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James Baldock: I hate football, but the World Cup has compelled me to change my ways for the sake of my four sons

By James Baldock

In even-numbered years, people like me tend to spend their early summers in hibernation. Football is everywhere and we can scarcely move for it, so we retreat. The problem I have with football is that it bores me, because I don't have a clue what I'm looking at. The general principle is fine, but some of the specifics are baffling. It doesn't matter how many pepper pots you use, I still don't understand the offside rule. (Yes, I've Googled it. No, it didn't help).

This goes back to childhood. A complete lack of physical prowess meant that I always landed in goal during PE lessons - apart from the one time I put my boot down and insisted on playing midfield, where I somehow managed to be even more useless.

I saw what a football obsession did, largely through watching my younger brother, who turned into the Incredible Hulk every time Arsenal lost. It was something you learned to live with, mostly by keeping out of the way.

That was two decades ago, my brother's calmed down immeasurably and now I'm the father of four boys.

But I see the seeds of his obsession in my nine-year-old, who is the first of our children to show both an aptitude and a serious interest in sport, which would explain the look of reproach he gave me during a hot sports day two weeks ago, when I refused to volunteer for the parent race.

He has a point. The nine-year-old and I have a shared history with these things. A while back, we got wedged in a tunnel halfway down a Butlins water slide. But we do it anyway, because it helps with bonding.

He's an adventurous, outdoors type and I play along, partly because I'm just happy that he can do something I can't, which keeps my Critical Dad persona firmly leashed. But fatherhood messes with your head - you wind up doing things you'd never dream of doing otherwise.

So, when he started filling in the books, rating the performances and making predictions, I found myself sucked in. And, to my surprise, it turned out to be tremendously enjoyable.

The thrilled anticipation of a well-deserved penalty, the way a game squats on a knife edge, slipping one way or the other with the tiniest mistake - it's fun, isn't it? If you give it a chance. Even if it goes to extra time and they cancel Holby City.

The nine-year-old isn't here at the moment - he's climbing Snowdon, of all things - so, I watched the Colombia v England game without him, except when I was barrelling up and down the road on the scout run, a double-tracked Talksport commentary blaring through the speakers. Even a month ago, such a prospect would have been unthinkable.

When the extra-time whistle blew, I left the house, unable to face the prospect of another defeat. Thirty seconds later, I came back. And when Eric Dier stepped up and sank the decisive penalty confidently into the bottom corner (although not before Ospina had a hand to it), I leapt off the sofa.

You see what I mean? It's a whole new way of talking. I seem to have evolved overnight into one of those armchair pundits that everybody hates. You know the score; a single lager and you think you can outclass Lee Dixon, at least off the pitch.

I'm berating poor performances, calling out changes and second-guessing the manager. I'm sure I've got most of it wrong and I'm sure my wife's apparently limitless patience is only going to endure for so long before she snaps and tells me to stop mansplaining - probably right after I've used the words: "I could have done better than that."

Do we call this latent testosterone? The first flushes of a midlife crisis? It may be neither. It's probably a transient thing, like that Winter Olympics where everyone got obsessed with curling for five minutes. When the tournament finishes, things will calm down and the late night, expletive-ridden text exchanges with my brother will stop.

But, if nothing else, I've found I don't hate all this nearly as much as I thought I did. And I'll make a habit of kicking the ball around the garden a bit more - something the nine-year-old loves and something we don't do nearly as often as we should.

He beats me every time, but then that's the story of my life.

Belfast Telegraph

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