Thursday 23 July 2015

I Believe The Children Are Our Future...

It was inevitable that, having been a City fan all my life and followed the Blues from Maine Road to the Etihad and beyond, I would pass this onto any children I may have. After mulling it over since the day he was born, I felt the time was right to introduce my son, Vincent, to what will become the love of his life- he just doesn’t know it yet. Yes, it was time to take my son to his first football match.

The timing of this was a source of contention from long before he was born. How early would be too early? When is deemed socially acceptable to take a baby to the football? I think I was paranoid and concerned as to how he would behave for a period of 90 minutes in a very public arena. I was worried about the possibility that, despite the fact he is a very happy baby, he would continuously cry, leading to collective moans, groans and glares from the fans surrounding me. I wasn’t overly worried about his reaction to being in large crowds, nor to loud noises, as he has been in environments like that before and been his usual cheery self. I guess the only way to find out was to take him and see what happened. 

Wearing his colours with pride

I’m lucky that I have a really supportive boyfriend, Adam, who I was going to the match with, who had encouraged me to take Vincent and offered to help me every step of the way. He reassured me constantly, living by the motto ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ Of course, he was right (it pains me to say that!) The worst case scenario was that V would cry relentlessly and I’d have to take him back to the car and there would be no great shame in that, after all he was a baby. In my mind I was totally prepared for this to become a reality! To most concerned, City vs. Southampton was a slight formality. With not a great deal to play for after Chelsea tied up the title, it was one of those mundane end of season fixtures. Not for me. It was my son's first football match and that meant the world.

 Walking around the Etihad with V

On the day, I prepared his food and nappy bag as normal and dressed V resplendently in his City shirt and matching sky blue joggers. Timings of his meals weren’t really a concern as I knew I could feed him in the concourse before the game. I wasn’t sure if I could take his pram and leave it anywhere (I obviously knew I couldn’t take it into the stadium). I decided to chance taking it: having got there with plenty of time to spare, we found out that I could leave his pram at the City@home reception (somewhere I was very familiar with having worked at the club for a few years). I took him to City Square to see the lovely crowd of people that I know through Twitter and often meet up with before the games. Everybody was so reassuring and supportive and that really helped to settle me too, there are some truly wonderful Blues out there. Once in the ground, I also found out there was a baby change facility in the Family Stand. Of course, the staff at City were more than accommodating. Things were almost going too well.

Showing him his second home

But to my surprise, that’s exactly how the afternoon continued. As I carried V around the increasingly busy concourse, fans oohed and ahhed at the sight of his constantly smiley face, decked out immaculately in his City attire. I took him pitch-side and even to see my former colleague from BBC Radio Manchester, Ian Cheeseman and his sidekick, Shaun Goater. I hadn’t seen Ian for a while, practically since the days I worked on Blue Tuesday with him, so it was truly a delight to catch up with him and we made arrangements to meet again and keep in touch. I also saw a few people who I worked with at City, most who didn’t know I’d had a baby, so that was fun too.

 Seeing my good friend and ex-colleague Ian

By this time kick off was approaching, so I headed to my seat with Adam and gave V some food and milk. I think the key to the day going as smoothly as possible was organisation. Just as on any other day out we go on, making sure he was changed and fed resulted in a blissfully happy baby. Adam said his goodbyes and headed to his seat and I was left with my little boy- with just five minutes until the match started.

Heading to our seats before kick off

When the teams, Southampton and City, took to the pitch, I held V aloft and he was just smiling and giggling. Nothing seemed to phase him. The noise from the crowd was considerable, but he took it all in his stride, wide-eyed at the events unfolding around him. He was actually enjoying it: he was fascinated by people applauding, intrigued by the consistent cheers and amazed at the number of people surrounding him. My seven month old son was at a football match and it looked like he was actually having fun. Now for the real moment of truth- how he would cope with 90 minutes in the stadium. 

 Engrossed in the game

He coped just fine. The first half went by a breeze, with V having intermittent drinks of milk between constantly looking around at the sights and sounds on display. He was mesmerised by the flashing LED advertising boards (which to us adults are both incredibly annoying and distracting during the game) and at some points I swear he did actually watch parts of the game. The thing that excited V the most was the crowd interactions and noise. Whenever City moved forward and the home faithful roared encouragement, V would watch people’s movements and react with delight to the increasing noise levels. When the first goal went in, his reaction was priceless. He was giggling and bouncing up and down. I couldn’t believe it. He loved it! I had tears in my eyes: it was one of my proudest moments. 

Come on City

To most people that would sound quite sad, but when you’ve supported a team your whole life and always dreamed of passing on that support to your children, it was a bit of a dream come true. I was at the football with my little boy and we were enjoying it together. I’m sure if he would’ve gone watching City back in the 1990s that would be a very different story. Our children will never know they were born when it comes to the calibre of City and the position the club is in now. But V will. I will educate him on those days where we’d rock up to Maine Road expecting a defeat, and get one, usually at the hands of inferior opposition. The defeats to Wycombe, Wimbledon and Stockport will forever be etched in my memory. The amount of minutes of abysmal football I’ve sat through, of Typical City™, the amount of managers I watched come and go, that Jamie Pollock own goal, the amount of Georgian footballers…he’s never going to believe me, is he? I barely believe it myself looking back. 

 Having fun with Adam

I met up with Adam and his Dad, brother and nephew at half time, but it was pretty chaotic carrying V through the scrum on the concourse. The amount of people who shouted ‘awww he’s so cute!’ at me, who smiled, who said things about the next generation…he was attracting quite a lot of attention, but he took it all in his stride. Even through the second half he was as good as gold. He was due a sleep so towards the end he did niggle slightly, but I expected that. It was nothing that his dummy, a bit more milk and some Mum cuddles couldn’t fix. By the time the final whistle blew, and City had won 2-0 thanks to goals from the departing Frank Lampard and Golden Boot winner Sergio Aguero, he was back to giggling and bouncing around again, seemingly delighted that City had finished the 2014/15 with three points confirming second place in the League.

 Future season ticket holder

It was quite tiring, as he’s quite a big boy and I held him up for the vast majority of the game, but it was definitely worth it. All that self-doubt and paranoia was for nothing. Although I didn’t see any other parents with children quite as young as Vincent that day, I am aware that people do take very young babies to the football all the time, but I felt seven months was the right age to indoctrinate him into the life of a Manchester City fan. So for anybody who is contemplating it and having doubts like I did- don’t over think it. Just dive right in. Like somebody said to me, if you take them often enough when they are young, they will just become used to it and treat going to football and being in that kind of environment the norm. My aim now is to take Vincent to at least a game a season, so when he’s older he can tell his friends he has been to a match every season since he was born (but of course he was there throughout my pregnancy since conception, week in week out in my stomach).

Post match celebrations

As parents, you do have to make judgement calls and make decisions for what is best in your children’s lives. As it goes, this wasn’t necessarily a particularly big one, but it’s one memory that will live with me if not him for the rest of my life. To be there with my boy and a man who helped me every step of the way meant the absolute world and witnessing V’s reactions to the big moments of the game (and even the small ones) was priceless. It’s a joy to watch him constantly learning and growing, but it was a real pleasure watching him bouncing and smiling every time City scored. It was inevitable though, it’s in his blood. Long may that continue in his bright blue future. 

 The loves of my life in one photograph

Sunday 24 May 2015 was the day it all started for him: one day he’ll thank me…or never forgive me!

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