Andy Richardson: Pitching up to game is win for father and son
The bloke behind was swearing about the Wolves. He was using industrial strength language that I hope my four-year-old doesn’t repeat when he gets to nursery – particularly if he meets a Wolves fan when he’s playing in the sandpit. . .
And besides, prefixing the term ‘Dingle’ with words best saved for nightclubs wouldn’t go down well with his teacher. Mrs Smith might no longer let him play Stick Man if he offers profane opinions about the men in Old Gold and Black. “Well the man at the football says it,” won’t cut any ice if he repeats the things he heard on the terraces.
The kid’s first football match was a rite of passage. I’d done the same with my old man more than 40 years ago, cheering on The Three Degrees, Tony ‘Bomber’ Brown, Len Cantello and Ally Robertson while the old fella supped Bovril. Watching Kenny Dalglish nutmeg Tony Godden left a lifelong impression. Three kids and their dad stood proudly in the family section watching crunching tackles and men still drunk from the night before. Since the 1970s, there have been clubs in London and Shropshire that have been easier to support but I retain my lifelong affinity for the Baggies.
Maybe my son will too, though the game has changed. These days, Premier League football is almost a non-contact sport, like basketball, rather than the bite-yer-ankles affair it used to be.
Not that El Ginge would know that. Previously, he’d stood on the touchline of a Saturday league team, being one of seven spectators watching Rubbish FC. He’d taken more interest in a yellow Frisbee than whether or not the overweight plumbers and balding solicitors could stick the ball in the back of the net – which, frequently, they couldn’t. Taking him to his first proper match was a different kettle of overlapping fullbacks. And, happily, it was one he enjoyed.
We observed the traditions of first games the world over: arrive early, buy a shirt, buy a scarf, queue for over-priced fast food then give up when you realise the line for chips won’t clear until 23 minutes into the match. And then, when the fella in black blows his whistle, watch the crowd almost as much as the match.
His WBA shirt was three sizes too big. On a chilly winter’s day, with my kid wrapped in four layers of warmth, he had to squeeze into a shirt intended for a child literally twice his age. And the scarf caused a bit of a kerfuffle. Not realising it was intended as a demonstration of allegiance, he was nonplussed by: a) the design, and, b) the fact it was too warm. The answer for the next match is simple: Buy a Vivienne Westwood chiffon number in the same colours. It’ll look good and won’t make his neck feel like a central heating unit. Sorted.
It took him two thirds of the game to get into the match – some might say the same about West Brom’s team on the day we made our debut. Initially, he was overwhelmed by the colossal noise of a chanting stadium. He sat, spellbound, as grown men raised their arms aloft and sang: ‘Albion ‘Til We Die.’ By midway through the second half, he was joining in, having mastered his first chant. ‘C’mon You Baggies’ never sounded as sweet as when sung by a kid with the voice of a chorister.
In fairness, his mastery of songs is a joy to behold. While I imagine most kids are down with nursery rhymes at his age, he refuses to sing to anything other than songs by The Killers. Not for him stuff about Hickory Dickory Dock or Jack and Jill, instead, he’s word-perfect with Runaways and The Way It Was.
I reckon Brandon Flowers would be more than impressed at his angelic rendition of songs from Battle Born: “You gotta know that this is real, baby why you wanna fight it? It’s the one thing you can choose, oh!” But I digress. And as Albion ground out a lifeless draw and demonstrated their inability to stick a round thing into a massive, gaping, wide-open net, the boy was coming alive.
“Dad, why don’t they shoot?” he asked. It was probably a question that Sky were asking Alan Pardew at the same time.
“And why don’t they just put the ball in the back of the net.”
He was onto something: 25,000 grown men and women were thinking the same thing.
There were no goals – there seldom are these days. But Little Ginge was thrilled nonetheless. He’d expanded his vocabulary – we’re talking about the word ‘Baggies’, not the stuff the naughty fella was saying about the Wolves – got a bunch of new clothes and learned a new song. ‘We’re Albion Til We Die.’
I reckon it will become as popular as The Killers.