My young son came home from school last month with an important question. You know the type I mean? that father-son discussion and a moment of dread for dads the world over.
I dropped what I was doing, took the phone off the hook, and directed my son to sit with me in the lounge room.
?OK mate, what is that you wanted to ask me??
"Well dad, do you know which team I go for?"
My son was about to declare his allegiance to a team other than the one I spent my whole life supporting? I could feel it in my bones.
I tensed up. For some time now I was suspicious that my boy was leaning to the dark side. We moved to the Gold Coast some years ago and despite my efforts, there was little I could do to insulate him from the avalanche of Broncos, and now Titans, based news services. I just kept telling myself: ?It?s OK, we?re near New South Wales? surely that?s close enough? isn?t it??
I did a similar thing to my father. As a five-year-old I told him I was going to support St George. A three generation Newtown supporter, my father was shattered. Like a man who had just been told he had one month to live, my dad went through the familiar five stages of grief:
Firstly denial: ?This can?t be happening ? I don?t want to hear it!? This turned to anger: ?Why is this happening to me?? Then bargaining (aka bribery): ?Look, what will it take to change your mind?? Then depression: ?Do what you want, I don?t care.?
The final stage of acceptance is yet to be fully realised.
During the bribery stage, my father made numerous lame attempts to swing me back to the light, taking me to St George v Newtown games where he thought Saints would get beaten. He promised me an ice cream after every Newtown try. But this backfired with Saints running up cricket scores ? I rarely got an ice cream and I blamed the Bluebags and their inept defence. My dad almost accepted my decision some 18 years later when Newtown was booted out of the comp. But to this day, he still harbours a hint of resentment.
In an effort to brainwash my own son, I started early. I took him to Saints matches and got him close to the action while talking up the power of the Red V. It was risky but as good fortune would have it, Saints won those matches. I backed it up with loads of merchandise. I even got Nathan Blacklock to sign my son?s jersey. I tried everything.
Don?t get me wrong, my son was impressed by all this and he was turning into a bit of a young sportsman himself. He enjoyed a number of pastimes including touch footy on the school oval.
But I felt I was losing the battle when last year some players from the Queensland Origin side visited my son?s school. A devious act I thought. The lad came home excited and waving about a Queenslander?s cap, maroon-coloured and signed by Darren Lockyer and Petero Civoniceva. Matters deteriorated further when the news that night announced Dragons front rower Luke Bailey had signed with the Gold Coast Titans for 2007. Afterwards, my son was full of questions.
?Hey dad? doesn?t Luke Bailey play for St George??
?Yes, he does.?
?But he?ll be playing for the Titans? isn?t that great??
?Yeah? well, sure. It?s great! The Titans will go really well with him there.?
What could I say? He was excited. Trying to dash the excitement of a child was a fruitless and unrewarding exercise. At least I learnt one thing from my own experience with my father.
Still in the lounge room, my son was growing a little impatient, prompting me again for an answer.
"So? do you know which team I go for, dad?"
"Team? Well, no. Which team?" I said.
What happened next was far worse than I could imagine. Indeed far worse than what I had done to my own father and a penance for my betrayal of that sacred bond of father, son and football.
"The Razorbacks!" he announced proudly.
"The Razorbacks?" I said, dumbfounded.
My son rolled his eyes back. "Geez, don?t you know, dad? They?re a basketball team!?