,” I said. “I will get you the shirt, but we don’t need to get a name and number on the back do we?”

“Yes.”

Arse.

“Look, that’s another £15; the shirt is over £50 as it is. We’ve just had Christmas and we’re not made of money,” I said, using a well-worded argument I’d heard another parent use not much earlier.

Only it didn’t work with my offspring. I received a whack in the mouth for my trouble.

I replaced the shirt on the rack and impolitely informed him that if that was how he was going to behave he wouldn’t even get a shirt – let alone a name and number on the back – then walked away, in a failed attempt to regain my composure.

He chased me around the shop, trying to drag me back to said shirt, pointing, grizzling and murmuring (he would have been shouting, but that would mean other people hearing him) about a name and number, and generally being on the verge of a complete meltdown.

A busy shop – which may also have had a bearing on the events – was not the place to have to deal with a full-scale meltdown, believe me.

We calmly (honest) discussed the issue. I extracted an apology – always a sign that he knows he has been out of order – and we agreed that he would pay for the printing with his Christmas money. (Tight? Maybe. I prefer to call it ‘teaching him the value of money’.)

Compromise reached. Smiles all round. Crisis averted. A win-win.

“You don’t want the (sleeve) badges, do you?” I asked, as we joined the queue. These cost extra, of course.

“No.”

This was a conversation I would come to regret.

Clapped out

Once inside the ground, he went into a toilet cubicle to change into his new shirt. Why he needed the privacy of a cubicle I don’t know – he put it on over another shirt.

“Oh, look, they are giving away free pots of fruit for kids,” I said, as we passed a table full of pots of fruit with a sign saying ‘Free fruit for kids’. “Do you want one?”

“No.”

Stupid question.

As we whiled away the time to kick off – and before the teams even came out to warm up – we watched some of the highlights of past FA Cup glory they were showing on the big screens.

“That’s 2008,” DS1 announced.
“That’s 2011,” he said, as the match highlights changed.
“That’s 2012.”

He knows which kit is from which year. Me? I’m clueless, even though I go to every game.

Finally, the game kicked off. As I clapped a particularly good move from the lads, DS1 turned to me and shouted (in a quiet way, so no one else could hear – we were in public after all): “Don’t clap. You can’t clap, ever.”

“I wasn’t clapping the keeper’s save,” I said, thinking he was chastising me for applauding the opposition. “I was clapping the good football we played.”

“You can’t clap,” he re-emphasised, jabbing me in the arm.

Maybe it was the noise my clapping created close to his over-sensitive ears. But there were 40,000 other people clapping, so I’m not sure what the issue was.

Fortunately, he let this rule slide as the game progressed.

At halftime, an old man sat to my left started chatting to me.

I received a poke in my side for my trouble (not from the OAP).

“Don’t talk to that pensioner,” DS1 told me.
“Well, he started talking to me,” I said. “And it is rude not to answer.”
“You can’t talk to him,” he pleaded, distraught.

I then engaged in some rapid head tennis, attempting to respond to my over-chatty neighbour while also engaging with the anxiety monster on my other side.

Thankfully the second-half started before things could degenerate. Even more thankfully Chelsea scored early on. We leapt to our feet in celebration and DS1 started punching me in the stomach.

While it was good to see him show some emotion – often (although he is animated during the match, asking questions and discussing the whys and wherefores of the game), when we score he is somewhat muted; the noise of everyone else overwhelming him.

I secretly hoped we wouldn’t score a hatful so I didn’t have to endure too much of his new found celebration technique. Luckily we only scored one more, so my stomach only took one more beating.

Opposites don’t attract

After the game, surprisingly, he was keen to meet up with our friends, and was disappointed that we didn’t go to a restaurant/pub after. The others had to shoot off.

“That’s why we were trying to meet before the game,” I said.

He smiled, ruefully. Maybe next time.

He had clearly grown in confidence as the day wore on – the more crowded tube on the way back proved no issue at all. The overground did, however.

Boarding the train, there were no seats to be had. It was packed. But we huddled in a corner without any issues.

A couple of stops later some seats became available, but he baulked at sitting down.

“They’re opposites,” he cringed.

Ah, he wanted to wait for seats where we could sit next to each other. Fair enough.

At the next stop, two adjacent seats became available and I grabbed them. He still appeared jittery.

“They’re opposites,” he murmured, anxiously.
“No, we’re next to each other,” I replied, somewhat confused.
“No, there are opposites,” he repeated.

Ah, the penny dropped.

We were in a four – two double seats opposite each other, as opposed to a secluded two.

He sat nervously, turned towards me, so he didn’t make eye contact with anyone sitting opposite; refusing to eat his sausage roll with someone watching him.

Eventually, a secluded double seat came free and we jumped into it. Relief flowed through him; sausage roll eating resumed.

As we walked home from the station, he announced: “We didn’t get Premier League badges on my shirt.”
“No, you said you didn’t want then,” I replied.
“I did!” he screeched, slapping me for my trouble.
“No, I asked you if you wanted badges, and you said ‘no’.”
“I didn’t. I said ‘yes’” he insisted.

Give me strength.

“It’s OK,” I said. “We obviously had a miscommunication, but I can take the shirt with me next time I go and, if you want to spend your pocket money on getting badges, I can get them put on.”

This seemed to appease him.

Solution reached. Crisis averted (again). Win-win. Or so I thought.

When we got home, he proudly showed his mum the new shirt – and the printing on the back.

“But Dad didn’t get the Premier League badges,” he complained.

I explained what had happened to the wife. This was like a red rag to a bull.

“I didn’t say ‘no’. I said ‘yes’.”
“OK, yes, but we have come up with a solution haven’t we?”
“I’m not wearing it until you get the badges put on,” he screeched, aggressively.

I’d had enough. “You ungrateful little sh… I haven’t even had a thank you for taking you to the football, let alone buying you the shirt,” I screamed.

He took flight up the stairs in tears.

I took flight downstairs, steam coming out of my ears.

While the fact I reduced him to tears may sound harsh, it means he gets it. There was no resistance, no hitting.

With hindsight, and the wiseness of the wife, it was obvious that this wasn’t really about the badges. It was more the fact that he had held himself together all day, dealt with some tricky situations and now he was letting off steam.

As I came back upstairs he was waiting for me.

“Sorry,” he said, before giving me a huge hug.

The boy is growing up. I should follow his example.

3 comments

  • Sherry

    Simply put “Hat’s off to you Phil”. You are a saint of patience, well done you. The boy is lucky to have you.

    Reply
  • Clive

    Yer, Sherry, I’m as one with you.

    Reply
  • Matthew Bourne

    Yeah, that was a gripping read, and very poignant. I had to take a break half way through and get a cup of tea before finding out how the rest of the day went!

    Reply

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