Kevin Donnelly had always been jealous of footballers’ parents – until he went to watch his mate’s son play

In 40 years attending football matches, I thought I had experienced everything. That is, until the day I went to a match with the dad of one of the players taking part in a Scottish Premier League game. As a young player who is basically starting out, his son was looking to build on a promising string of results for his team in which he had started all the games.

While my focus was on the game, one couldn’t help trying to watch the game through the father’s eyes. The boy had a reasonable enough first half playing it neat and tidy but in the second half he failed to close down when up against the opposition’s talented right winger. The fact his team’s left-back also missed these tackles appeared to cut little mustard with the home crowd who dished out some abuse. My mate’s boy was eventually subbed, although they could have taken off anyone in the whole of the midfield as it had gone AWOL en masse.

There is one remaining area of interest for the watching parent, however – your son’s replacement. Will he do better than your son? He might score a vital goal but he could also do worse than the player he has just replaced, leaving you to take some bitter comfort from the manager cocking up his substitutions. In fact, the replacement was no better or worse but he did score the equaliser, forcing the ball over the line after an error by the opposition keeper. Once the player who replaced your son has equalised, you now begin to wonder if he will get a start next week with your boy condemned to the bench or, worse still, dropped altogether.

The game has ended in a draw, which means your son will get a boost in the pay packet courtesy of his replacement’s equaliser. However, any draw bonus will be halved as he was subbed. Any future relegation to the bench will also mean a halving of any bonuses, a blow in compensation stakes which are nowhere near the public’s perception of what a professional footballer earns, particularly in Scotland. As the game petered out to 1-1 draw the analysis came to an end and that, I thought, was it.

But then there were the fans. A full and frank exchange of views took place shortly before the substitution of my friend’s son and that appeared to be it. Despite waiting a good five minutes for the ground to clear, when we left, we were confronted by a reception committee asking if free speech was no longer allowed in this country. Another frank exchange took place which ended with my friend suggesting the best move his son will make is when he walks out of the ground for the last time. At no time did he mention he was the father of the player involved, which may have been wise. So after 20 years of encouragement, you end up in an argument with people whose views you have no respect for and which goes on to the degree that it attracts the attention of the police.

In my time watching football I’ve never considered the plight of the parents. If anything, I was slightly envious of them with their complimentary tickets and easy access to the inner sanctum of the club. The experience of this match on a raw January Saturday afternoon in Scotland’s central belt made me realise how naive that view was. While I wish my friend’s son good luck in his playing career, I am also hoping that his parents can enjoy their viewing.

From WSC 266 April 2009

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