Watching the Midlands derby on television Saturday between Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers, a smile crept on my face when I saw an elderly woman in the crowd celebrating after Aston Villa scored a goal. To see her beaming and jumping up and down was a natural and beautiful thing to see. It filled my heart with joy even though I’m neither a Villa or Wolves supporter.
It made me immediately think of my dearly departed grandmother. Except she wasn’t a soccer fan. Neither is my father, my mother, my sister or neither was my brother, who died eight years ago. In fact, I was and am the only soccer fan in my entire family. My grandparents on my father’s side were passionate Liverpool supporters, having lived in the city. But everyone else had no interest in the sport.
When I listen to interviews or podcasts such as The Spurs Show, I constantly hear stories of how fathers pass along the love of the sport and their support of a particular team to their son. For many families, it’s a birthright to become the supporter of a specific club. And the child is raised to become a supporter. But for me, I never had that. I learned on my own and alongside my cousin Kevin who was a mad Leeds United supporter.
When I went to my first professional soccer match when I was 10, it wasn’t with my father but it was with my best friend and his father. We travelled in his car to a mid-week game during the dark of winter. And seeing the bright green pitch under those floodlights changed my life forever.
I didn’t have the luxury of my parents understanding my new found passion. It was always something they had a hard time coming to grips with and it always seemed to them that it was a distraction for me from my schoolwork and more important things in life.
I did find a way to get my parents to come with me to two soccer games, though, which was a proud but unusual experience. The first was a game during what became the final season for the Miami Fusion where the team was playing some of the most beautiful soccer I’ve seen a team play in person. The crowd of over 12,000 was into it too, and my parents really seemed to enjoy the match. The second game they went to was to celebrate by seeing me propose to my now wife during half-time of a Miami Fusion soccer game.
As a father, I’m now in the role of encouraging my children to follow the game of soccer as I do. But the three girls I have are interested in playing the game more than watching it on television. My fourth child – my son, named Christopher, is still too young (one and a half years old) to get into the game, but I’m sure I’ll encourage him when he gets older. For me, it’s an opportunity to raise my children in a family that is as soccer mad as I am and bring them up with the game, if they’re interested.
What about you? What has been your experience following soccer with your family? Are your parents or grandparents into the sport, and have they taken you to matches? Do they understand why you’re so passionate about the sport, or do they look at you as the bizarre one in the family following that strange game? Share your stories and tell us about your parents and family, and their involvement (or non-involvement) with the beautiful game.
Photo credit: Geoff Penn