I recently wrote an article explaining how I’d given up my Champions League final ticket to watch the game with my dad. He gave me a love of Spurs that meant it was the right thing to do. It was well received. Real journalists slid into my DMs to praise me. Ex- pros texted me (well, one ex-pro texted me). What an altruistic gesture. What a moving piece. You should write more they all said. I was a hero.
A cynic might argue that writing an article about liking both your own father and football was likely to resonate with an audience of people – many of whom also have, or had, fathers and also like football.
But that’s not the point. Here was someone (me) from within the football establishment who still understood the real fan – a rare breed among the oil barons, corrupt officials, overpaid players and slightly less overpaid broadcasters.
Now all I needed to do was put this powerful but very simple gesture into practice. How difficult could if be to watch a football match on TV with my dad?
On the morning of the game I woke up in Madrid with one of those expected but brutal hangovers. The Spanish heat even at 8am was too much. My taxi driver to the airport drove too fast and wanted to talk. I tried every liquid going at the airport – water, coffee, Coke, Yop – nothing did the trick.
Back in London, and feeling pretty ropey, I went for a nap before the game. Dad was getting the 4.15 from Cambridge – plenty of time. I’d watched every round with a Spurrsy crowd (well, four of us), so they all agreed to come over, and I bought the kettle chips and the posh triumvirate of Waitrose dips, salsa, tzatziki and guacamole. What a night we’d have.
I woke up at 5pm, and checked my phone at 5.01pm. Dad (missed call). Dad (missed call). Dad (missed call). Two missed calls is normal behaviour, normally followed by a WhatsApp with all manner of predictive text mistakes, curious spacing and lacking even the most basic punctuation. Decipherable, but only with practice.
“Hi Max. Just got home. Not sure if you’ve seen my text messages
Apparently not a bus service to ivll St but no certainty of late trains plus as far as I can see from the Web the late ones are very slow and the fast ones go vie King s Cross. Sou ds odd…. I ll call soon…… I ll miss not seeing it with you
W h Lane next season?…
I rang. We laughed. “This doesn’t help the narrative,” I said. I could drive to Cambridge, but I had people over and work in the morning. Dad had a whiskey and was in his favourite armchair and had “managed to find BT Sport” on his Virgin box. Fair enough.
I wondered how I’d explain this away – perhaps never mention it. No one would know. It would be our secret. And after all, we don’t normally watch the games together. We watch them separately, on our own TVs and then talk about it afterwards. If anything this would be even more authentic.
I checked national rail enquires. The trains had started up again. I messaged. “The 18,44 seems to be running”.
Dad’s response: “Off to srTjon”.
For some reason Dad jumped on the Liverpool Street line – a route that stops at every town, village and park bench between the two cities. His ETA was 7.50pm. My friends arrived, we got going on the dips and watched the buildup. Kane and Winks starting. Was that good? We weren’t sure.
The Champions League theme. No sign of Dad. No blue ticks on WhatsApp. Not even two ticks. Just one.
Kick-off. No sign of Dad. Penalty to Liverpool. No sign of Dad.
The doorbell rang five minutes in. I poured Dad a glass of red wine and we watched the game. Just after Origi scored I ordered him an Uber. He left before full-time. The game was over and it’d be good to get the 22.12 back home. I offered him the spare room, but he had string quartet in the morning. That cello wasn’t going to play itself.
I opened another beer and watched Jordan Henderson’s trophy lift. I texted Mum. “Call when he’s home.” My friends left and I went to bed.
The 22.12 was cancelled. Dad walked to St Pancras. He got on the Thameslink. He got a table. It was empty. Until the next stop. Hundreds of Spurs fans got on. “I’m a pisshead,” announced the man opposite Dad.
The cab ride from Cambridge station to my parents house is 10 minutes. Unfortunately the queue was a mile long. Dad walked. He got home just before 1am.
If I hadn’t written the first article, he could have had a relaxing evening. Instead, I forced an 80-year-old man to leave his whiskey, his armchair and the peace and quiet of his living room, to take a 90-minute train journey in the searing heat so he could watch most of a football match with six people he didn’t know and then take a three-hour journey home in the middle of the night. I guess we’ll always have those 86 minutes.