The car journey was silent, but then that never mattered. We were quite happy, relieved even, to be lost in our own thoughts. As my dad drove, I sat in the passenger seat, my kit bag stuffed under my feet and a great knot of tension in my stomach. We were on our way to a trial match, for the Glasgow and District team, and I was more nervous than usual; I was terrified.
I loved football, but I was never happier than when I was watching or listening to it in the living room with my dad; or running around our street with my battered old Mitre Delta, dodging in between parked cars and inventing moments of glory in my head as I lashed the ball through the open gates of our driveway, which doubled up as the goal.
I loved playing for a team, Clarkston Amateurs, Giffnock Amateurs, or Woodfarm High School, and along the way, I enjoyed moments with them all. But mostly, I was a terrible footballer. Not in terms of ability — on the wing, I was very quick, small but nimble, had a decent right foot, could score a goal, and the older I became, the better I was at reading the game — but in nerve. I hated confrontation; I hated the idea of making a mistake and letting the team down; I hated the thought of making a fool of myself. Often, on those car journeys, I hoped that the game might be off. So a trial, for Glasgow and District? I suspected that my school had to send somebody, and because the better players in my year had already signed for a club, they chose me.
My dad didn’t say anything as we arrived at the pitch. “See you,” I mumbled, as I hoisted the bag onto my shoulder and headed for the white-walled pavilion. I didn’t look back, but then I didn’t have to. I can still smell the mustiness of the dressing room — a mixture of sweat and damp mud, broken only by the sharp stench of liniment — hear the clatter of studs on the concrete floor, and feel the slants of the wooden bench beneath me as I sat down.
At some point, before I could remember, I became enthralled by football. I will never know when, but I know why: because my dad loved the game. I supported his team, and I always will, I read his books, we followed it, and we talked about it. We still do. From the moment I started playing properly, for an under-12 team, he drove me to training and to matches. Whatever the weather, he would stand on the touchline, hands shoved into his pockets, never talking to anybody else, never shouting, just watching. Inside, I was agitated, but it never showed; it still doesn’t. But whenever I looked over to the side of the pitch, he would always be there.
I must have touched the ball half-a-dozen times at the most during the trial match, which was a relief. I didn’t make any mistakes, but l also knew that I hadn’t done enough to impress the coaches. We didn’t say anything during the return car journey, but I was glad of that. Back at home, in the kitchen, my mum began to ask a hundred questions. “It went fine,” my dad said. “But there were some good players there.” We both knew what he meant, and I’d never been so grateful.
Recently, my son Christopher was born. Not that long after we brought him home, and while I was holding him in my arms, my wife asked me something: “what if he doesn’t like football? What if he gets into rugby, or drama?” I looked at him, his brown eyes staring up at me. “Well,” I said, “then I’ll get into rugby, or drama.”