The club’s junior muster was, quite frankly, mental.
More than 100 children, aged 4 to nearly 13, running loose on a council park. In patchy drizzle. Ground barely recovered from the harsh summer.
Footballs of every conceivable colour bouncing in several dozen directions. Grass being shredded.
10-year-olds demolishing 7-year-olds in tackles which would make a mother cringe: studs up, two feet, Karate scream on the way into the smaller kid’s ankle.
‘Jesus,’ Football Dad thought to himself, spotting the moment of brutality. ‘Call a bloody ambulance.’
A woman wearing a faded club top held a tired grey megaphone to her mouth and screeched.
‘Right you lot, stop right where you are and listen to me!’
A pall of silence over two football pitches as she took a suck on a Rothmans Menthol cigarette, and prepared to blurt out another burst of instruction.
‘I’ll have the 5th grade down there by Changing Room 1 – Barbs, put your hand up.’
Rothmans drag exhaled.
‘Tony will have the 6th graders by the big goal down there,’ she yelped, with an elaborate arm wave (ciggie in hand, of course).
‘7th Grade, you’re with Cornelius, just down here.’
The Youngest One perked up
‘Oh, that’s us. Cornelius is an interesting name,’ she remarked.
Football Dad mulled a dozen or so nations: ‘Oh, yes: maybe he’s from South America.’
Nearly bald bloke wearing a Uruguayan top from the 2002 FIFA World Cup shot his hand up. ‘Yes, yes, me, me!’ he said chirpily.
‘Kids 7 or nearly 7, come with me!’
Wry smile from Football Dad: ‘South America. Told ya.’
The Uruguayan had rows of cones set up, evidently by his early-teens son, who was along for the ride.
‘Soooooo … parents, ‘said Coach Cornelius. ‘We gonna ‘ave a trial, right?’
Pushy Dad in a suit and tie was first to interject.
‘My boy played in the top team last year and I expect the same this year,’ he announced.
Hippy Mother was next, a filthy look at Pushy Dad.
‘Oh right, so poor kids are gonna be in the crap team, is that what you’re saying?’
Weird Lady was next.
‘My son has some behavioural issues, but, y’know, the psychologist said sport would be good for him.’
‘Okkkkkkayyyyyyyy … ’Cornelius interjected, desperate to reclaim the conversation.
‘We got 14 kids here. That’s enough for two teams … but, ah, we only got … ahhhh … we got only one coach. So I am gonna need a Mummy or a Daddy to volunteer to take some of the kids this season.’
Football Dad stood like a statue, his lips held together firmer than he’d ever held them together before.
‘Do not say a word,’ his brain yelled at him. ‘Do not make the same mistake as last time, with The Eldest One. Do not say one stinking bloody single word!’
The lips trembled, eyes darted around.
Weird Lady piped up again.
‘I’ll do it! The psychologist said it would be good for my son and me to do some outdoor activities together. This is an outdoor activity!’
Cornelius was ecstatic.
‘Ohhh … tha’s great, jus’ a great … thank you oh so much for that, thank you.’
Weird Lady to Cornelius: ‘I’ve got a lot to learn but you seem a really nice man, and I’m a fast learner!’
Football Dad knew he shouldn’t make assumptions, but his face dropped into the palm of his hand. He had a bad feeling.
He could see where it was heading. His kid would narrowly miss the Uruguayan’s team and would end up in the team coached by the frumpy loud idiot woman with the special needs child.
The Younger One stood there, scoping out the entire situation. Watching, listening.
She pulled at her father’s hand.
‘How come you said nothing?’
‘Well … .I kinda help your sister’s coach with that team. And I can’t be at two places at once, darling.’
A frown from the little girl’s face. Five seconds to process the information before articulating an answer.
‘Okay, I’ll accept that excuse. But you’ll come to as many of my games as you can, won’t you?’
A lump in Football Dad’s throat. A glance at Weird Lady, who was by now introducing herself to all and sundry.
‘I will do my absolute level best for you, sweetheart.’
Main photo: Photo by Juliana Romão on Unsplash
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About Football Dad
Football Dad is a collection of stories by Waikato writer and football fan Jeff Neems. The full collection of stories appear in an ebook you can buy here through Amazon.
Football Dads are everywhere … and not just in football.
They’re the parent who volunteers to help with their kids’ sports team – or who are left with the job when other parents go missing. This well-crafted volume of amusing columns comes from a father who has spent many hours travelling to and from games, tirelessly helping his kids as they take up The Beautiful Game.
Through Football Dad you’ll meet the oddballs he meets on the sidelines and in the clubrooms. Many a parent will recognise these characters … and smile.
Football Dad’s collection of stories were originally published in the award-winning football magazine The Range, published by WaiBOP Football. They have also appeared in FANZ, the official magazine of Friends of Football.