We were driving Tom home after his first term at university.
He sat in the back of the car and made a solemn announcement: “I’ve started supporting a team in the Premier League.”
“Spurs,” I thought instantly. They’re playing attractive football and they give their fans just the right mix of pleasure and pain.
Which in turn means they have a splendidly morbid sense of humour. Yep, great choice, son.
Not Spurs? Arsenal if you have to; Stoke if you’re a real man; anyone but Liverpool.
“Liverpool,” Tom said.
I fought to keep control of the car. How could I have failed so badly as a parent?
My daughter seduced into supporting Man United by Cristiano Ronaldo’s pecs. My youngest son with no interest in the beautiful game. And here was Tom declaring life long allegiance to the team I most despised.
But not to worry. There was another 200 miles until we reached home. I could work on him relentlessly.
...Which I did. At one point Jane was torn between the Samaritans and asking to be abandoned at a service station.
And it was a complete waste of time.
Tom had sold his soul. For all I knew he already had “Anfield” tattooed on his left buttock...
Two years on nothing has changed. He doesn’t discuss “Liverpool” any more. It’s the royal “we.”
And my son – not a young man to do things by halves – is totally immersed in football.
Half way down the second bottle of wine on Friday night the inevitable happened.
“I don’t mean to insult you, dad...” he said.
“He’s going to insult you,” Jane said.
“...But for all the years you’ve been watching football you don’t really know much about it.”
Now I was fighting to keep control of my wine glass. Was my son mad? Was the stress of university too much for him?
“I mean, you know all the useless stuff – who won the FA Cup in 1584 and that Northampton are called the Tailors - ”
“Cobblers. Northampton are the Cobblers, Luton are the Hatters, Bury are the Shakers and they play at Gigg Lane - ”
“Exactly. If I want to know Bury’s nickname I ask Wiki. But you don’t understand modern tactics.”
What? I’d write to the Vice-Chancellor. Explain about the stress. Or maybe I’d given him too much red wine? How could he be so wrong? Had I not taught him all he knew about football?
“OK, dad. Here’s a simple question. If a team playing 4-3-3 is playing a team using a midfield diamond where does the team playing 4-3-3 have the numerical advantage?”
“That’s a university essay, not a question about football.”
“See what I mean? You still want to ‘stick a big man up top.’ Even X has moved on from that.” (My son named a prominent Premier League manager. I can live without hearing from his solicitors.)
“Tom, football can’t be reduced to numbers. It’s about individual battles. Getting stuck in. Giving someone a reducer in the first five minutes. Who wants it the most...”
I rambled on in this vein for a good 10 minutes. I was uncomfortably aware that I was speaking entirely in clichés. But I needed to defend myself. And certain things in life are set in stone. I’m his dad. I know more about football than he does. End of discussion.
“Anyway,” I finished. “Did you look at that link I sent you? whoscored.com – thought you’d find it interesting. Pretty complicated. But you might learn something.”
Tom sighed. “I discovered that site about two years ago, dad.”
“You didn’t send me the link.”
“No, dad. I decided it was too difficult for you...”