George's first match

Cod Almighty | Article

by Pat Bell

10 March 2008

I celebrated St David's Day by taking my seven-year-old son, George, to his first Grimsby Town match: a 4-0 win at Morecambe. It was a milestone for him - his first match between Football League teams - and I was determined that Grimsby should be involved.

Almost 34 years ago, my dad had taken my brothers and me to watch Grimsby beat Charlton 5-0; it was enough to wrench our affections away from clubs we only ever saw in highlights packages on Match of the Day. For George, the competition for his footballing soul is fiercer. I was brought up in rural Wales, more than 50 miles from any league team. George is growing up two miles from Old Trafford, and I'm just relieved it's Man City he has decided to support, not United. The TV offers him far more access to the big teams than we ever had. If George is to follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, it felt important that the Mariners made a good first impression.

In truth, however, that 5-0 win in April 1974 was not my first Town game. I have dim impressions of a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 win from the McMenemy era, and a keener memory of a 1-1 draw with Halifax on Good Friday 1969 - a match my brothers were taken to see but that I was too young for. I can still recall standing on the sofa in the bay window of my great aunt's house, looking up Grimsby Road waiting for my grandfather, father and brothers to come home.

This Christmas, I had gone off to watch Town at Stockport on my own, and left George bereft that I had not taken him. He was ready, even if I was not. Since George had been born, there had been an unspoken agreement in our household that I did my best to be an attentive father, except when Wales were playing rugby or Grimsby were in the north-west - a last toehold in a lost bachelorhood of pubs before and after matches, an island that my family had no interest in joining me on. Nowadays, though, George watches the rugby as well, and expects to join me on my occasional trips to see the local non-League side. He'll get up on a Sunday morning to watch Match of the Day by himself. Being a good father now means taking George to the football, and it was time for me to adjust my matchday routines accordingly.

Watching Premier League highlights is, of course, very different from watching the low lights of a fourth division game. For 20 minutes at Morecambe, my appreciation of a Town side taking control of midfield was tempered by the lack of goalmouth action to keep a seven-year-old excited. But watching sport on television has its uses: borrowing rugby commentator concepts, George told me: "Grimsby are dominating both possession and territory, aren't they?"; and then the match became a succession of highlights as Morecambe hit the post, Peter Bore scored, twice, and Morecambe hit the post again.

The match hit a lull early in the second half. George showed the first signs that the occasion was not quite all he'd expected: "This game is not really that exciting, is it?" Immediately, there came a goal with all the elements a young football fan could desire: some neat passing, a shot against the inside of the post, the goalkeeper only able to paw the ball towards a Town striker, but then recovering to save well from Bore's header, only for Nick Hegarty to put an emphatic end to the scramble. After that we all relaxed, and were treated to the storybook scenario of a substitute scoring with his first touch of the ball.

Good first impression? Town had played a blinder. Almost too good, in fact. As we began to leave, I thought I'd better sound a cautionary note.

"It won't always be like this, you know," I said. "This is about as good as it gets."

There was a murmur of agreement as a few people overheard me. I told them it was George's first match. Their smiles broadened: "You'd better bring him every week then."

Now they were pleased not just for the win, and for having seen it, but for George having seen it. We go to the football to share a common cause, to connect with a community, and now we could enjoy someone taking their place in that community, while remembering our own first matches.

When I was a child, the chance to watch Grimsby was something I looked forward to, weeks in advance, for itself. I might make calculations of what a win might mean for our league position, but that did not get in the way of enjoying the game. You lose that in adulthood, especially when you are watching the second of three matches against the same side, with a trip to Wembley at stake; matches can come to seem like a preparation for something else, like pleasure deferred. Having George sat by me at Morecambe reminded me why I started going in the first place - not for the drink before the match, or to play my part in a promotion push, but for the football itself, in all its uncertainty and drama, its moments of unwitting humour and of occasional, transcending excitement.

My thanks go to Mike Worden. George and I would never have made it to Morecambe had he not braved the shopping traffic of Warrington to rescue us after our train was cancelled.