Thursday, 10 March 2011

My daughter, pretend supporter

When she was about four or five, one of my twin daughters, Annie, started supporting Tottenham Hotspur.

This pleased me, obviously. And I figured it would be the start not just of a life long passion for her, but a life long bond between us. I've read Fever Pitch, I know how this stuff works.

She started asking me about the results, when she remembered. She would be happy when we won and sad when we lost.

We went to see a pre-season friendly at a local ground and she got Darren Anderton's autograph. Sadly, he sprained his wrist adding an unnecessary flourish when crossing the 't' and was out for six weeks.

She asked for a shirt for her birthday. We got her one with her name on the back and she wore it everywhere, including to bed.

A couple of years later she asked if she could actually start playing football. Again, I was delighted.

We went straight out to the local park, gently side-footing between us, me encouraging like mad every vaguely decent touch that went at least somewhere close to where it was intended - much like Avram Grant must do now on a daily basis.

She started training with the school team and then told me how she didn't think it was fair because none of the boys would pass to her, which was silly because she was at least as good as them, etc.

Eventually, snubbed and shivering on the wing, she decided she'd go in goal. She asked for some gloves and on Saturday afternoon's we'd go to the park to practice. I'd gently chip the ball towards her. She'd save pretty much all of them and I'd tell her she was at least as good as Pat Jennings.

One Christmas we bought her a book called My Dream Cup Final. You might be aware of these bespoke little gifts. Basically, it's a templated story with the name of your team and your child slotted in.

I think ours involved Annie getting a lift on the Spurs coach, one of our players being injured in the warm up (Anderton again, I'm guessing), and Gerry Francis telling Annie she'd have to fill in.

We were playing Arsenal, obviously. I think they went 1-0 up, Teddy equalised from the spot and then Annie got the winner in the last minute and the whole squad carried her around Wembley on their shoulders.

To be fair, it's as believable a scenario as us actually winning the bloody thing over the last 20 years.

I would dig it out to check the details, but if I did I'm pretty sure I'd start blubbing.

A few years later, you see, when the twins were about 11 or 12, I was chatting to my other daughter, Alice, about how her sister just didn't seem as interested in football or Spurs any more. 'She never was, Dad', Alice casually informed me, 'she just pretended to be because she knew it would make you happy'.

'But... but she actually started playing... She made us buy her goal keeper's gloves and go and practice over the park every week, even in the freezing cold!'

'Yeah, that was just so she could spend some time with you'.

I was stunned; genuinely didn't know what to think. The whole Spurs thing had been a sham. But it had been a sham that she'd acted out for several years, to make me happy and so that we could be together.

Was I touched because she'd gone to such effort? Disappointed because none of it was actually real? Or sad because dropping the pretense meant she was no longer as fussed about us spending time together, even though I knew that was just a function of her growing up?

I'm still not sure what I feel, frankly, but I certainly feel something, which is why I'm not quite ready to flick through that book.

When we beat Chelsea in the League Cup final in 2008, just after the final whistle, she texted me a smiley face. And I'm just thankful that when I read it, there were plenty of other grown men crying that day as well.

For a slightly less touching story of Spurs family life, click here

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