The Nocturnal Dad | Episode 4 | Loser
This episode contains nostalgic themes that may be unsuitable for those born after 1990.
Sweat glistens off raw-grazed knees, battered plastic placed down with precision in the middle of a dusty patch of dirt. Ignoring calls from indoors, he focusses on the ball as if his life depends on it. He runs, he shoots, it bobbles, he scores. A skinny bandaged hand reaches for the sky as the small, gleeful boy pivots away shrieking “yeeeeeeeeeeeeees!” Tonight it’s Argentina and he can’t wait to beat them too. The World Cup is England’s, the Golden Boot his.
1986 was my first World Cup. I can close my eyes and smell it. Panini stickers (the sharp aroma of a foily), Pique the Mexican mascot so popular my mum picked one up at a jumble sale before the tournament even started (musty), the replica Adidas Tango (a plastic fantastic artefact of unrivalled beauty), my first England kit (tiny shorts, crumbly badge) and a carefully strapped ‘Lineker hand’ (bandage raided from the first aid tin). We would watch a game and then peg it outside to play for hours. This was a time when football really was the beautiful game – 10 years old, still just about believing in Father Christmas and an unshakable belief that England would win the cup. Me and my brothers were footy mad and up until this point in life, we had never felt the disappointment of failure beyond not winning at pass the parcel (which was still hard to take but now manageable). Then that game happened.
Do you remember a moment that helped define you as a person, moulded your personality, left you with a memory so poignant that it’s burnt into your consciousness as an internal behavioural processor? Mine was Diego Maradona’s hand of God and then that virtuoso goal against England. His villainy-turned-majesty taught me a valuable life lesson; how to forgive and forget and how to see the beautiful side of people. This is what I will one day tell my sons’ Drama and Rib Kicker. But truth be told, it’s bobbins. It taught me how to be a very bad loser.
My bad loser tendencies have gradually intensified with every International football tournament since (with the exception of USA 1994, which on reflection – admit it – was a relief). It’s a trait that seeps into my everyday management of life. I have learned to handle it but as I smile and say “oh well”, my gritted teeth are clenched so tight and my smile so forced that I feel as if my face will break. I blame my first love of the beautiful game for this character flaw and I wonder how many other then-10 year-olds have been consciously or subliminally affected by this cruel sport.
Here is an example of this logic in the form of a recent fail. A couple of months ago after my wonderful editor at this here fantastic magazine gifted me my column, I set up a Twitter account (as all influential writers should have, I presumed). I Googled things like “how to get lots of Twitter followers”, “what time of day is best to tweet” and “how to make people like you on Twitter”. Armed with this new dynamite knowledge I went about following lots of cool and interesting people and checking my account every couple of seconds for reciprocal follows. Nothing happened for a bit and I felt disillusioned.
Then after a few days, I started getting loads of follows and likes and even some retweets of my hilarious musings. I checked each and every one and followed them back. This was great. I was an instant Twitter hit. I then spotted something brilliantly peculiar. All of my new followers were attractive looking females with very similar interests to me. Wow. This was even better, not only followers but genuine, like-minded fans and pretty ones at that.
“I felt embarrassed but in a good way. I’d quickly sneak a glance at their profiles and follow them back without my wife seeing. Not that I had anything at all to hide – these were my people and I had a duty to be polite”.
My first few weeks on Twitter followed the same pattern and I began to develop an internal ego; “you really are a natural” “I’m not surprised they like you”, “hey guy, great tweet, you’re sooo talented!”. And then I noticed something more peculiar still. My growing army of female followers had similar names and identical interests. Was this normal for a ‘Social Influencer’? Was I attracting a cult? I became concerned for the sanity-status of my fan base and so consulted a highly trusted friend that does internet stuff. After a quick look, he pissed himself laughing and took glee in telling me my fans were “Bots” – fake Twitter profiles set up to get mugs like me to click through to dodgy websites. Cue gritted teeth and mock self-depreciating laughter. I was livid with myself and even more angry at The Twitter. I had to stop myself from sending an email to their customer services (it was drafted and ready but last minute visions of Alan Partridge doing the same stopped me). Loser. England’s fault.
And so it is no coincidence that this nostalgia-inducing, over self-analysation is surfacing again as England tear through the group stage of the World Cup (at the time of writing) and my now 41-year-old, post-Golden Generation (Beckham et al) football pessimist self is fighting to keep the ‘belief’ at bay for fear of yet another epic disappointment and four more years of bad-losing antics.
However, the sun is out and our house is clear of norovirus so I will conclude on a high, with words worthy of the outward-facing-optimist-charlatan that I am. World Cup quarter-finals and anger issues aside, 1986 really was a vintage year for kids like me burning it around on their BMX. As well as the football feast, we had A.L.F, Top Gun and Licence to Ill (have a read of this article), the album that turned me onto Hip Hop.
I remember getting a tape of Fight for Your Right to Party off a mate’s big brother. Listening to that song was a moment that I will never forget. A pre-adolescent adrenaline rush that excitedly confused the senses and made you feel like an older boy. Lyrics you didn’t quite understand but desperately wanted to (“your mom threw away your best porno mag” – “wow, I need one of those?!”) and a vibe so fresh and rebellious that for the first time ever you actually wanted the weekend to end so you could go back to school and feel cooler than you’d ever felt before because you had THAT song in your head.
Despite later realising the novelty value of the song and questionable undertones of the album, it still gives me a guilty pleasure to hear it and it evokes a similar feeling over four decades later (ah, the freedom of anonymity, I feel I can share anything with you!). Whatever happened in the football, bang that tune on your headphones and stroll into the office on Monday morning and you’ll see what I mean. No losers here, baby.
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