Any plans for the weekend?
It’s the theme of so many Friday conversations at work. I always have an answer and, not invariably, it tends towards the same thing: taking the kids to play sport; watching the kids playing sport; getting cold and wet while the kids play sport; entertaining a kid or two while another plays sport.
Junior sport can be as unremitting as a treadmill, but as rewarding as any hobby. Commitment is one of the lessons it teaches – to parents and children – so there’s an acceptance that if you are in town, you should be there, on the touchline. At the level my children compete, there’s no obligation to show up every week, no ranking or progress at stake if the odd game is missed for a birthday party. But regular participation and attendance are their own imperative. It becomes a habit. It’s the default status.
Weekends away do happen, but they are planned. We don’t take off on Friday evening for the coast when we see a sunny forecast for the weekend. Day trips aren’t much easier, with no.2 son playing Saturday morning and his brother the same time on Sunday. What work and school do to structure the week, so junior sports manage for weekends.
I like to think we have kept a sense of perspective. We don’t plan holidays around fixtures and we have never declined an invitation from a dear friend or family on account of a crunch match. We wouldn’t need to – they’ve learned not to ask.
But there can be weekends when there is a family event that we wouldn’t miss for the world and a match of unusual importance. The first of these was three years ago. My sister-in-law had an exhibition of her paintings in a gallery in Stokesley, North Yorkshire. Family and friends travelled from the north-west and from Fife for the Friday night opening. The cottages were booked months in advance and a weekend together planned. A cup run (a two round sprint, in fact) threw something else into the mix for that weekend: a cup final for no.1 son at 9.30 on Sunday morning.
The family travelled to Stokesley in separate cars, enabling no.1 son and I to head west at 6am for a three hour journey to the ground situated 15 minutes from home. Defective packing for the weekend meant we had to add a trip home to pick up football boots on our way there. The game was won and a very full weekend completed by 11am on Sunday morning.
Over a year ago, my Dad announced plans for celebrating his and my Mum’s diamond wedding anniversary. Bookings were made in their Cotswold village of a restaurant and B&Bs for the guests. Arrangements were so advanced that I had even got around to sorting an anniversary present or two, when last Tuesday, with five days notice, no.1 son’s coach sent a text informing us that the Cup Final was on Sunday morning. Apologies were given to my parents and accepted for us missing the third leg of the anniversary weekend. Once again we rose early on a Sunday for a long drive to a local ground.
On the Friday and Saturday I had been quietly admiring no.1 son as he told his grandparents and others how much he was looking forward to the final. In his position, I would have been debilitated by nerves three or four days ahead. Eventually, on the Sunday morning drive, things caught up with him. Perhaps anxiety, certainly two days of a rich diet and late nights, left him grumpy and upset in the back of the car, complaining of pains and unreadiness to play.
We arrived in good time at the non-league ground hosting the final. No.1 son must have shaken off his worries, as he was in the starting team. He was lively and more combative than usual in the first half, at the end of which his team were a little unlucky to trail 1-0. He played the whole of the second-half, and began to make use of the space that opened up on the large pitch as players tired. One run, beginning with a sharp one-two in his own half, saw him carry the ball to the edge of the opposition’s penalty area and lay off a pass which won the corner from which his team equalised. Extra-time – ten minutes each way – followed.
In the first period of extra-time, no.1 son ran on to a loose ball at the edge of the penalty area and struck it well and away to the keeper’s right. It deflected off a defender and onto the post. It was as close as his team came to a winning goal. The opponents scored twice in the second period to win 3-1.
The previous night, my parents had sat happily in the restaurant, accompanied by their children, grandchildren and a great granddaughter, listening to their Best Man speak about their friendship of 65 years. The next day I watched my older son, playing well, but more importantly, smile and revel in the atmosphere and challenge of a big match on a grown-up football ground. Two things, in one weekend, that I wouldn’t miss for the world.