Saturday, April 03, 2010

My Boy Lollipop

Ask the average person which is the greatest invention of all time, and you will most likely receive predictable responses like 'the wheel' or 'the steam engine'.

However ask fathers of young children the same question, and instinctively they will say 'the lollipop', and they'd be absolutely right.

"A mere boiled sweet on a stick," sneer cynics, ignoring the seamless way the lollipop's two constituent parts work in tandem.

The stick obviates the inherent child choking hazard, allowing the key trait of the boiled sweet to rise to the fore, namely its longevity.

Haircuts, train journeys, and trips to the supermarket are blissfully tantrum-free thanks to the humble but brilliant lollipop.

You may not read about this method in Parenting magazine, but believe me it works and I'm not ashamed to use it.

So when I decided in a moment of madness to take my 3-year old son to MK Dons this afternoon, I knew the lollipop would be playing a vital role.

When I describe him as '3-years old', I'm not doing so for effect (in the sense that he's actually almost four).

No, infact he only celebrated his third birthday a few weeks ago. What on earth was I thinking?

I desperately needed him to have slept well the previous night, or at least to have napped in the car to the stadium. He did neither, setting my pre-match preparation onto the wrong foot already.

My wife prepared a series of healthy snacks, whilst I secretly smuggled away two lollipops, intending to use them strategically inbetween the apple pieces and raisins.

Given that each lollipop takes approximately 15-minutes to consume, I essentially had a 30-minute 'lollipop budget' for a matchday experience that could easily drag on beyond two hours.

I did consider bringing the full compliment of seven lollipops (including one for half-time), but no football match is worth a lifetime of rotted teeth.

As a result, I felt much like Phil Parkinson might when considering how best to use his substitutes.

Throw them into the fray too early, and you will run out of options later.

Give them a berth too late, and the game may already be over before they can make an impact.

After weighing up the pros and cons, I decided on the way to the game that I would produce each lollipop a third of the way through each half.

The consumption of the lollipop would take up another quarter hour, whilst I'd hope to see out the final third by asking him "Did you enjoy your lollipop?" several times per minute.

However just like any good manager, I needed to remain flexible in my tactics in case events out of my control demanded an alternative strategy.

However, first a few observations. The stadiumMK is predictably situated on a retail complex and surrounded by industrial estates (which were refreshingly free of parking restrictions incidentally).

However despite its rather bland location, it's actually very impressive and like many modern stadiums, does not seem to have been done 'on the cheap'.

The seats are padded and wide, whilst legroom is ample. The upper tier is presently seat-free, but when complete it will arguably be the best medium-sized football stadium in the country.

Most impressively, punters can view the pitch easily from the whole of the wrapround concourse thus providing plenty of space and light, whilst encouraging fans to avoid the manic half-time rush for refreshments.

It no doubt helps to explain how a team with no history is enjoying the sixth best attendances in League One.

After all if you've never watched football regularly before, you'll hardly be enchanted by view-restricting pylons or claustrophobic walkways.

It remains to be seen however whether or not they will maintain their momentum, or if the stadium risks becoming a white elephant much like say the Darlington Arena (Capacity: 25,000; Last game: 1,296).

We arrived in the stadium around 2.40pm, and all seemed to be going well. My son seemed in good spirits, and was particularly enamoured by the MK Dons mascots, Donny and Mooie.

"They waved at me Daddy!" he exclaimed as I smiled, afraid to point out that in truth I think they were waving at the entire block we were sitting in amongst the home support.

Then when the teams emerged from the tunnel, something very touching happened.....without prompting, he stood up and clapped with a big grin on his face. Everything was going to be fine I thought.

For the first five minutes he was engrossed in the game and seemed to find headers to be particularly amusing, which was handy given he was watching League One football. He'd have hated Arsenal vs. Barcelona.

Unfortunately then something very bad happened. The first whinge of the afternoon was heard with less than ten minutes on the clock. "My bottom's sore," he said.

I've learned from experience that rather than being an acute medical emergency, this simply means he needs the toilet.

Unfortunately there was more chance of our manager handing Jonjo Shelvey a start, than there was of me persuading him to use his portable potty in a busy stadium (my son, not Parkinson that is).

Not quite sure what to do, instinctively I produced the first lollipop and his little face lit up.

It was a little earlier than planned, but it would buy me some time as I frantically thought how on earth I was going to get him through the rest of the game.

The lollipop did its job but as soon as it was finished, he was moaning about his bottom again.

Even worse, most of the healthy snacks my wife had prepared might be considered mild laxatives. The last thing this boy needed right now was fruit.

Now there were tears and cries of "I'm tired, take me home" which must have been painful for all those sat around us. You expect to hear a young child crying on an aeroplane for example, but not at a football match.

Feeling acutely embarrassed, I picked him up and took him for a walk around the aforementioned concourse that overlooked the pitch where frankly very little of note was going on.

