Seeing people from outside football on the pitch suspends disbelief
16 July ~ When Chile lifted the Copa América earlier this month, the podium on Santiago’s Estadio Nacional pitch resembled a creche. It contained as many dazed children as cheerful adults; as many bibs, dummy tits and kid-sized hoodies as full-sized red shirts and Conmebol gold medals. Once the preserve of the football family, post-match celebrations are now dominated by the families of footballers.
On the same evening, Eduardo Vargas required help carrying his joint-top scorer award. It was a huge, unwieldy trophy but in his other arm the Chile striker was carrying an even huger, more unwieldy baby. Kissing the cup reassures fans that players want silverware as much as us. Not so the slow motion replays of Chile midfielder Gary Medel kissing his young son.
Major victories once threatened invasions from the stands onto the pitch. Now they spark sprints from centre circle to posh seats as offspring are hauled over the perimeter wall to join the celebrations. Laps of honour should involve only the trophy and the team. But most modern pros now want to parade their credentials as “good family men”.
It’s no revelation that tigerish midfielders such as Medel can be soppy fathers. But when I’m at the football, I’m the needy baby. Adding players’ children to celebrations – a common sight for years now – breaks the fourth wall.
Intellectually, we all know players put family first. Emotionally, however, we need to believe we’re their sole priority. So Steven Gerrard bringing his three young daughters onto the Anfield pitch after his final home game for Liverpool is fine. The team had won nothing. The day was purely about his 18 years at a club which was truly part of his family.
I’m similarly fine with ball boys and ball girls, mascots and kids picked out the crowd because players – such as Greek striker Georgios Samaras at Celtic Park in 2014 – have built up a relationship with that young fan and his family. These are kids who love football and want to be there.
But seeing the children of less loyal pros reminds us their “biological” family means more to them than our feelings. Like watching DVD extras as soon as the film finishes, it un-suspends the disbelief too quickly.
At my age, half the players themselves look like children. Vargas resembled a chubby school girl playing House. I felt I should contact social services when the elfin-like Philippe Coutinho endured the burden of a spot kick for Brazil in the same tournament. Inevitably their offspring won’t yet know what flavour of ice cream they prefer, far less what team they support. So why are they in the middle of a triumph I paid for?
One of Carlo Ancelotti’s grandsons, celebrating Real Madrid’s tenth European Cup in 2014, wore “Papai” on the back of his replica shirt: clearly not a team player. Alex Ferguson’s departure from Manchester United, after lifting the 2012-13 English title, also saw him surrounded by his grandchildren. Ferguson’s a multi-millionaire and wealthy British children tend not to like football. Keep them off the Old Trafford pitch until they prove otherwise.
I don’t know what children think when they see their peers parading around the track. I don’t have any of my own to ask. This may be why I’m not interested in anyone else’s – least of all those of the sportsmen for whom I retain seriously childish feelings. Alex Anderson