Last Sunday, watching my son’s team play a game of football, I became aware of another match. It was taking place on the pitch behind us. The kids were younger than ours – around seven – but the atmosphere was definitely adult.
“Wot? Aw, for f**k’s sake . . . Did you see that?”
“Come on, ref, that’s a f**king liberty!”
The parents – of all ages, sizes, races – were annoyed. And despite the efforts of the referee (“I’m talking to the coach, not you,” he said to a mother at one point, “so can you get off the pitch?”) their rage increased throughout the game, exploding when, in the final few minutes, a child from the opposing team brought down one of their own. The child said sorry and went to check on the hurt boy. But that wasn’t enough for the parents.
“You shouldn’t be allowed on the pitch!” yelled one. “That’s just straight violence!” shouted another. “You’ve got anger problems!” bellowed a third (who would definitely know about such things).
Result: two crying seven-year-olds instead of one. A lovely way to spend a Sunday.
I don’t have much time for such parents. Shouting at kids is a bully’s game. Insisting that your children live out your dreams is mad, especially if your dreams are wrapped around football. You are never going to play for Manchester United. Honestly, you’re not, and neither is your child, no matter how loud you shout.
Still, I do have a teensy bit of sympathy. Modern parenting is full of surprises, and one of the biggest is how much of it involves standing on the sidelines. Doing nothing.
If you were a child in an era when you were mostly left to yourself – kicked out of the back door at 9am on a Saturday, or left in the car with crisps and pop – it’s a shock to realise how much time, these days, a parent is required to be witness to their child’s more interesting life. Freezing as they train. Smiling as they rehearse. Waiting as they practise. Checking your phone, making small talk. Passive parenting. Just being present. Over and over and over.
I have spent many, many hours on passive parenting. So I understand the need to inject a little passion when it comes to a real competition. At least it keeps you warm. In the six years since my son started playing football seriously, I’ve witnessed a lot of heated moments. There was the cup final abandoned because of two parents having a stand-up row on the pitch. The match where the police were called when a parent told a referee he was “going to the car to get something that will really sort this out”.
The other week, the coach of the opposing team walked on to the pitch with 15 minutes to go and ushered his entire team off. They were losing 6-0 to my son’s team and he didn’t like it. I’ve seen parents screaming at their child, “Kill him!” about someone else’s. What kind of jollies do you get by advocating violence on a ten-year-old? Who knows? I often think we’d all be better off if we gave parents the space not to be involved.
This article appears in the 01 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The far right rises again