His mood was not improving, and with the large stadium clock showing only forty minutes played, I decided to throw all my cards on the table and produce the second lollipop. I really had nothing to lose at this point.

Initially it seemed to have the desired effect, and we were able to sit in some empty seats at the front of the stand for the remainder of the half.

It's not clear whether it was his sore bottom or possibly Scott Wagstaff's glaring 43rd minute miss, but he was soon moaning again and this time even the lollipop didn't seem to placate him.

This was the managerial equivalent of seeing your final substitute get injured, and it wasn't even half time.

I broke the news to my Dad who had remained in the original seats, that we would have to take his grandson home. If nothing else, I was struggling to cope now let alone him.

Despite my kind offer to drive around the block a few times and pick him up at full-time, Grandpa put family before football and accompanied us back to the car. "It was a load of rubbish anyway," and it was hard to disagree.

A local radio station was offering commentary which softened the blow, and Forster scored the vital winner as we reached the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard.

As for my son, within two minutes of driving off, he was fast asleep in his carseat, a half-eaten lollipop still dangling tantalisingly from his hand.

I never stood a chance.


At 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the way you write.

DO NOT abandon this blog NYA.

At 5:39 AM, Blogger ChicagoAddick said...

Ditto ^^ NYA.

I think I forewarned you before with the story of my son's first game at pre-3 years old (23 months I think he was). Bolton at home (they were the days eh?). I had a whole hot dog down my shirt after 15 minutes. Managed to stay until Youri Djorkaeff equalised. Thought football would never be the same again. Wait until Toby's 6 or 7 - a whole different experience.

At 7:09 AM, Blogger Hungry Ted said...

Brilliant post! This has put a smile on my face as I rise early on Easter Sunday to go to work. As the father of a 3 year old lad (nearly 4) I have pondered long and hard about the potential pitfalls of his first Addicks game: after all, I'm so used to going on my own. My only sadness is the story didn't quite have a happy ending. I was hoping you was going to tell me Sir Christian of Dailly handed him his shirt at the end of the game. Fair play to Grandad as well! Excellent stuff!!

At 8:25 AM, Blogger Marco. said...

Great post NY.
A tedious afternoon for us all in reality.
At halftime, I would have been fairly happy to leave if I'd been given a decent reason.
The penalty aside, you missed nothing!

The 3 points were very, very handy though.

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Steve Sax said...

Wonderful post NYA.

I'm a neophyte Charlton fan who attended one and only one game in the Valley winter of 2006. Being Los Angeles-based, I haven't been to any other football matches in England since--but I remain loyal to Charlton despite its relegations because it was an awesome experience and I appreciated the Charlton fans' coolness.

Your story resonates well with someone with two small kids and season tickets to our baseball team, the Dodgers. Older kid (now 5 yrs) has gone to many games and can sit for a good five to six innings, given bribes of food and sweets. My younger child (2.5 years), who has only been to one game, doesn't stand a chance of sitting still for two innings. I hadn't thought of lollipops, though--that's a good call.

I'll bring seven.

Keep up the great writing!

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Phil said...

A wonderful account of your day NYA !
My lads are now 18 and 21 but your tale brings back memories of sweet bribery. It was much needed prior to the Prem days !
All part of a child's development and us dads have a duty to take them along to watch the Addicks.
Our trips to games are one of things that binds us together and is great to do as a family.
Sorry you missed the second half but as was said, you didn't miss much.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Hungry Ted said...

I think there's grounds for a heart-warming film in here somewhere. I wonder, NYA, could Tom Hanks do your father role justice?

At 1:37 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

I think I'd rather a more brooding actor than Tom Hanks (perhaps Jude Law?). Ideally the director would cast Keira Knightley as my wife, but I'm not sure even she could portray the uncompromising moodiness.

At 1:40 PM, Blogger Suze said...

Oh you must keep this going, are one of my smiley moments of the week.

Where we had season tickets, there were a group of fathers with varying aged children...and all the children behaved in different ways. Some would rather have been elsewhere...others watched and followed their fathers comments. All had sweets in varying flavours and designs, and then there was the burger at half time whilst Dad had his pint (or two). They always left before the end of the first half and got back just after the game restarted.
The most organised was a family who decided their young son...about six, should have his DS with him...he was then engrossed all through the game and would cheer when the game broke the spell.
Remembering back to my first games, I'm sure I was irritating to the guy who stood in front of us as I ran up and down the terraces(oh the freedom) to shout at the players.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Hungry Ted said...

If it's to be Jude Law, then Granddad must surely be Jim Broadbent!

At 4:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Well said.

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Charlton into Europe said...

I was seven when Dad, a second generation Charlton supporter, took me to my first game. Dad had not been to a game for more than twenty years and over time had become somewhat ground-disoriented. We stood in the away end with all the Portsmouth fans who were kind enough to laugh along with us when we cheered a Charlton goal.


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