Footie Dads – The ‘First Match’ Pickle

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Going to your first ever football match can be a pivotal moment in your childhood. Whether it’s your local team or going to see one of the Premier League giants in action, it’s a day you’ll never forget. Sadly, football grounds have also become synonymous with ‘lad’ culture and violence, so what is the right age to take your little one to their first match?

Often a great moment for a dad, sharing your passion for the game can really build a long lasting closeness that continues even when they are all grown up. However, as most know, football matches aren’t always the most child-friendly places to go to; with the drinking, swearing and rowdy environment, choosing when you can take them to their first game can be quite a challenge. It doesn’t help that if they already like football, they may be incredibly curious to know what it’s like and repeatedly ask you when they can go.

On the terraces

There is no doubt that the environment at games is not always suitable for young children, particularly if it’s a local derby. Football fans are known for being raucous and at times, excessive, which means they are a long way from being good role models. As most dads know, the bubbling atmosphere comes hand in hand with matches and can be what really makes the day special. 

Whether you take you child with you on match day is completely your decision, but taking an infant is probably unwise, especially with the noise and considering at this age, they are unlikely to display a great deal of interest whatsoever. Bear in mind, having to entertain a restless child can spoil your own enjoyment of the game and ideally, you’d want yourself and your child to enjoy it on equal terms.

The young and the restless

Another thing to take into account is that, with their young age, they may not yet share the same passion you do for the game. This means they might get bored, restless and could lose interest. Fans spend 90 minutes watching their team play because that’s what they came for, but for someone whose passion for the game isn’t quite as accentuated, this will seem like a long time. The last thing you want is to take them to a match before finding out whether they like football and create a negative memory.

If they are displaying a genuine interest in football and really want to go, then you should take them. A good way to judge this is whether they play for a team already and have begun showing a real enthusiasm for the sport. Taking them to their first professional game will be an amazing contrast in terms of the pitches they’ve been playing on and the size of the event, this will leave a lasting impression.

Family Stands

In recent years, clubs have taken tremendous steps to make games much more family-friendly. This includes flexible pricing (teams like West Ham United have matches which are ‘Kids for a Quid’), match day entertainment and in some cases, family stands. Teams such as Man City have also placed further importance on attracting family supporters by reserving particular seating for families. Thanks to these initiatives, there’s much less to worry about when taking young children to matches, as they won’t have to spend 90 minutes next to fans who may not be the best influence.

This concept is a lot more suitable if you have a young family, but it’s worth mentioning that these stands won’t replicate the same kind of atmosphere in the rest of the stadium. If you feel your son is old enough to withstand the ‘real’ football crowd, then he most likely will enjoy it. Once again, this comes back to how passionate they are about the sport – a huge part of seeing matches live is the atmosphere and your son may want to have the authentic experience. Keep in mind however, if your youngster really loves the game, it’s more important to give them a great view of the match and any goals being scored, as opposed to prioritising the atmosphere. 

Most fans can still remember the excitement, smells and vivid emotions of their first match, but it all boils down to using common sense as a parent and making sure they are completely ready for the day. With the right judgement and plenty of patience, your child’s first game will be a moment you both remember for a long time and if they enjoy their first match, they’re sure to want to keep on going again and again.