Saturday, July 2

My six year old son has become fond of soccer. I have become the biggest fan of your team | Life and Style

IIt was just at the moment that I loudly applauded the crunchy tackle that took a child out and put him on the ground that I realized that I might have crossed a line in my spectator from my son’s soccer team. For the past few weeks I have spent Sunday mornings observing them and, as with many extracurricular activities, I discovered that there are a whole host of social etiquette issues and parental judgments involved that I had not anticipated.

First, just to be clear, the boy who was downed got up and walked away unscathed. It was an example, hilariously, of a very young child mimicking professional footballers, which means there are a lot of kids collapsing and rolling across the grass in a way that they never would if they were really injured. There have also been some incredibly over-the-top goal celebrations. We still have to see the kids circle the referee, but they only have six, so let’s give him a year.

When my son first announced that he wanted to play soccer, my initial overriding emotions were hope and guilt. Hope of having inherited his mother’s competitiveness and athletic prowess; and guilt for whatever he had passed on to her.

I was, and am, horrible at all sports. It’s pathetic. I have long searched for evidence of an undiagnosed condition whose symptoms are “a complete lack of ability in anything physical, combined with a complete lack of motivation to improve in them.” He has led a lifetime trying to avoid kicking and even pool tables. Now I hope beyond hope that the curse has not been passed on to my children.

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I started watching the games in silence. I still have vivid memories of playing soccer at my school (we lost 13-0 and I dropped out of the game for good) and hearing parents yell advice at their children. My father never did that, I suspect because it would be like trying to encourage a bear to speak Spanish by yelling at it. I decided that I would just watch and cheer silently. That was in stark contrast to some of the other parents, who spend their mornings yelling things like “linear!” and “stay and close it” and “press it.”

I would feel a bit fraudulent saying things like that, since I am completely incapable of doing them myself. In fact, I would dare to say that if I went out to play the court, even among six-year-olds I would find myself out of reach. It is also very different from the way I see Arsenal play. Whether it’s on TV or at a game, I feel completely comfortably yelling at the team that ignores the fact that I know infinitely less about the game than anyone else watching. But what is being a football fan if not speaking with indisputable authority towards a group of much more qualified people? (Decades of this have also proven to be excellent training for many armchair scientists during the pandemic.)

Little by little, I have found myself more and more involved in games. The team my son plays for is new, so it took them a while to catch up with the other clubs that had been playing together for a while. They have gone from being beaten every week, to competing and now to winning. I have to admit I’m getting into it. I pause before giving advice, but I shout encouragement to my son, and even to the team if he is a substitute (joke by the way, it is essential).

And then last week, I celebrated that kid was taken away in a way that may have surprised some of the other parents. On the way home, my wife talked about the game in a tone that I felt was her subtly telling me to be a little calmer in the future. But I’m not going to let her stop me.

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