The Playing Field

When my third child was born, and when unlike his sisters, he was not a girl, great plans were immediately afoot (pardon the pun) to turn him into a footballer.

You see my husband has been playing football since before he could walk, and after all the many, many girl babies we’d had (two) it seemed fitting that he finally had a son – someone to with whom to play the beautiful game. And it wasn’t my husband’s idea at all really – the remarks came from well-meaning well-wishers, and I completely understand – it’s small talk, it’s a thing people say when a baby is born, especially a boy after girls or a girl after boys.

But a little part of my felt defensive for my middle child. She was two-and-a-half when her little brother was born, and I’d noticed that she couldn’t pass a football without giving it a kick. As time went by, she showed more and more interest, and I started to wonder if perhaps she had picked up some of her dad’s love of football. It’s logical to imagine that at least one of the kids would inherit their dad’s skills, and there’s no reason to assume it would necessarily be the boy-child.

Time went by. My hypothetical little footballer got a soccer ball for her birthday, and I nudged the interest – just a little – with comments here and there. I started bringing the football with us on day trips and picnics, so she could have a kick about, and I told her I loved watching her play.

My little footballer - office mum

A couple of months ago, I saw her playing football with some friends – I watched as a boy who was bigger than her tried to tackle her. They ran all over the pitch, him marking her, she keeping the ball on front of her and always just out of his reach. I told my husband about it that night. “I don’t know enough to say if she’s really good,” I said, “But she’s interested and she enjoys it – let’s do something about it.” And he did – he found a club and brought her down to give it a try. And from there, he signed her up for a mini-world cup tournament, and volunteered himself as a manager. (Our kids are lucky that they don’t rely on me for the sporting side of life – this would never happen if it was my responsibility.) So now she has a team t-shirt and a team name and team mates and shin-guards and a huge, beaming smile every time she heads out the door to play a match and an even bigger smile when she comes home.

One night last week, when my husband was away with work, I had to bring her to her match. It meant bringing the other two kids out too, late on a school evening when they should all be getting ready for bed. It meant rushing dinner, and leaving the kitchen undone, and facing into solo bedtime a good hour later than usual. But I didn’t want her to miss her match, so off we went.

And oh what a sight awaited us. Over 1,100 children out playing football on a sunny summer’s evening. And at least 1,100 parents and big brothers and small sisters and managers and referees and volunteers. Small pitches for small kids, five a side, fifteen minutes each half. Colourful t-shirts giving identity and allegiance – to far-flung, exotic countries and to newly-met team-mates. Six- and seven-year-old girls who had only set eyes on one another a few days earlier but were already bonding as a team.

Mini World Cup Cabinteely - office mum

I watched for 30 minutes as my small girl gave it everything she had, and cheered with the other parents when her team-mate scored a goal, and cheered even louder a few minutes later when she scored a goal, and maybe, maybe there was something in my eye too.

Minding the runaway small boy during all this was tough going, but there were other parents with small kids too, and much moral support and swapping of horror stories, as we stood in our short sleeves on a Dublin pitch in the evening sun.

And it struck me that all of the talk of screen-time and obesity rates and lack of fresh air and exercise and this doomed generation of kids has conditioned me to think that the problem is everywhere. Nothing prepared me for the sight of hundreds and hundreds of kids out playing football last Thursday night. And hundreds and hundreds of parents on the sidelines. And of course it’s not just soccer – there are parents on GAA pitches and rugby pitches and swimming pool galleries and athletics tracks up and down the country, watching their children running and competing and bonding and trying.

And I guess it’s hard to see where the line is – the one between natural, innate interest and nurtured, power-of-suggestion interest, and maybe it’s really about where those two things meet in the middle. Wherever the truth lies, and whatever the future may bring, I have a girl who comes home smelling of grass and dirt and salty sweat – a girl with a beaming smile – a girl who’s loving just giving it a try.

football in Glendalough


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17 thoughts on “The Playing Field”

  1. That’s just lovely. And really, if a child isn’t interested in a game, they won’t do it. They might show up if brought, but they’re not going to make much of an effort on the pitch if they don’t want to be there in the first place. It sounds like she’s loving it. Long may it last!
    Christine recently posted…Optimism is geneticMy Profile

    1. You’re so right. My eldest wanted to join a game in the garden recently, then decided she’d play while on a space hopper, after taking a break for some cartwheels 🙂

  2. Lovely post. I have a little boy who couldn’t pass a ball without kicking it either, and he has just joined a gaelic football team, with mouth guards and new boots. I hadn’t realised how happy I would be standing at the side of a pitch for nearly an hour and a half watching him participate, and play, and learn and have lots of fun! It is lovely to watch them, isn’t it?
    Naomi Lavelle recently posted…Do bugs fart?My Profile

    1. That’s lovely that he has discovered it and is loving it!
      I totally, absolutely know what you mean. I didn’t see myself as a pitch side spectator until I became one, and wow, it’s fantastic to watch them. Can’t wait for our finals tomorrow now!

