The FIFA World Cup kicks off next Thursday. For the first time the kids – and Toby in particular – are genuinely looking forward to a month of wall-to-wall football. Football fever is well and truly here.
We’ve tried to build their interest before. Euro 2016. World Cup 2014. But the best we have previously managed was completing a Panini sticker album – and even then it took much cajoling. When the actual football started, the interest abruptly stopped.
Not this time, though. We got started on the Panini album early this year and there was definitely greater interest. Previously the boys focussed more on the logistics of filling up the album and tracking swaps. However, this time they are paying attention to the actual teams and players. Football-related drawings cover our living room walls. And Toby, our resident Son of Statto™, has spent the last few weeks on a crash course to build up his knowledge of the World Cup, its history and – most importantly – its facts and figures. (Honestly, he will be a pub quiz whizz one day.)
At the same time, the boys have started playing football more too. In the past, they were reluctant to join in when our neighbours’ kids were kicking a ball around our street. But now they’re both getting stuck in (as is Kara, who needs little encouragement). And Toby is the proud owner of a couple of shiny new football kits, shin pads and all. Initially he even insisted on wearing it all to bed.
To top it off, Toby has even signed up for football sessions after school on Friday. His first one is this afternoon. This is the boy we normally have to crowbar out of the house. The boy with the history of giving up on activities pretty much the moment he starts. However, the prospect of playing organised football has seized his imagination so much that he has even been dragging me out to the park most evenings to hone his skills.
It’s sweet, really. Normally when I get home from work all I want is a cup of tea and a few minutes to quietly decompress. But I’ve needed no encouragement to go out with Toby, a ball and some training cones. As stubborn and sullen as he can be, when he’s genuinely enthusiastic he just lights up. And no matter how tired I am, I can’t say no to that.
We’ve even given him his own nickname. In that imaginative way that many footballers simply tag a ‘y’ on the end of their surname, Toby – or Tobes as he is frequently called – is now christened ‘Tobesy’. Sorted.
The one thing that concerns me is managing his expectations. To be fair, he’s already showing decent basic skills, so he won’t disgrace himself. But equally he’s going to be playing with kids who have been playing football for as long as they have been able to say “Rooney”. Or “are you f&$@ing blind, ref?” I don’t want to dampen his enthusiasm but equally I don’t want him to come crashing down to Earth when he realises he isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and George Best all rolled into one.
So, of course, we’ve had that talk. The one about taking part being more important than being the best. The one about focussing on his own improvement from week to week and taking pleasure from that. All the usual stuff you say to cushion the blow.
Anyhow, we’ll see how he feels after his first session later today. What I want most is to come home this evening to find a smiley Tobesy. I want him to tell me how much fun he’s had, even if he’s not that good. Mind you, I really hope he does bang in a load of goals. That would be just lovely.