David and I are both fans of this South London side - no, not palace or charlton, the other one - and have been for a while. I was taken to a game when I was three by my dad and seem to remember I spent the entire time on dad's shoulders, got bored halfway through the first half and wanted to leave at half time because I thought the game was over. David is well travelled with our beloved club and can talk me through our crowning glories and low lows from before I was even born. It's very poignant to me now when I hear him doing the same with Mac. Dad loves telling him tales and stories of our defeats and triumphs. Yesterday was Mac's first ever game and he spent Friday in a state of hysteria and almost turned himself inside out practising keepie uppies.
Yesterday dawned to much excitement and I barely had time to walk the dogs and get myself together before leaving for the ground. David had arranged for a special treat for our boy but we daren't tell him for fear of his exploding with joy. BM (Before Mackenzie) I was a regular at The Den and loved it. It's a club that has got a fearsome reputation but, with the support of its fans and the club board and management, it's a club that's putting the past behind it. It's a family club, I've never felt scared or worried when I've been there (in fact the most scared I've been at a football match is when we were away playing a Welsh team - and my absolute terror was down to the actions and cynicism of the Welsh Constabulary. But let's not go there.) I'm determine to ensure that Mac grows up loving this club as much as I do. Anyway.
We arrived and took our seats - it was a joy to be back sitting in my familiar seat, in familiar surroundings with familiar people. I haven't been at The Den since, ooh, before Christmas and now I had the chance to show my son just what I'd been missing. He was centre of attention in our block and loving it - such a show off!
Mac knows the footballing basics. He can recognise the difference between a goal kick and a corner. He knows that the referee should be universally hated (even when he appears to be on the side of your team) and that each half lasts 45 minutes and could have anything up to five minutes added onto each half. He's never ever been to a real game before though. His first thoughts on the whole experience, twenty minutes after our arrival, were "it's better than watching it on TV mummy". Indeed. He was going through the programme with his Granddad and finding the players on the pitch. I can't describe the atmosphere at a football match. The camaraderie, the laughter, the jokes, the comments. Football fans are the wittiest people in the world. During one of our bad patches (we couldn't find a barn door, let alone hit it), one of the opposing players was lying on the floor like a dead duck being tended to by the physio. Our players were standing around chatting. One wag from the crowd yelled out "Don't just stand there, practice for f***s sake!"
Bea was horrified when I told her that Mac was going to The Den. "Don't blame me if he comes back wanting a tattoo and a can of Strongbow" she said darkly.
He had identified all the players warming up on the pitch just before David suggested they go for a walk, with a broad wink in my direction. Mac happily sauntered off with his father and reappeared, ten minutes later on the pitch complete with football and a sudden attack of shyness. He spent the whole time hidden behind David, especially when his Lions hero and one of our Super Strikers, came over to chat to him. Once he had returned to his seat, his natural exuberance had returned. "I spoke to him mummy!" David said once he had removed his child from his leg in the tunnel, Mac wanted to go back out there. To distract him, one of the groundstaff gave him a quick tour of the dressing room.
He loved his day - the result went our way too and because it was the last game of the season, the players came out on the pitch afterwards for a lap of honour. Mac went to bed clutching his matchday programme and a pair of socks that David said the kit man smuggled to him as they left the dressing room. "I'm going to be a Lion when I grow up mummy" he said sleepily, nestling his head on his rolled up socks.
It's entirely possible - he's gone out this morning with his father to buy some proper football boots and to find a team that takes highly ambitious and determined three year olds. I might start one myself!