Derry Got Soul: It’s a Family Affair

I climbed through a gap intended for a toddler still giddy with the news Dundee were two-up at half-time. I was pursuing my son through a labyrinthine soft play area and, for once, couldn’t care less about the overweight hellbairns screaming in my face as they fired missile after missile in my eye.

Between plastic-covered rollers unsuitable for 37-year-olds on the cusp of overweightness I squeezed before traversing a rope ladder designed to inflict maximum possible damage on shoeless feet. At last we had reached the top of the Big Chute. This was the fourth or fifth time in a row we’d climbed to this peak and I decided to reward myself by checking the score. Unfortunately the signal was as weak as Neil McCann’s long-term employment prospects so back in the pocket went the phone and down the chute we slid.

“Again! Again Daddy!”

“I think it’s time you had a wee drink, pal,” I said, guiding him over to the café area. I pointed my phone at the space between the vending machine and vomit-covered high chair, the closest thing The Fun Factory has to a WiFi hotspot. What the fuck? 2-2 now and Inverness missed a penalty as well? The next 15 minutes passed in a blizzard of frantic score-checking and bad parenting. We held on for a draw that was to prove vital come the end of the season and the wee man was bribed into staying quiet with sweets, crisps and fizzy drinks. Even when I’m not at Dundee games I’m never really not there either. I’m sure you’re the same.

Time for Livin’

I’ve done Dumfries, Stranraer, Dingwall and Inverness and my share of daft midweekers that necessitated half-days off either side of them. I know the road from Glasgow to Greenock depressingly well. There are the only four SPFL grounds I’ve never seen Dundee play at. But all that stopped in November 2014. My life can be divided into two time periods – Before Bairn and Anno Bairn – and I’ve been to a grand total of five games outwith the city’s boundaries in the AB era with even home games having to be sacrificed on occasion.

Away games are no longer marked for on-bus antics, running to the front to celebrate late goals or learning which divisions of Police Scotland are most forgiving of public drinking/urination. The biggest moments of the season are remembered by the family-friendly venue you happened to be at on that day.

The problem is that even when I’ve not physically followed the Mushy Peas, I can’t passively let the game proceed and wait until 5pm or later to discover the outcome of a match I’ve no influence over. The descent from Perfect Family Man begins at 2pm when the results of McCann’s latest tombola turn are known. Then there are the inevitable “THE FUCK???” “Where’s Kamara?” “Fucking Moussa again” and “cunt is a clown” messages to various group chats. Then the game actually kicks off and I’m obsessively check for updates, feeling utterly impotent and shaking with adrenaline even when miles away from the action.

I was jumping up and down by the bear enclosure at Camperdown Wildlife Centre when we went 3-0 up at Dingwall and my demolition of a household wall become more ferocious when Scott Brown scored the winner for Celtic against us. I was on the boat-shaped climbing frames at Campy (far inferior to the 80s pirate ships BTW) when St Johnstone went two-up after 20 minutes and was checking my phone throughout the whole of Ferdinand the Bull when we extracted revenge the following season. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard JFK had been shot. I will always remember being at a play date at Little Pipers when Partick Thistle scored their injury-time winner last year. Trying to maintain a poker face when Dundee are getting scudded and you’re at the birthday party of a child with a Dad known to be an arab is one of the most important skills of Derry parenthood.

If You Want Me to Stay

It’s hardly unknown for punters to stop going to games – at least temporarily – after the birth of children. Time is tight, a stupid amount of organised activities must be negotiated and partners tend to get hacked off at being abandoned for the six hours it takes to watch Dundee get hosed at Fir Park before you return too drunk to help with the bedtime routine. And, as new man/millennial/snowflake/sappy as it may sound, spending your only day off together as a family is frankly more rewarding than watching a goalless war of attrition at Livingston. So giving up away days is a fair exchange for keeping your season ticket, even if your pre- and post-game pub time might now be limited by the vagaries of children’s entertainment.

The best thing about having family isn’t love, joy or the expectation that someone will look after you when you become an incontinent shadow of your former self. No, the best reason to bring children into the world is that it gives you an excuse to miss certain away games, even if a bit of you still ends up travelling through with the lads.

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