Sitting at the dining room table surrounded by files. The king of a castle with paper ramparts. Dad would stay up until the small hours face scrunched in concentration, reading page after page of witness statements, police reports and legalese.
It looked serious and interesting but definitely not fun. A mild mannered lawyer working for the government, he was the very definition of a ‘Normal Dad’.
He was always calm and collected. It made him good at his job. I never saw him in the courtroom but if I picture it now he isn’t giving a barnstorming, impassioned Hollywood movie speech.
In my mind’s eye, he’s using cold, hard logic to reach his conclusion and delivering it step by step like a newsreader reciting a recipe.
Super clever and worthy of respect but not exactly a rock and roll role model.
Come Saturday though, Normal Dad became Football Dad. He was a totally different story.
Watching football with my Dad taught me important lessons about him. It showed me that Normal Dad was a character he played five days a week. Football Dad let me see him, out of his stage costume, being himself.
The Lucky Shirt
Normal Dad was serious and sensible with a rational approach to every decision. When driving he didn’t leave it up to the winds of fate. Instead he had it mapped out, turn by turn, in his head and in the road atlas.
He’d mark each page he’d need to get from A to B. I vividly remember tracing my way along routes with my finger as I sat in the back and calling out when the next junction was coming up.
Not that he needed my help of course. He’d studiously memorised every roundabout and service station. He didn’t believe in luck, he believed in planning.
Football Dad though was so superstitious that he wouldn’t dream of watching the match without wearing his lucky shirt. We’d sometime prank him by hiding the ‘magic’ shirt on matchday. If he didn’t find it before kick off he did the only thing he could to avoid cursing the team; he didn’t watch!
The Sinatra of the Terraces
During the week he’d advise caution in all things. His catchphrase was “don’t get carried away”. He wasn’t one for being the centre of attention and even the pressure of joining a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ reduced his already quiet voice to a mumble.
It never did make sense to me that he could talk to an entire court full of people at work.
At the match however, he would cheer on our team – Ipswich Town – so earnestly that it was like he could help them win with the power of sheer enthusiasm alone.
On the terraces he was no wallflower. He sang at the top of his lungs like the soloist in a choir of fellow fans. You never really forget the first time you see your dad scream “BLUE ARRRRRRRRRRRMY!” so loudly that people at the opposite end of the stand look around shocked. I was weirdly proud.
From Reserved to Raging!
When I was busy being an angry teenager upset at perceived injustices Dad would calm me down like a tamer talking to a lion that had wispy teenage facial hair and spots.
He’d say “it’s not the end of the world” and that the most important skill in life is seeing both sides of the story. He believed that people are honest most of the time, justice is blind and the system is (largely) fair.
But then as soon as the game kicked off he’d rage like a furious bull at decisions that went against the Tractor Boys. He’d swear blind the referee was wrong. A lot of the time he’d just swear!
And he was absolutely certain that our squad were models of honesty and integrity while the opposition were cheats and sneaks.
Football Dad’s Finest Hour
Dad was a stickler for following the rules and not slacking. He was paid to find the weak spot in an armed robber’s defence case so saw through any half baked excuses I cooked up for why I needed a day off of school.
As Football Dad though, he knew that sometimes the rules were there to be broken.
On one glorious occasion he secretly bought match tickets and flights to Milan for us both. He phoned my school explaining I was ‘ill’. His Normal Dad journey planning got us to the airport. And he made sure that for the rest of my life I can say that I was one of the Tractor Boys who saw our hometown team get a lesson in European football from a squad of international-level footballers.
But he wasn’t done there. He put in a man of the match performance the next day. He took full responsibility when it turned out that I’d been spotted by my teacher on the TV coverage of the game. The school asked exactly how I could be too ill for school and well enough to go to Italy! His answer? “Because we’re Ipswich fans.”
Well played Dad, well played. Happy Father’s Day. Come on you blues!