When your non-sporty child gets bitten by football fever

Isaac has never shown much ability or interest when it comes to sports.

He’s an academic boy with a strong empathetic streak. And while he’s a natural runner, it’s fair to say he wasn’t at the front of the queue when hand-eye co-ordination was being handed out. He is to dribbling a football what I am to disciplined dieting.

I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a little disappointing, but actually it’s okay. We can’t be brilliant at everything and many people are brilliant at nothing. Isaac has plenty of other qualities where he excels.

What has been a bit more of a shame is that he hasn’t shown much interest in watching sport either. Not because I want to force him into being keen on sports, more that it’s something I’ve always hoped I would be able to bond with the kids over. Watching football on TV together. Going to games. Recalling trivial minutiae from shared sporting experiences. But up until now it’s been a struggle to get him to watch more than 20 minutes of a match on TV before he politely makes his excuses and slinks off to do something more interesting, such as watching paint dry.

So when he responded enthusiastically to an invitation from one of his oldest friends to see a football match at Reading’s Madejski Stadium on Saturday as part of his ninth birthday celebrations, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

There’s nothing quite as powerful for breaking down barriers and inhibitions than doing something together with your friends and peers. The boys hated any vaguely thrilling rides when we were at Disneyland Paris as a family this summer, yet when we went to Paultons Park a few weeks later along with friends of a similar age, they happily climbed on board every ride they could.

It was much the same here. I doubt Isaac would have been anywhere near as keen to go to an actual football match if we hadn’t been going with his friends. But by the time we’d paid the obligatory visit to the club shop – he emerged proudly wearing his new scarf – and settled in to our seats behind one of the goals, he was positively excited.

His attention wavered slightly during a dull period just before half-time – having friends to chat to helped here – but he was otherwise rapt throughout the 90 minutes. A grandstand finish at the end which cranked up the atmosphere certainly helped. Once he’d got the hang of it, he was happily applauding and singing along with the crowd’s chants. (Thankfully Reading is one of football’s more genteel clubs – we are in the same county as Windsor Castle and Ascot racecourse, after all – and isn’t plagued by much of the … industrial language that peppers many terrace songs.)

He’s still bubbling over with enthusiasm now and we’ve already discussed going to another Reading game soon. It seems that football fever has finally bitten our bookish nearly nine-year-old.

I’ve made one thing absolutely clear to him, though. He may be the proud owner of a blue-and-white Reading FC scarf, but his true allegiance is to Arsenal. Some things are simply non-negotiable. And so a trip to a game at the Emirates Stadium has now been added to the to-do list.

So it begins …


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