In his monthly column, Harry Wallop shares the trials and tribulations of raising three boys (and a girl). Here, he speaks out about the endless cost of sports equipment.
Football is the world’s most popular sport, played by well over a billion people around the globe, on beaches, in favelas, on the street. At any moment there will always be a gang of kids kicking a scuffed-up ball between two Coke cans.
And in Britain, too, more people under the age of 24 ‘participate’ in football than any other sport, according to the Sport England quango. Swimming, curiously, overtakes football in popularity for those over the age of 24. But for youngsters everything revolves around the beautiful game.
It is, among many boys, a religion. Far more so than when I was growing up in the 80s, when – for a nice upper-middle class boy like me – so many football clubs were tainted by hooliganism. I grew up without a team to support, I never went to a professional match until the age of 30, and I certainly never owned a replica strip. It was only when the twin forces of Nick Hornby and Sky Sports managed to gentrify the game in the 90s I learned occasionally to love its charms. But from a distance.
It has come as some surprise, therefore, that I have ended up with two football-mad sons. Or rather one obsessive, and one who has learnt that it is the passport to enter another world of friends.
The 12 year old initially really liked football. He used to kick a ball about in the park, but his heart was never in it, he knew that he’d always be tackled, or scuff his shot. He just wasn’t very good.
For some time, I worried that this was going to severely dent his chances in life. Football provides not just the vocabulary but the grammar of the playground; it punctuates the day and provides an easy identity to shield behind. To not like football is a statement.
But then his younger brother came along conforming to all the cliches. He can’t walk down the street without pretending to tackle Lionel Messi. It is deeply tedious and makes pushing a buggy with his youngest brother in it very difficult.
The nine year old’s zeal for the local park has actually forced the 12 year old to reevaluate his view of football. He now not just tolerates the game, but actively enjoys it. Much though I would like him to be an individual, willing to shun the crowd, I’m afraid I find it comforting that he now fits in – at least at the park.
But having two sports-mad sons has proved to be alarmingly expensive. I thought the beauty of football was its simplicity. It may be, but it is also a fantastic opportunity to fleece parents out of their wages.
It’s the clothes I really resent. In the last three months, this is what we have had to spend on the nine year old alone. He plays in a local club. For this he needs the kit. The price is actually pretty reasonable: £26.50, for Nike shorts, socks and top, which highlights what a disgraceful rip-off replica kit is. Arsenal, for instance, charge £73 for the same shorts-top-socks combo. The only difference is the club’s logo is stamped on it. However, though the kit is cheap, the subs for the season are £240, plus £3 per game. Ouch.
He also plays for the local rugby club. Here the kit is closer to £60 for the shorts, socks and top – a price that the club charges to help raise funds for the running of the team. The subs are £100 ‘plus a suggested donation of £10’.
You then have footwear to consider.
Forget all the kids in downtown Rio playing in their flip-flops; every self-respecting nine year old needs a greater collection of shoes than Imelda Marcos.
A pair of rugby shoes that look, to me, like the shoes I used to play football in. They have metal studs. Then you have ‘blades’: shoes with moulded plastic studs, to be worn playing football on a grass pitch. Finally, you have astro shoes, for playing on AstroTurf or the school playground. Oh, and that’s before any plimsolls for the school gym.
Add in the swimming lessons, and the kit and subs for Cubs and you are getting close to £500 just to fund some sporting extra curricular activities – for one child. I love how my boys have embraced sport, I love how it makes them feel included. I just wish it didn’t require so much kit. Jumpers for goalposts, it turns out, are no longer the done thing. Reinforced carbon-fibre D-bars more like it.
Harry Wallop is a features writer at the Daily Telegraph and its Dad of Four columnist. He has four children – three boys aged 11, 9 and 2, and a girl aged 6 . His perfect winter Sunday is enjoying Downton Abbey, while simultaneously being rude about it on Twitter. Follow Harry on Twitter @hwallop
Are your sons obsessive about sport? Do you find yourself shelling out constantly for equipment?