“Who’s that guy?” asks my wife.
“Which one?” I say.
“The one who is swearing at that kid?”
“Oh, he’s the referee,” I say.
My son’s football team are playing in a rough part of Leeds and it’s my wife’s first time watching him. He’s given me strict instructions to contain her. She’s not allowed to embarrass him by running on to the pitch to chastise anyone who tackles him.
A few dads turn up and we stand on the touchline, mirroring each other’s body language.
“This game’s going to be a bit violent,” says one. We all nod and mutter in agreement. I can hear my wife anxiously grinding her jaw.
“It was horrific last week,” says another. “The way his leg broke clean in two.” Grind, grind.
“It was the screaming I couldn’t take,” says another. Grind, grind. “Oh, and by the way,” he adds. “I think you’ll all be glad to know that I’ve finally found the guinea pig.”
My wife jabs me in the ribs. “A broken leg and an errant guinea pig. Tell me more?”
“Gerry’s guinea pig is always escaping,” I say. “They’ve had to reinforce the cage.”
“Where is it now?”
“It’s back inside Guantanamo Hay.”
“That happened because of the puberty scattergun.”
Under 14s football is a dangerous mismatch due to the scattergun approach of puberty. You have late bloomers, who are small and squeaky-voiced, playing against early adopters, who are hairy and 6 foot tall. Think: boy band members playing against the Hell’s Angels. It’s all hair gel and pubes.
The whistle blows.
“We’ve got guinea pigs, a rabbit AND a dog,” sighs another dad. We all look at him and make sympathetic noises. Out of the corner of my eye I see a hairy boy sidle up to my son and growl, ‘I’m going to fucking twat you!’ I glance over to my wife. She is guerning and glaring at the hairy boy.
I’m starting to panic. The game’s only just started and it’s brewing into a perfect storm. I’m wrapped up in a foreboding atmosphere of impending physical violence mixed with an infectious dose of pet fatigue.
“You’ve got what?” says another.
“Guinea pigs, a rabbit AND a dog. The holy trinity of shitting machines.”
“Have your kids lost interest yet?” I ask.
“Mine have,” says another but our chat is derailed by events on the pitch. One of our team is writhing on the floor clutching his ankle. The hairy boy is standing over him swearing, and is being encouraged by his coach and parents. We all look over with a degree of concern, until we become certain that the injured kid doesn’t belong to one of us.
“This is barbaric,” exclaims my wife. “Those parents. They’re fucking idiots. I’m going to say something.”
“Calm down” I say. “You can’t just go around calling them idiots. We didn’t see the tackle. It could have been our player’s fault. They’re parents, like us. We’d get angry too if someone hurt our kid. I’ll go and have a word with their coach.”
As I make my way round the pitch, I have to pass a group of the opposing team’s dads. I always tell my son to stand up to bullies, and if he’s getting grief on the pitch, he shouldn’t back down. Put in the same position, I have to admit, I’m buckling.
My heart pumps faster as I get nearer. They see me coming and start muttering to each other.
The big one pokes his friends in the ribs and says, “We’ve just got a guinea pig.”
“Cool,” replies his friend. “I hear they’re really low maintenance.” My god, I think. They really are idiots.