I hate football.
I hate watching sport.
But there is something about being an ex-pat that suddenly makes you excited about things that at home you would have spurned as you would spurn a rabid dog.
Driving my car around my English town, I put on home-made mix CDs and sing along with unabashed abandon to cheesy Dutch songs from the 80s that my friends over in the Netherlands wouldn’t be caught dead listening to. I don’t even dare name them because my friends read my blog and I’d be able to hear their mocking laughter all the way across the North Sea. Some of these songs have become my son’s firm favourites, it’s that bad.
Similarly, I was not bothered about watching Holland play in the World Cup when I still lived at home. But now that I am abroad, this is a little bit of nationalism that I find myself indulging in. I watched the Netherlands play Spain with only half an eye, not expecting much, but in the aftermath I couldn’t help feeling a little thrill of national pride whenever people commented on the score to me (5-1, btw. For The Netherlands. Just saying).
So when it came to their second match and I discovered it was on at 5pm, I decided to make a thing of it. I told the kids that we were watching “Nederland” play football in the afternoon as a special treat. The Boy was excited, but I realised that he had very little concept as yet of supporting a national team (flags, colours, football songs) or even of football. He wouldn’t know what he was watching out for or when to cheer.
Time for some craft, I decided!
I got out some white paper and some chopsticks to make flags with, some scissors, pritt stick and coloured paper. The kids did all the glueing and I cut the red and blue paper into strips to stick onto their flags in (roughly) the right places.
Then it was time to explain the rules of football. Just in case you are a novice yourself, this is what you need to know: there are two teams. Our team is wearing blue and orange. When they kick the ball into the other team’s goal, you cheer and wave your home-made flag. (You’re welcome)
The kids managed longer than I had expected. The Boy was keen to see the number at the top of the screen change from 0-0 and kept asking me why I “oohed” or “ahhhed” or groaned or tutted. I tried to stay patient and give him the details he craved (“that player was very naughty and pushed the player in the yellow shirt”). I knew the Boy had been needing the toilet for at least half an hour and I had tried suggesting he might see if there was any surprise wee before the match started but he insisted he didn’t need to. Twenty minutes into the game he squeaked: “I need the potty!” He dashed into the kitchen and just as the door swung shut behind him there was a deafening roar from the orange-clad fans in the stadium: Holland had scored the first goal. He stopped himself at the brink and came in, trousers around his ankles, to see what had happened. The numbers had changed! He went back out to finish the job but no sooner had he disappeared from the room or another shout went up, this time from the green and yellow fans. Australia had scored! My poor boy wailed: “I can’t wee if they keep shouting ‘yay!'”
The Girl was not into it. It wasn’t long before she got bored with watching tiny people run up and down a green screen and started wailing that she wanted Dora, Boots and Diego. I asked the Boy what he wanted. He admitted that he wouldn’t mind a bit of Dora, Boots and Diego either. So we switched to Nick Jr and learned to say “por favor” instead. I couldn’t blame them really. Despite my new found patriotism, I still struggle to suppress a yawn when faced with 90 minutes of football and at half time I was starting to long for a rip-roaring adventure with Dora myself. Perhaps for their third match this afternoon I should just stick to waving a paper flag while watching the highlights…