THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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If you missed the 1978 World Cup final and don’t want to know the score, look away now. Al Needham’s dad preferred the seaside to the match, as he explained in WSC 199, September 2003

18 December ~ The film Field of Dreams is about the sacred bond between father and son and the perverse ways they express their love – namely, by chucking a ball at each other. It’s deep. It’s meaningful. It’s absolute bollocks.

Due to my dad’s job as a lorry driver, we didn’t see that much of each other and never did many father-son things. I did spend many an hour or two locked in his car outside a pub with a packet of crisps and a coke with a straw in it. He did take me to see Paint Your Wagon at the pictures when I was five. But that was about it.

Worse, he never displayed the slightest interest in football. He’d never been to a game. Never played it at school. He didn’t know what he was doing when England won 4-2 and couldn’t give a toss. I could reel off a litany of football-related betrayals my father committed, but one towers over the rest: June 25, 1978. The World Cup final, the absolute pinnacle of my life thus far, released as I was from the shackles of parental telly-domination with a portable in my bedroom for my tenth birthday. Except that Dad had decided to take us on the annual Co-op outing to Skegness.

I told him I couldn’t go, pleaded I could be trusted in the house alone, rolled around and screamed like a mini Sid Vicious. But I was going and that was that. Once there I calmed down, thinking that at least there’d be a pub with a children’s room and a telly. Then I found out that we were boarding the train home at the exact time the game kicked off and went absolutely berserk, running towards the sea and throwing myself in. Suicide? Brazen attempt to shame mam and dad into taking me home early? Bid to emigrate to Holland, where they had proper parents who had their priorities right? I can’t remember, because I was concentrating on trying to dodge my parents, who dragged me out and started whacking my arse at the same time, rather like the drummers in Adam and the Ants.

On the train, one of the other kids whose life had been ruined that day broke out a radio and we hunched round, listening to unintelligible squonks and bleeps. I couldn’t hear anything about the game, but did realise I hated techno a good 20 years before it was invented...

As soon as we piled off, I was clutching at straws. At least I don’t know the result, I thought. I can get home and watch the highlights. At least – hang on, why’s Dad talking to a porter? “There you go,” he said. “Argentina won 3-1 in extra time and it was a brilliant game. Get in the bleddy car and shut your pan.” Later that year, I committed filial adultery by going to Forest games with a friend’s dad. I regretted that, but it had to be done.

I always felt that dad and I would never be as close as Kevin Costner and his dad (who was dead, for Christ’s sakes) and we had missed out on 95 per cent of the things we could have talked about. But that all changed a couple of years ago, when my nephew was born and the first thing I did was to go out and buy a Forest romper suit to give him a good start in life.

My sister was furious and said his dad had already got him a Newcastle shirt. Since then, the poor sod’s been submitted to the kind of brainwashing tactics the Moonies would deem overbearing and crass, the worst of which was me offering to babysit so I could dress him up in a Forest kit and take photos. This will go on for years and years, until he’s old enough to make his own decisions and then support whoever’s winning the league that year.

It’s only now that I appreciate what my Dad did for me – he gave me the freedom of choice. But I still won’t patronise the Co-op. Al Needham

This article first appeared in WSC 199, September 2003. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more details here

Illustration by Tim Bradford

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