... oh Colchester is wonderful.
If you've ever been to Colchester, you'll know that's stretching it somewhat, but that's what we were chanting on the terraces at Edgeley Park yesterday, if only to distract T from the ruder version of the football song, also sung at Manchester United, coming from the hooligan types to the left.
I love taking T to football. I mean I might feel differently if we supported a 'big' club, but League One (and last season The Championship) has such a friendly familial feel to it. We go to very few matches in my husband's home town of Colchester, unsurprising given we live 300 miles away, but instead form part of a band of Northern Exiles who meet mainly at away games in the North. The slide back to the third tier of football has removed some of our Yorkshire opponents but sees us given the chance to hit some of Greater Manchester's other teams, like Stockport and Oldham. If Bury continue on current form (and we do!) we might even get the chance of a trip to Gigg Lane next season.
So we rocked up at the pub to meet friends. T was wearing his 'Northern Exile' t-shirt. Strictly speaking he and I don't count as exiles as we're properly Northern but still, it's cute! The Royal Oak in Edgeley was packed with fans from both teams. We managed to squeeze into a corner and I gave T a banana to distract him from trying to steal my coke. The old chap next to us seemed very jovial, saying it was child cruelty to take T to see Colchester, yada yada yada. It was all very friendly, smiles and laughs, until he said to T 'don't eat that [banana] save it and throw it at the players on the pitch'. It was one of those moments where the ramifications of what he'd said took a minute to sink in. I sort of half-laughed (for I was only half-listening really) before I realised actually he was being horribly racist. I turned away and shortly we found seats with more space and moved. I keep hoping that in my moment of 'what did he say?' the man didn't think of course that I was agreeing with him. The casual, throw-away nature of what he said offended me deeply.
We walked to the ground quickly, delayed by the 'one last pint' which is never quite drunk speedily enough, and took a while to find the turnstile for visiting supporters. T was in the sling on my front, facing outwards and holding both my hands as I walked. Lots of people smiled and the steward let him in free, although squeezing through the gate with a boy on my front and rucksack packed with toys, layers, drinks and snacks on my back was a challenge!
There are two areas for away supporters at Edgeley Park, one open terracing, although now it is seated, and one undercover. It was raining and of course we'd been placed in the outdoor area. We found a quiet row, not difficult when only one coach of away fans made the trip, and T spent the first half doing what he likes best, toddling up and down, flipping the seats up and down and watching the reactions of the crowds. My husband was most upset T managed to miss the first goal he'd ever seen Colchester score because he was facing the wrong way.
Just before half time T started to get grouchy. He arched his back and cried his tired cry. I strapped him into the sling and went to stand at the back of the terrace, under the scoreboard to keep dry, and swayed him, snuggled into my chest until he went to sleep. A very kind steward found (without asking) a disposable poncho and brought it to me to protect T from the rain. I was trying to put it it on and work out a way of not suffocating him with what was in effect a giant plastic bag, and the wind whipped it out of my hands and over the fence. It was a blessing really because I'm not sure it was compatible with mum/baby combination!
After half time the stewards, in response to much baracking from fans who'd obviously taken the 'consumer lots of alcohol' approach to keeping warm and dry, allowed us to move into the undercover away supporters area, where T stayed asleep until the end of the match, missing another goal. How my son, who wakes when you so much as look at his bedroom door, slept through rowdy goal celebrations I've no idea, but sleep he did.
As I said, I like taking T to football, and I strongly believe it should be a family sport. There are some things that make me question that decision though. The racist man in the pub, although I know he might also have made that comment in another place at another time, and the horrible fans who called the young Stockport County supporters who came onto the pitch at half-time for a goal competition f-ing c's. I would have been heartbroken if my son had been among the boys involved. To have what should be a celebratory occasion ruined by a pile of imbeciles who really were old enough to know better made me ashamed to be a football supporter, and I'm not sure how long I can continue taking T and, even unintentionally, being part of this group.