Growing up, I was told that if you had nothing nice to say then you should say nothing at all.
So I’ve found it near-on impossible to contribute to the discussions on MyFootballWriter over recent weeks. Far better left to those with more eloquence and a healthier perspective; especially as the best I could muster during the recent wretched run of results was ‘f*** this s***.’
(N.B. As a rule of thumb, Gary expects significantly more both in terms of reasoned thinking and wordcount).
Let’s be honest, we’re still up to our necks in the ‘brown stuff’ but suddenly the world is a brighter place. Four points from the last two games and the end of our win-less streak puts a spring in the step; a renewed and genuine sense of belief that we’re capable of hauling ourselves out of this.
We’ve played much better than we did at the Hawthorns and had the square root of sod all to show for it so maybe (just maybe) our fortunes are turning? The fact that Newcastle and Sunderland conjured up the result that kept us out of the bottom three for a couple of weeks over the international break was not only the icing on the cake – it was the icing with a liberal sprinkling of hundreds and thousands and a couple of sparklers, plus a banner reading ‘enjoy your weekend, love from Rafa and Big Sam’ on top.
So all in all, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful. But as the combined masses of the Geordie and Canary faithful celebrated the Newcastle equaliser alongside a bare-chested Mitrovic, I had a sudden moment of regret and melancholy; strange perhaps, but first some context.
My son is nine years old and into his second year as a season ticket holder. He first went to a City game at the age of five and since then I’ve witnessed quite a transition. The little lad who once needed his Nintendo DS to keep boredom at bay (although I’m guessing we’ve all seen matches like that) grew into a face-painted, inflatable canary-wielding maniac on Wembley Way.
14:46 p.m. Saturday, 23rd January, 2016
I walked out of Carrow Road in a state of utter disbelief. The jubilant singing from the Liverpool fans in the corner of the Jarrold stand confirming what had just transpired; City had blown a two goal lead and traded injury-time goals in a 5-4 defeat. Lallana’s 95th minute strike and the accompanying celebrations from Klopp, his players and a few thousand Scousers were absolutely galling.
My son and I walked in silence towards the station. Every so often he would look up at me but gauging the expression on my face; he wisely realised that his father was not in the mood for ‘chit-chat’. But somewhere near Pulls Ferry, he finally broke: “Daddy, that was the best game I’ve ever seen”.
It would be inappropriate to share what immediately ran through my mind on hearing those words. Was he mad? Hadn’t he seen what had just happened? Is he really my son? (I mean he looks like a mini-me but what child of mine could fail to understand the brevity of the situation?).
Without prompting, he went on to justify himself. “Nine goals, a penalty, all that action at the end, – it was SO exciting”.
I said nothing but reflecting on it later that weekend, I realised that maybe (and unlike City) he had a point. After all, why do we go to football if it’s not to be entertained? To feel those highs and lows and become so engrossed that we put aside whatever else may be going on in our lives for a couple of hours.
But what happens when events on the pitch start to dictate how you view those other things in your world? When a defeat on the Saturday still hurts on the following Friday. When you wake up in the night and your first thought is about the implications of relegation.
My son lives and breathes football and at every match he goes through the very same emotions that I do. But on the final whistle, his mind goes to what he’s going to have for dinner or how long it will be before he’s back on the PlayStation. My mind turns to the remaining fixtures, the table, our goal difference.
He seemingly walks without a care in the world. I walk as if I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Maybe he’s the one who has got it right?
15:10 p.m. Sunday, 20th March, 2016…
Wijnaldum beats N’Doye and floats a cross to the far post where Mitrovic climbs above his marker to nod the ball back across the keeper and into the far corner. St James’ Park goes berserk as do the Cook boys. For the next ten minutes we pace up and down the lounge, knowing that a draw in the Tyne-Wear derby will keep us out of the bottom three. My son turns to me and says, “This is huge, why can’t the ref just blow his whistle. I hate this.”
That’s my boy. Two months on and there are the genes coming through.
Or rather there’s the curse.
Hence the moment of regret I mentioned at the start of the piece. In that instant, I realised that I’ve indoctrinated him to think as I do; to worry about the ‘bigger picture’ instead of just enjoying the moment.
We have seven games left and all manner of highs and lows to come. Who knows whether we’ll ultimately stay up or go down?
My advice for those of you reading this and for my son is to try to enjoy the climax of the season for what it should be and to watch each and every match through child’s eyes.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevocook