The medical profession has got it wrong: the true indication of a young lad’s transition from boy to man is not the upper lip appearance of a fluffy ‘moustache’, which looks more like a threadbare lavatory brush. Nor is it his realisation that a romantic encounter behind the bike-sheds does not necessarily have to limit itself to a mere kiss. It is, in fact, the day he stops going to football matches with his Dad and goes it alone.
I uttered the words, “Dad, I’m never going to another football match with you again” at the age of 15. It would not be truthful, however, to say that this declaration was prompted by the discovery of a couple of silky hairs breaking out just under my nose; nor, sadly, was it the result of that wonderful, wonderful discovery that a girl’s lumpy bits feel pretty good - on the sofa, at the pictures or behind a bike shed. Part of my desire to go solo was as a result of the acute embarrassment my Dad caused me one afternoon at Loftus Road.
Picture the scene: Myself and my Dad are ensconced in the front row of the seats in the Loftus Road stand. A QPR corner is floated in, heads go up, Rangers score. My Dad and I are on our feet, the air is punched, cries of jubilation are uttered by us both. We sit down. My Dad’s joy is still overflowing. He bangs the metal barrier in front of the seats. The crowd around us begins to settle down after the restart. My Dad’s banging becomes all the more apparent. Heads begin to turn in our direction. The banging continues all the louder. Then it stops - not because my Dad has tired of his impression of the Welsh Guards military band but because a gloved hand has been placed on his right shoulder, and a rhetorical question that I had hitherto heard only on television has been aimed at his ear: “What’s all this then?”
Of course both the glove and the words belonged to a policeman - and a sound ticking off later, my Dad sits in silence and I sit in a state of extreme embarrassment If QPR had been playing Coventry that day, I would have interpreted the phrase ‘sending someone to Coventry’ literally and packed my Dad off on their team coach. As we were not, I had to be satisfied with issuing some harsh words and an assertion that our father/son trips to football were now at an end. This distressing tale is but one example of the strain put on my family’s co-existence by football. Conflict was always likely though when you consider that my Mum supports West Ham, my Dad Arsenal (which makes the above episode all the more shameful) and my brother... Chelsea.
Naturally the keenest rivalry in our house was between the occupants of the QPR and Chelsea bedrooms. Three o’clock on the day of a pre-attendance QPR/Chelsea game found each member of the household in their customary positions: me in the living room, with TV remote control in hand, waiting for the scores to start coming through on Teletext; my brother in his bedroom waiting for the scores to come through on Radio 2; my Dad in the garden with one of his ‘it’s only a game’ expressions on his face; and my Mum in the kitchen, preparing the dinner and praying that the game will end in a draw.
Invariably, of course, this was not the case and one brother was left jubilant and the other dejected, bitter and intent on exacting some personal revenge. Often, after a QPR/Chelsea game, our parents had to remind their fledglings of the conditions of the Geneva Convention; and, in particular, that the taking of teddy bear hostages was a clear violation of human rights.
My Mum’s reaction to the swaying fortunes of her team, West Ham, manifested itself in rather more subtle ways, usually at meal times. More chips were served when West Ham won, frozen chips were served frozen when they lost. I’m sure if doctors had plotted a graph of the level of cholesterol in my blood during my teenage years, each of its peaks would have corresponded to a run of good form for the Upton Park side.
For my part, doors were slammed just as hard when QPR lost to West Ham as they were when we lost to any other club. I remember one particular West Ham v QPR match when Rangers went 2-0 down and I stomped noisily up to my bedroom to sulk. Well, I sulked for all of 30 seconds before, with that special optimism that only QPR fans and the young can muster, turning on the radio just in time to hear that Clive Allen had scored twice to level the score. In a matter of seconds, I was down the stairs, into the kitchen and aiming a rousing chorus of, “You’re not singing any more” at my Mum. How adroitly I dodged the brussel sprouts as they were aimed at me.
As far as Arsenal/West Ham fixtures are concerned, I don’t remember much about my parents’ reaction to a win by either side. Not for them the juvenile chanting of terrace ditties across the bedroom landing. They obviously had a more ‘adult’ way of celebrating or commiserating with each other. Indeed, I was born exactly nine months to the day after a famous West Ham victory over Arsenal - but that’s something I’d rather not go into, if it’s all the same. You see, it’s not the thought of my parents ‘doing it’ which is so awful (although awful enough, admittedly) but the sudden realisation that I owe my whole existence on this Earth to the fact that one day Bob Wilson failed to come off his line to catch a far-post cross. And that really doesn’t bear thinking about, does it?
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