Regular readers (look, a joke in the first two words!) will know that over the last few years, this column has featured a number of updates on the Canary indoctrination of our two children.
There have been several highlights: our son, at two, refusing to play with a blue ball at his toddler gym club and insisting on a yellow one; our daughter making up her own Norwich chant to wind up Ipswich supporters on holiday (a real show of chutzpah, since this was just after we’d been relegated to League One).
All seemed to be going to plan. But I should have remembered that all roads have their setbacks and holdups, whether it’s the A11 near Elveden or the path to Premier League safety.
The first sign of trouble came just before Christmas when Harry (now six) came home from school and asked if he could support Chelsea like all the other boys in his class.
I said that he was perfectly free to support whichever team he liked, so long as he understood that there are consequences to all actions and decisions and that in this case it would involve him sleeping in the shed.
(Note to NSPCC supporters: this was a joke. Note to NCFC supporters: no, it wasn’t.)
That seemed to do the trick, and soon he was back on the straight and narrow – or the green and yellow, if you prefer.
But then three or four weeks ago, he came home from his after-school football club in tears. Apparently the other boys – and the Chelsea-supporting coach – had been making fun of his allegiance. ‘Why do you make me support Norwich?’ he asked me angrily.
It seems the coach had asked them all to name a great striker. Harry, who had been at the Everton game and witnessed his cracking header, suggested Kei Kamara. No one else had heard of him. Laughter all round.
Unfortunately, Harry isn’t yet able to make caustic comebacks about oligarchs, racist remarks or megabucks strikers who’ve lost their spark, and felt crushed.
I’d forgotten how hard it can be to feel alone and different when you’re younger.
I’m used to it now, of course; I’ve had years of working for companies where I was the only Norwich fan in the building. (That said, City supporters do turn up in unexpected places every now and then. A couple of weeks ago, there was an old boy on the R68 bus in Twickenham wearing the scarf. Was it you?)
And I’m not at all bothered these days about being largely shunned by the mothers at the school gates on account of my penis. (This is, I should make clear, an issue of possession rather than exposure.)
But for Harry, being mocked for being different was difficult to take. And it was difficult for me to watch, since I’d put him in that situation.
At Carrow Road, we like to tease supporters of big clubs by singing ‘We support our local team’. But for Harry, Norwich isn’t his local team. He was born in Kingston and has lived in south-west London for the whole of his short life. (His local League team is actually AFC Wimbledon.)
Although he and his sister happily sing ‘I’m City born and bred’ to the Norwich version of Just Can’t Get Enough, neither of them has spent much time in the Fine City – and there’s no prospect of them living there any time soon. Their allegiance to a football club 125 miles away is solely down to me.
I did some soul-searching – and having finally located one, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that perhaps I wasn’t being fair to them. I wouldn’t make our children adopt my religious beliefs even if I had any, so why should I do the same with my football team?
‘You don’t have to wear your Norwich kit to football next week if you don’t want to,’ I told him. He said he’d think about it.
Sadly, I began to come to terms with the idea that my son might support a different team. But then…
The next Sunday afternoon, I was watching the second half of the Sunderland game on TV when Harry came in. ‘Can I watch it with you?’ he asked. ‘Course you can,’ I said, making a mental note to keep my thoughts on the match officials mental rather than verbal.
We watched City’s stout rearguard action together – and then he said it:
‘Do you think we’ll hang on, Dad?’
‘We’. A simple two-letter word that showed he was back in the fold.
The final whistle was greeted with a synchronised father-son fist pump. And the following Tuesday, he went to his football session proudly wearing his Norwich kit as usual.
He scored two goals and the coach (who, to be fair to him, apologised for the previous week’s remarks) commented on how well he’d done.
If the boys are asked to name a great striker again, and Harry says ‘Ricky van Wolfswinkel’, I don’t think anyone will be laughing.
Well OK, someone might.
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