A few weeks ago, I did something far worse to my four-year-old son than hitting him with a wooden spoon. I took him to his first football match.
Striking him with a kitchen implement probably wouldn’t cause as much long term mental trauma as introducing him to a world where people agonise about ‘their’ sports team’s results despite having absolutely no input or control over the outcome. In my defence – like most fathers – I did it with the best of intentions.
It was an A-League match between Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix. But it could have been any game, featuring any teams, in any sport, anywhere in the world. Taking your kids to their first sporting event is a modern rite of passage. The likes of the Cherokee Indians had it easy. Legend has it that their sons were taken into the forest by their fathers; blindfolded, and left alone for a whole night under strict instruction not to call out for help, thereby proving the sons were now men. A night of deerskin loin cloth wetting terror often seems preferable to the lifetime of angst and disappointment that can result from emotionally investing in a sports team’s fortunes season after season.
It all seemed so nice when we arrived at the stadium. This would be a memory to treasure. A special, shared father-son occasion to recall fondly in years to come. My son was excited to be there, marvelling at the crowd and its shared reaction to the on field action. He leapt out of his seat and cheered, copying his newly found fellow supporters when Melbourne scored an early goal. It was as good as it got. Wellington quickly equalised and, after the initial excitement, a turgid non-event of a match eventuated. Mini-me wondered why Melbourne Victory hadn’t scored another goal. Honesty is the best policy. I advised him it was because they were playing rubbish. If he’d lost interest in proceedings at this point, I can’t say I’d have blamed him. However, he keenly watched and hoped ‘our’ team could win. It finished 1-1. Not a disastrous result for a first game. Things can only get better and worse for him from hereon in.
He now frequently chants “Melbourne Victory” unprompted at home and I feel guilty that he’s sad when I have to tell him they lost (that honesty again). What have I done? Why have I passed on this curse? The curse of caring about something as ridiculous and ultimately meaningless as sports results. But then I smile, remembering his declaration towards the end of his first football match as he mimicked my earlier astute tactical analysis of proceedings. “They’re playing rubbish!” he shouted. Those nearby laughed and agreed. In an increasingly isolationist and fractured society, sport is one of the few remaining communal experiences left.
We’re all in this together.