‘Get off my son you little s**t’: Some adults appear to forget they’re attending children’s matches

Jen Hogan: I wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing my children to partake in a match without one of their parents present

I took my son to an Ireland match recently. And it was mostly magical, not least because we got to celebrate an unexpected Irish goal. But also, as a fellow Liverpool fan, he was thrilled to catch a glimpse, in real life, of Virgil van Dijk and Cody Gakpo.

These are the things little boys’ dreams are made of. And, if truth be told, their not so little mothers’ too.

One of the greatest joys in being a parent is when your child discovers a great love for the things you also loved as a child, and maybe still do as an adult. Although I’ll concede I was more supportive of one child’s appreciation of Elton John’s music than I was of the enthusiasm another showed for Eminem, when he discovered my old CD collection.

Sitting in the Aviva and watching the excitement on my little boy’s face as he observed all around him was one of those precious moments. He’d been counting down to the match for weeks. “This is the best day,” he told anyone who would listen. “I’m playing a match and going to see a match,” he said excitedly.


And it was all going so well. Ireland took the lead. The crowd was singing and the form was mighty. But as the tables turned, and the result wasn’t going our way, so did some of the commentary from the stands.

While most, thankfully, stayed cheering and hopeful and enjoyed the game, a few people near us decided to show what passionate football “fans” they were. Along with aggressively swearing at the teams, because that’s how you show passion, they made signs that suggested certain people on the pitch were perhaps a tad self-indulgent.

Sounds like banker, but can I have a “w” there please, Bob?

Much as I’d love to claim it to be the case, my own children are not immune to hearing their parents swear. But this wasn’t just about swearing, it was the aggression in the direction. Even the boo-ing as Gakpo took a penalty for the Netherlands. “This isn’t what real sports fans do,” I told my son.

I loved football growing up. I was the son my dad never had, it was joked. Instead of looking to go to discos, I went to watch matches with a friend, who shared my love of the sport, if not of the same team. And I even played for a short while – very, very badly, I hasten to add – in the days when far fewer girls played football. But my parents never came to watch, nor did my team-mates’ parents, purely because it wasn’t the done thing.

These years, my weekends are, and have been, spent on the sideline of some pitch or other, watching some child or other, play some sport or other. When they were younger I lamented that there wasn’t more carpooling, as frequently my socially unacceptable numbers caught up with me with overlapping matches or training sessions. Nowadays, having witnessed unacceptable sideline behaviour myself, and having spoken to many parents about their own experiences, I wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing my children, particularly the older ones, to partake in a match without one of their parents present.

Because somewhere along the way, a cohort of parents and other adults appear to have lost the plot and have forgotten they’re attending children’s matches. The sort of behaviour that is already pathetic and unacceptable at an adult’s match, has absolutely no place at a children’s game. And yet here we are.

One parent told me she witnessed a parent shouting at another child “get off my son you little s**t”. The child was just innocently tackling, she explained. “My son was called a c**t by an opposing team parent at a football match,” another parent of a 14-year-old boy reported.

“A ref at a challenge match told our U11 girls they were a pack of b**ches,” one mother told me. While another said she had witnessed parents telling their under-11 daughters “to take them down, cursing”.

It was enough to make this mother reconsider her children’s involvement. It’s “one of the reasons I pulled back. Don’t want my kids listening to that”, she added.

And she’s not the only one. “About three weeks ago I was at my son’s football match and a father who thought his son shouldn’t have been taken off in a friendly match, went for the manager – fists, head, you name it.” “I’ve pulled my son out of the said football team,” another parent explained.

But it isn’t just kids who feel the adults’ wrath – sorry, passion – for the game. One woman told me her “brother-in-law is a referee, and had a parent start on him”, during an under-15s match.

I left the Aviva that night, disappointed at the result, but delighted to have experienced the excitement with my little boy. He was still chatting the next day about the thrill of it all and the players he’d seen.

Long may his great love for football continue, I thought, alongside a clear idea of how real sports fans should behave.