Living away from home poses some unique challenges as a football fan. Firstly, it takes a little while to get used to the different kick-off times – admittedly, we’re only one hour ahead in the Berlin bunker, so I have it a bit easier than some of the lads, but Saturday at 4 o’clock doesn’t really have the same feeling for the traditional games. Secondly, a feeling of isolation slowly works its way around you. I am no longer a part of the town (my town) pulling together for one team (my team), but I am watching from the outside. With the physical distance, it is certainly a little easier to create an emotional distance.
As a case in point, I gave up on last season after the Everton game. Naturally, I kept an eye on the scores, and checked-out the goals afterwards, but I did not watch the games. At all. Hell, one week I even chose to watch Aston Villa play instead of the Toon (a mate is a Villa fan). That’s how disinterested I had become – I agreed to watch that shite as opposed to my own team. Why did I do that? Well, I figured that the players had already given up on the season, as had the manager and ownership, so why should I waste my time? Everyone else was going through the motions, so why shouldn’t I?
When the season ended, I was happy. I had a complete break from football from the end of March, basically, until the World Cup, and rarely thought of the club at all until the news of new signings started coming through the general silence surrounding the club. While I was happy to see us buying players, I still wasn’t in any way, shape or form excited for the upcoming season.
Until the start of August, that is, when I went to the Kentaro Cup in Gelsenkirchen with a mix of Geordies and other lads I know. I had a really good time (the less said about some of the questionable bars we visited in Essen, the better, mind). We enjoyed the football and it seems that it rekindled my fire for the Toon – according to the missus, I would not stop singing about the club when I got back home (a little merry) late on Sunday night after the Schalke game.
So, I bet you’re asking yourself where I’m going with this. And it’s a good question.
My younger brother took his son to his first game at SJP a few weeks ago – the friendly against Real Sociedad – and he had a great time. As a modern eight year old, Newcastle United is his team, but he also seems to like Chelsea a little (hopefully that will grow out of him). With my brother and my Dad around, and living in the Toon, there was never any doubt about who his favourite team would be (even if his (current) second team is a bit worrying…). Living in Berlin, though, what would I do with my kid?
Why do I ask? Well, my first bairn is due this month (September). And it will be a little lad. So what am I going to do with little Shola? Please note, Shola is just his current name around the house, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be what goes on his papers. Not 100% sure, though, as I have to register the birth alone, but if I value my testicles, I should probably not use that name…
So, when the bairn’s a bit older, should I hide in the spare room while watching the Toon? Is it better he finds his own way, and discovers football completely on his own terms? Perhaps then he can find a nice German team to support, and ‘Newcastle United’ will be a curse word he only hears his Dad mutter while shut in a room for two hours, once a week.
Or, like I did, will he want to be like his Dad anyway? In which case, do I try and bring him along gently? Perhaps I could show him some really shit teams first (Cottbus, Dresden, Hertha Berlin), then build-up to watching United. As long as I reduce his expectations of football before he sees United, then he should be pretty grounded. Then, along with the distance, he will take defeats a lot better than I do, and his expectations will be even lower than mine (and mine are sadly pretty low).
This whole situation – impending fatherhood – has got me thinking. It’s a scary world, and there’s a lot that can go wrong (and I’m only talking about football, here). One unguarded afternoon in front of Sky Sports, and he could end up a Manchester United fan. Not enough parental focus on his friends at school, and little Shola could end up a Bayern fan. Is that any better, or worse, than inflicting Newcastle United upon him, though?
The possibilities are huge and, quite frankly, a little scary. The only thing I guarantee is that the bairn won’t be a Sunderland fan.
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