  3. I have a little boy who just isn’t bothered. He loves his swimming lessons, but I can’t shake the feeling I’m missing something because I can’t get him to join a team or be enthusiastic about football (either kind).
    Because my experience is growing up in the house where my only brother was out at training several days a week from the age of about 5. He’s still at it 30-odd years on.. But my husband tells me he was never that into the competitive side, he played around in school but didn’t like when it got serious. So I guess it’s normal too.

    Well done on spotting it in Nia – she looks so happy and confident, and it’s a great time for a young girl to be getting involved, the nature side of a love of football may have existed in many of us mums, but the nurturing of it was rare.
    Jill recently posted…Objects Of MeMy Profile

    1. I think there are lots and lots of little boys who aren’t really interested and it makes sense – there’s nothing we all like really (except maybe eating chocolate 🙂 )
      And I think you are right that the nature side may have existed in many of us in the past but wouldn’t have been spotted. I never, ever remember playing football as a kid but I do like playing it with the kids now and I keep telling my husband that I’m pretty good. He is having NONE of it though…

  4. Lovely piece! As a sport loving Dad, I always remember people almost apologetically congratulating me on the birth of our 1st child, a girl, on the assumption I wanted a boy to bring to sport ! She’s 8 now and loves getting out playing. Really important girls get opportunities like this rather than adults assuming they don’t like sport

    1. I agree – I think maybe a generation ago, girls just weren’t given the chance but people do see things differently today. Looking at them out there at the mini world cup the last two weeks, there isn’t a single girl who looks unsure about being there – it’s amazing to see the confidence, the way they all just throw themselves in to it. Finals tomorrow now – very exciting!

  5. Oh, I love this. How cool is your girl?!
    Neither my husband nor I are in the least bit sporty but at our girls’ first ever sports day today I had one daughter come first in all her races and run rings around most of her class in most of the games. I should probably start to find ways to nurture that…
    Sadhbh @ Where Wishes Come From recently posted…We Love Lottie DollsMy Profile

    1. Oh wow, that’s amazing! Isn’t it mad when they can do things that don’t seem to come from either parent – but then again, we may all have hidden talents that we didn’t get to try as kids!
      (I suspect I’d have been a great footballer… 🙂 )

  6. I love this post, what a beautiful read. Sport is such an interesting one with kids, I couldn’t agree more with the lady above, push-and you’ll devastate them them, but let them find their own way into a sport (any sport) and there is no substitute for the enjoyment it will bring them. There is absolutely no hurling round our neck of the woods, but after watching a championship match while on holidays last summer, Charlie became obsessed with the game and never left the hurley out of his hand . We decided to drive him to a club about 10km away and we have never looked back! It’s the confidence it brings that I love. He has never had a lot of confidence, but when he goes to training or has a good match or gets a good pass in, he beams. I also heard a lady on the radio before talking about depression in teenagers and she said that sport was a great thing for teenagers’ heads, and I think she could be right. I certainly see the very positive side to it with him….long may it last 🙂 Melissa xx

    1. Argh – how am I only seeing this now! And sure you’ve no time for reading this now that you have your gorgeous new smallie in the meantime 🙂
      That’s so lovely about Charlie – delighted he’s found hurling, and that he has parents who were willing to go the extra (10) miles to get him there.

  7. It’s so wonderful how you encouraged your daughter to take up the sport, especially since dad wanted to pass the mantle onto your son! I actually envy your daughter, because my interest in football was never given as much attention as hers is being given, and I wish her and all the other kids the best of luck for their futures. Maybe we’ll get to see your middle daughter grow up to represent her country one day in the world cup, who knows!
    Rafa recently posted…The Soccer Biography of Gabriel BatistutaMy Profile

  8. Hello,


    Your daughter might have got her Dad’s Genes and dominant interest for football.

    Tackling bigger boys.. Hm. Might be a game changer, she could well represent your husband in a good team if you let her play her game.

    Good to see her happy playing football, it shows how happy she is too in the pictures. !
    Brenetta recently posted…When Do Babies Start Teething ?My Profile

  9. i enjoyed reading this – it took me back a few years – there is no substitute for exercise in the fresh air if you enjoy it. My 3 boys have all kicked a ball about since they were tiny and I still watch them every weekend now that they are growing beards – its been great and I recommend it to anyone.

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