Dear Son, Your football team, if you choose to follow one, will be Newcastle United.
You’re probably wondering what this is all about.
Well, not right at the minute, as your thoughts will exclusively be of boobs, food and sleeping given that you’re only a few days old (although these thoughts never really go away).
However, maybe some day you’ll read this and at that point will indeed wonder what it’s all about. Also, as it’s an open letter, many of the other people who happen across it at the time of publication may entertain this thought as to what it is they’ve happened across.
I’ll tell you what, I’ll stop pondering on this and move on to an answer.
Two and a half years ago, I wrote a similar letter (see below) to your brother Blake ahead of his birth. At that time I decided to write it earlier in the process, just after the scan that revealed we were having our first little boy, but I’ve decided to mix it up a bit here (always mess with the format. Tear up the rule book). However, the core message remains the same; I’m sorry son, you’re going to have to support Newcastle United.
Timing isn’t the only difference between the two letters.
When I wrote to Blake it was published in the big papery version of The Mag, sold in the shops to people who had an interest in these matters. I’ve got it at home to show him one day.
This on though is zapped straight onto the information super highway, where it can be instantly consumed or disregarded and no one really knows how long it will be before it disappears to be archived (if ever. Don’t worry, someone will print it, and if they don’t you’ll not be reading this, so you’ll never know).
Also, my previous letter came in the middle of the 2013-14 season and sees Newcastle United sit solidly in 8th place in the Premier League table. There were so many points in the bank that relegation was not really a feasible concern and a strong finish could even have seen European qualification (it didn’t).
Despite this, all was not well, with growing fan discontent at owner Mike Ashley’s running of the club, seemingly intent on asset-stripping and self-promotion to the point of disaster. The mood was not good about the place.
Now, the disaster has happened. Four months before you were born, United slid out of the Premier League, having been gazumped to the final safety spot by Sunderland of all people. In a bizarre twist though, the mood is one of light euphoria and every game is bristling with enthusiastic capacity attendances filled with genuine hope for the future.
You see, prior to that relegation Rafa Benitez swept through the door in a wave of incredulous magnificence, and set about systemically dismantling every crappy, restrictive policy Ashley had hamstrung the club with. His regalvanised squad is currently making its way up the Championship table with serious intent, and I hope dearly that this is the beginning of something incredible that you will later get to experience.
Despite the unwelcome demotion, the contrast with two years ago is remarkable. It’s a bit like Blake was born at the end of Empire Strikes Back and you’ve come along at the climax of Return of the Jedi (this is another, different conversation we will have in due course).
There may be part of you that is wondering why this matters at all. You may never like football, or choose not to follow it consistently. I already feel the PC guilt of never writing a letter like this to your sister Olivia, who may even turn out to be the one who appreciates it most, at a time when girls are increasingly likely to rock up at the match with their dad. But there is a reason I believe it’s important, to me and to us as a family.
The world, by and large, is a bit messed up. You have been born into an ISIS fearing, post-Brexit world rife with uncertainty. There are many, many things to think about, issues to take seriously and consideration to give as to exactly how you want to fit into it all.
I hope we will equip you all to deal with whatever comes your way and to find happiness always. Make mistakes and learn from them, always look after your own, show kindness to people who need it most and believe in who you are, whatever anyone says. When you’re up, soar wherever it takes you, even if you’re a bit scared. When you’re down, well you’ve always got a home you can come to.
The thing is, it’s never easy to verbalise these kind of feelings. That’s where Newcastle United comes into it a bit.
No matter where you are in life, I hope we can have some common ground here. If you’re an awkward teenager or “enjoying” the busy life of a young adult, perhaps the match is a place we’ll be able to connect when it doesn’t otherwise come so easy. I also hope it can offer a light distraction from the serious side of life (although be warned, a bad result can ruin an otherwise pleasant weekend).
If it doesn’t work out that way, that’s OK too. The most important thing in the world is to be your own person and, while there’s plenty of stuff I don’t quite get in the world today (cosplay??), I’d always rather you were who you want to be as opposed to who you think you should be.
The only rule I am strictly imposing is that when it comes to football this is a one club house; if any of you get any ideas of coming in wearing the colours of some other organisation that is utterly meaningless to our family background, hell will be unleashed. Your football team, if you choose to follow one, will be Newcastle United.
But then, if things turn out as we all hope, you shouldn’t even be remotely tempted elsewhere. As years go 2016 has had its ups and downs, but for me it has been a happy and memorable one. It brought our team Rafa, and it brought us you.
Good luck son, I’ll be there when you need me.
For Freddie Jamie Smith, born 21/09/16, just over the road from St James Park.
(First letter – written for Jamie’s first son during the 2013/14 season)
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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