Saturday, 17 April 2010

Learning to Love Football - John Dougherty

I was always rubbish at football. In the school playground, I was invariably shoved in goal, which seemed to be the sporting equivalent of the slow readers’ group; and on the rare occasions when I was allowed out from between the jumpers, I didn’t have the skills - or indeed some of the concepts - which might have helped me to score, or at least to keep the ball away from the opposition for more than a nanosecond.

It probably didn’t help that the ball was actually a plastic bag filled with squashed-up newspapers, since we weren’t allowed to use a real one.

All that being so, I’d have much preferred to do something else; but there was nothing else on offer. Boys took up the entire playground (what little there was of it) playing footplasticbagfilledwithpaper; girls hung around inside chatting to the teacher. That was how life was. So I spent playtimes doing something I wasn’t very good at, and being constantly reminded by those around me that I wasn’t very good at it.

Given all that, I suppose it’s no wonder that, all my adult life I’ve been A Man Who Doesn’t Like Football. Can’t see the point of it. Never have.

And yet, suddenly, I find myself beginning to at least catch a glimpse of the point. In fact, it would be no exaggeration to say that recently I’ve had some football-related experiences which can only be categorised as, well, enjoyable. So: what has brought on this sudden transformation? The answer I can tell you in two words:

My son.

Noah, who’s now 9½, has developed a passion for sports; and one of the sports he’s decided he particularly loves is football. And when Noah loves something, he doesn’t keep it to himself.

He’s joined a team. He’d have liked to play rugby as well, but I like his nose the shape it is; and there are only so many hours in the week. So, after a bit of discussion, we found him a football team that plays on a relatively convenient evening, and off he went.

And it was on his second evening of training that it occurred to me: perhaps I do like football after all.

What made me realise that my view might be changing, was this: the plan was, I drop him off, hang round for a few minutes, then go and pick up his mum from the supermarket. But when it came to it, despite all my grumbles about not wanting to spend hours hanging about on touchlines - I didn’t want to leave. I was enjoying it.

Mostly, I was enjoying watching my son. As a dad, it’s part of my job to be proud of him; and it’s a part of the job that I’m pretty good at. Still, when I started really watching what he was doing - and, since he wasn’t playing alone, that also meant watching those around him - I began to see, to really see, what was going on. It wasn’t just a bunch of kids kicking a ball around; there was skill, and purpose, and... well, if you’re into football, you’ll already know exactly what I mean (and then some); and if you’re not, there’s no point in me trying. People have tried to explain it to me, and I didn’t get it either.

Then there was the match. Cardiff versus... someone or other, I think it was, on Easter Monday. Noah was keen to watch it, so - just for a bit of father-son bonding - I settled down in front of the telly with him. And for the first time, I found myself watching a match on TV and really understanding what was going on; because someone I love was taking the time to explain it to me - not in order to teach me something or make me feel inferior, but just because he was enjoying it so much he couldn’t help sharing it.

It feels a bit odd, at the age of 45, to be suddenly getting pleasure from something whose point has eluded me for most of my life. But what, I hear you ask, does any of this have to do with children’s books?

Well, as regular readers will know, one of my interests and concerns - all right, obsessions - is the teaching of reading; or rather, the learning of reading, and the learning of the pleasure of reading. And since I imagine you’re all sharp enough to work out the parallels for yourselves, I’m going to leave it there and see who runs with it.

John Dougherty’s website is at, and his latest book is Jack Slater and the Whisper of Doom.

In more football-related news, John’s daughter is currently enjoying Helena Pielichaty’s Girls F.C series.


Joan Lennon said...

This has nothing to do with football, but I just wanted to say I love the photo of you reading to your kids!
Cheers, Joan.

Miriam Halahmy said...

I was what they called a 'tomboy' when I was a little girl but I was really as adventurous as the boys, if not more so and very active. Today I reckon I would have been a striker in the First Team at school. Glad you found a way into the beautiful game.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Playing in goal for my six brothers was no way to learn to love football but I managed it anyway.
The big teams who play for lots of money I have no problem watching - like a play on TV.
But coaching younger players, seeing them develop, standing on the touchline saying only encouraging things in an evenly modulated tone - that kind of football I don't watch... I live.

Andrew Strong said...

Your introduction to football was a game featuring Cardiff City? They are the club closest to my heart, but to imagine this could be your introduction to the beautiful game...and a goaless draw, too. A bit embarrassing, really. Tried watching Barcelona?