I am my son’s number one fan. Now before you start picturing me as Kathy Bates in Stephen King’s Misery, I’m not that kind of scary, obsessive fan, but I seldom miss a match in soccer season. Sorry, it is important to call it ‘football,’ unless you want your ignorance broadcast to the world. (‘Explain PSL then?’ I ask. But go figure – I guess in South Africa we call everything by alternative names. We even refer to shockingly bad planning on the part of a parastatal as ‘loadshedding’ and not the power failures they actually are (my husband’s latest gripe against euphemisms.)
But I digress.
I possibly do look a little like a homicidal maniac when the inclement weather hits, because let’s face it, the coldest I have ever been is next to a football field in the pouring rain. And then no one cares what you look like, although ‘bag lady’ is a ‘look’ too, you know.
I’m often surprised that Michael is ok with me standing on the side lines, cheering on his team, whether a club or school fixture. You’d think he’d be embarrassed to have mom there at all. My eldest son would have chewed glass rather than allow a maternal cheerleader watch him play in his senior hockey matches. His coach was always guilt-tripping me about supporting my son play (not that I could see anything because he was the goalkeeper and he looked like a deranged killer), but Coach Gary did not realise that that was how I loved Sean – by staying the hell away.
My youngest son is also a hockey goalie, but he too started out in an U9 football team. He played keeper, because at eight years old no one else wanted to stand still for so long, but his laziness caught up with him when they graduated to U11 and there was a big field and a big goal to cover, so he turned to hockey. There is something to be said for one’s child being kitted out like the Oros man – one doesn’t have to worry so much about breaking bones or chipped teeth. Liam is pretty fearless I must say, but that is a result, I suppose, of being the bottom of the heap at home.
Not so on the football field. I cannot tell you how many times I want to yell at Michael’s thuggish opponents that I don’t have medical aid so they should go easy on my fragile (a mom’s view anyway) son. (Alright I have shouted that a few times – it’s no wonder Sean banned me from his tournaments). I have come to realise of course that there is a certain tactical point to ‘staying down’ when tripped in football. It’s to get the free kick. Much has been said about football players pretending to be injured and there was the rumour years ago that Maradonna’s Argentinan side took acting lessons, but some of those fouls look really eina. And I’ve seen the bruising and swelling caused by upturned studs. It makes for anxious moments for me, so much so that I said to Michael that we should develop a code: If his knee is up while he is prostrate, I know he doesn’t need an ambulance, or something like that.
Because he gets stuck in there in the midfield, he does get taken out quite a bit, especially now that he is playing for the seniors. But even when he was in the U13 side, a parent at an opposing club spat at him as he ran past . Fortunately he does not have a hair-trigger temper or he’d have been carded a few more times than he has.
U17 matches were particularly entertaining: all that uncontrollable testosterone in one place was amusing to watch. Beware the ref who made poor decisions. Of course one can expect the young players to show their immaturity from time to time, by such loss of control, but I have seen many an outraged parent lose it with a myopic referee, from the side of the pitch, to say nothing of the bellicose coaches who seem to think a junior football match is Custer’s last stand.
After a while one learns the rules too. I am very proud to say that I can even spot offside, and many a beleaguered ref has been accused of being afflicted with temporary insanity by spectators such as me. My husband, who has been a faithful observer of Michael’s matches, always wonders why the crowd bothers to object, pointing out that no ref has ever changed his ruling because of protests from the dugout.
Because I drive a large old Condor, my vehicle has often been the designated team car. What is worse than eau de Michael’s football boots? Several pairs attached to equally shower-deprived adolescents. This is another reason that soccer moms get so cold – we needs to keep the window open in order to breathe.
But there is a football fraternity that grows around each team. I often think of Nanga’s feisty mother who lambasted all and sundry every week, but who died tragically of cancer and how his whole team stood motionless to attention in her honour. And the football community extends to other clubs too. No matter the location of the field, or the dangerous, gang areas we must drive through to reach it, once one enters a club, one knows one is protected by the football family there.
It is that spirit that makes this the beautiful game and I must say that it is not the trophies Michael has brought home to adorn the shelves, but the spirit he has learnt to play with, which makes me beam with maternal pride. The day he walked across to an Ajax goal keeper to commiserate his loss in a knockout tournament, before celebrating with his own teammates at TVFC, made me realise that my winter grunge look and smelly car are more than worth it.