There’s several important moments in a man’s life – getting married, seeing the birth of your first child and then taking them to their first football match.
I was lucky enough to have this privilege and it certainly was a fantastic experience. I’d been looking forward to it since my dad took me as a six-year-old back in 1984. The match was the home game vs Bolton Wanderers in the Carabao Cup. I was obviously thrilled with how the match went and even happier that my lad Jack seemed to be getting into it as well. He was asking me who players were, asked questions about the match, cheering for the team, even telling his mum to put her phone away and pay attention to the game!
Before we went, I did have some concerns. Will I be subjecting my own offspring to the misery that comes with following West Ham? In his innocent, corruptible mind, all football is West Ham. There are no other teams. He has no concept of vile money-sucking machines like Manchester United and Chelsea.
But I am aware that soon his mates will start wearing Spurs, Manchester City, Barcelona and Liverpool kits, and he will find himself faced with his first major life choice, at an age when such a dilemma is beyond his unformed brain.
Chances are he is going to be forced into supporting someone much worse than West Ham. More successful, granted; but morally worse. So, like my father, I am steering him towards West Ham. But is it cruel of me to do so? Am I storing up years of adolescent resentment by making him conform to my own choices? Every father wants his son to share his taste. Naturally, I want Jack to like U2 and Alter Bridge, but I’m also resigned to the fact that he is going to find his own taste in music, his own style of fashion, his own favourite kind of movie. And I’m fine with that.
But with football teams, it’s something else. What does it say about the father-son bond if they support completely different clubs? What use to me is a son if he’s going to wear a T-shirt with Ozil on the back? Maybe, I’m taking it too seriously but, as a child, I can well remember the stigma of supporting an unfashionable side – no kid ever wants to be different, and as a West Ham fan, I always felt a minority at school.
Yet I’ve always had enormous respect for other grown men who have stuck by their underachieving childhood team. Men for whom loyalty and nostalgia count for much more than a bulging trophy cabinet; men who have good reasons for staying true to their mid-table roots. ‘You could see the floodlights from the bottom of my street,’ they say, or ‘I was named after Bobby Moore.’
What’s more, taking all emotion out of the equation, there are many practicalities I must weigh up when it comes to putting pressure on Jack to conform to my world view. I’ve always considered West Ham as a club that is family-friendly, and I can get Jack a season ticket for less than a single match-day package at Chelsea. Besides who’s going to take him if he ever wants to go to Anfield, because every weekend, dad’s busy following the Irons?
In truth, I will probably support Jack in making his own decision on his club (unless, of course, he chooses Millwall or Tottenham). I will just have to hope that he opts for my club. Fingers crossed; there will be more matches for us in the future.