Parenting is full of milestones. One that I was able to tick off with L the other weekend was her first, proper football match as we headed down to Wembley to watch England vs Germany in an International Women’s Friendly.
OK, so that’s a lie. Sorry. Technically it was her second proper football match – we were crazy enough to take a 10-month old L to see Hertha Berlin vs Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga after the missus bought me tickets for my birthday. However, I’m discounting that as the ‘real’ milestone due to her age, lack of memory and fact she slept through most of it. To be fair to her, it was a boring 0-0 game.
Anyway, back to the present day. With the continued growth of women’s football and a record crowd expected – plus the fact that it was a measly £10 for adults and £1 for kids – it seemed a great opportunity to visit the Home Of Football. As L enjoys watching and playing football too, it made sense to pursue that interest and continue to reinforce the important message that girls can do anything boys can.
It would also be a throwback to my own youth. I used to go to the footy as a kid with my Grandad to watch Bolton (his team) and Aston Villa (my team) and have a lot of fond memories of that shared time together. It was just the two of us spending a few hours together watching something that we both enjoyed. Sadly, he’s not with us now, but I’ll always associate live football with him.
My first, and only, trip to (old) Wembley was to see Bolton vs Reading in the 1995 Division One Play Off Final. Here, I witnessed a cracking 4-3 game which went into extra time. I was about 10 at the time and can’t remember loads about the day, but can recall some of the goals and the sense of grandeur – and trepidation – when emerging into the stand to find our seats.
So, with a romanticised view of things, I was keen to introduce L into this world and metaphorically blow her mind – particularly as new Wembley is bigger and (arguably) better than its predecessor. I’ve also been to (new) Wembley three times. The first time was to see Villa beat Liverpool 2-1 in the FA Cup Semi Final as part of a collaboration with The FA. The second was the ill-fated trip to see Ed Sheeran which may have seen us turn up on the wrong day. And the third was a Wembley tour we did for my birthday.
On the Saturday, we drove to Queensbury and parked at the station, then nipped on the Tube to make the two stops to Wembley Park. We then made the iconic walk up Wembley Way with thousands of other people heading to the match. I’d not really considered it in advance, mainly because she often seems older than 5, but L was a bit scared because of the sheer volume of people. Bless her.
These nerves disappeared when we got inside though – particularly when I got her a hot dog to chow down on! We made the way to our seats, climbing up, and up, and up some more, until we reached the dizzying heights of the cheap seats. Despite being out of breath and feeling the affects of vertigo, the stadium before us was a sight to behold – although I think L was more impressed with the flag she found on her seat…
As we sat around waiting for the game to start, I did my best Google impression as I answered questions ranging from “why are all of the seats red?” to “why does that flag say fifa?” all the way through to “why are those people wearing orange?”. After the National Anthems and an emotional rendition of the Last Post, it was time for kick off.
The Lionesses came out of the blocks slowly. Germany were in total control for the first 20 minutes and went ahead after only three minutes. England were sloppy in possession, but looked quite dangerous down the wings and slowly got back into the game. They were awarded a penalty in the 35th minute, but the keeper saved Parris’ spot kick. However, with the last kick of the first half, White equalised for England as she poked home.
During half time, we bought the most overpriced and awful hot chocolate known to man, then returned to our seats as the second half had already kicked off. It was a bit of a lacklustre affair with one of the only notable incidents being Germany having a goal ruled out for offside. At around 75 minutes, L was getting a bit bored (and cold and tired!) so we decided to head off early to try to avoid the crowds – an idea that probably half of the stadium also had!
We missed Germany’s last minute winner – which was probably a good thing – as England lost 2-1. The attendance of 77,768 was a record crowd for a Lionesses home fixture, but this did fall a few thousand short of the highest ever attendance for a woman’s football game in the UK. More tickets had been sold, but it was a pretty cold and wet night which probably put a few people off.
Still, it was a good experience for us both and a nice way to bond through football. I’m not sure how much L actually watched the football – she does only have a 5 year old’s attention span after all (!) – but she said she had a fun time. She enjoyed waving her flag (and hitting me in the face), partaking in the Mexican Wave, chanting “England” at the top of her voice and declared that she was now going to be a teacher, astronaut and football player.
It was a bit weird too though. Despite the large crowd, it didn’t really have the same atmosphere as a men’s football match. Depending on how you look at it, this could be a good or a bad thing. There wasn’t the same passion, emotion and camaraderie, but that also meant it felt a much safer and family-friendly environment.
I’d have no qualms about taking L to see the Lionesses again or to a WSL game, but I’d definitely have second thoughts about taking her to the men’s equivalent. I’m not quite sure what that says about me or the state of men’s football in this country. What I can say though is that it’s great to see the growing prominence and influence of the women’s game, and therefore the positive impact on our kids, particularly young girls.