‘Away to Stranraer. Meet 8.30am for an 11am kick-off.’
I used to groan when the message came through, sealing the fate of my weekend. No extra glass of wine on Saturday night, an early jump required on Sunday morning and the best part of the day spent driving along the A75. But what I wouldn’t give for one of those texts now.
We used to grumble, us football mums and dads and lift-givers, but deep down I think we loved it. Once you parted company with your nice warm bed, you were always glad that you had and sometimes the boys produced a wee bit of magic out on the pitch to make it all worthwhile. The post-match analysis could almost fuel us all the way through to the following game.
Now, though, someone has turned off that emotional tap.
It must be the same, I imagine, for family ‘team bus’ drivers up and down the country in whatever sport their offspring might pursue. All the moans and groans about lengthy away days are now something we would gladly sign up for. Spare a thought for the coaches who were even more heavily invested in the fate of countless teams around Scotland and beyond.
I think I was a lucky one, really. I have always had a sentimentalist, nostalgic, miserable streak (delete as you feel applicable) that made me savour those Sunday mornings watching my son in action. From Fun Fours at Palmerston Park on to sevens and nines and full 11-a-side clashes, I was often conscious that these were a finite resource. One day, I knew, it would be no more and I would miss it.
But I never imagined these circumstances.
The rug has been pulled out from under my weekend routine. One Friday morning I was berating my father for even considering not attending Queen of the South versus Ayr United and then – within a few days – all of my football fixtures had been removed. Only now do I fully appreciate how much I was in orbit around the game.
The mind goes flitting back, then, to the story of how it unfolded. From the nervous, shy little boy – him, not me – who did not want to go back out onto the pitch, to the young man trying to bully an opposition full-back out of the game. The many chapters in between are all the more precious because they cannot be added to at present.
The great goals scored and the clangers dropped, the thumping victories and desperate defeats, the glorious sunshine moments and – more often – ice cold afternoons. I miss them all in equal measure. No distance seems too far to travel to get that fix of father-son bonding.
Maybe, though, this is an It’s A Wonderful Life moment for us all. All the things we used to worry, gripe and groan about will seem as nothing once it is all over. We’ll all give coaches the credit they deserve, we’ll respect the referees and we’ll treat those twin impostors of triumph and disaster just the same. Well, maybe not, but, right now, isn’t it pretty to think so? I for one am willing to promise – I’ll try to be happy the next time it is Stranraer away.