We’re a kind of footballing family. Sort of. The only football we watch on the telly has to be on Freeview (so that’ll be FA Cup, Champions League and not a great deal else) but Radio 5 Live is a pretty essential part of Saturday and Sunday afternoons and I do enjoy listening to the opinionated fans ranting on 606 as well as the reporters trying to get a ‘word of the week’ into their reports – listen long enough and you’ll spot what they’re up to!
The Cheetah Keeper’s dad is a Manchester United supporter – mainly because when he was a kid, everyone else supported Liverpool and he wanted to be different. So we support “Manch Ute” with the odd football shirt (very last season daaahling from ebay) being sported by the Cheetah Keeper.
When the opportunity arose to attend the Family Football day at Ipswich Town Football Club it seemed a really good opportunity to go out, as a family and experience a Championship match. The stats seemed to be in the favour of Ipswich and the fans on Twitter were hoping for a clean sheet and 3 points.
I’ve only ever been to 1 football match before – St Albans City vs Tottenham Hotspur. Not your usual draw but as so many of the Premiership teams train locally to us (and indeed stay at the hotel down the road) they do indulge us locals with a few pre-season friendlies against the local boys. I got to see Sol Campbell (this will give you some indication that it was quite a while ago) and the rest of the team thrash St Albans good and proper – but the atmosphere was good and I lived just over the road so it was a pretty easy trip home.So, back to Ipswich. We arrived just after 1pm for a 3pm kick-off knowing that the family activities started at 1pm. Finding our way to pick the tickets up wasn’t the easiest but assisted by one of the nicest security men you could ever hope to meet – charming, informed and a fantastic ambassador for the club. Tickets were collected from a far less informed lad in the ticket office and we went to park. We were fortunate to have been allocated parking so were incredibly close to the ground. I understand it’s about a 5 minute walk from the railway station and there seemed to be a relatively good amount of parking pretty close by.
First hitch – after the best part of 2 hours in the car the most pressing requirement for all concerned was a wee. Nobody outside the ground could offer us any guidance as the gates weren’t open yet and they didn’t really seem to know what was going on in the park opposite – ie the family activities (that may involve children, who may need a wee). We’re a resourceful bunch and managed to spot that porta-loos had been provided down at the far end of the park. Not ‘nice’ but they do the job.
Bearing in mind that the Cheetah Keeper is 4 (and very nearly a half) and his sister is 6 (and a half, please, don’t forget that half) I was hopeful that there would be plenty to entertain them whilst understanding that they would have to cater for older children too. It’s a hard one to balance (as anyone who’s ever tried to organise an all age kids event knows) and I think, in reality, ours were a little too young for what was on offer.
So, we collected our free toffee apples (plain apples and bananas were available as an alternative!) from the Co-Op (who wanted us to enter into a free draw in return for our contact details…), avoided the gym with the rowing machine challenge (who wanted our details), got ‘sold to’ by the ladies from Britannia Building Society (guess what they wanted) and ended up at the NamCo bowling bit. My kids love bowling so this was a ‘must have a go’ item.
20p per child was fine (all money to charity – not sure which one) and the kids had a fantastic time. We got our leaflet
entitling us to cheaper bowling and then spotted the raffle. £1 a ticket. OK kids, 1 go each. We didn’t win the Hello Kitty or the Cheetah. Tears (albeit it fake ones) followed. The Cheetah Keeper seemed moderately happy with his cuddly Big Ears (from Noddy), his sister was not so happy with a Union Jack country kitchen hanging thing. So we had another go.
He only went and won the Cheetah! Not only that, the Cheetah has a label on it which says “Bananas”. So we now have “Banana” the Cheetah and a seriously happy little boy. His sister won Harry Potter Top Trumps – she has no idea about Harry Potter but will now play Top Trumps constantly.
We spotted Pudsey Bear and a whole load of the other mascots who were wandering around – all were happy to pose for photos, except Pudsey where you were charged £4 per picture – all to Children In Need, but I prefer to have the choice.
Face painting was available free of charge (love it!) with two expert painters getting through the queue at a good pace. The Cheetah Keeper didn’t want his face painted – but his sister did and definitely got into the spirit of things.
BBC Radio Suffolk were also interviewing people and later on some of the ‘rested’ Ipswich players came out to do a bit of a chat and sign a whole load of autographs. Judging by the size of the queue, this was a real highlight for the fans so from that point of view, a real family event.
There were also football games going on in an inflatable pitch (ours were far to young to partake) and some some demonstration volleyball taking place on the park as well. Both the Cheetah Keeper and his sister had a go at the ‘Hex Ball’ game but again, although they gave it a really good try, they were a bit young.
So, for encouraging kids to take part in football and engaging families it was an ok kind of event – if it had been raining it would have been thoroughly miserable and I think we’d have ended up sitting in the car. As it was, we filled just under an hour and there is a brilliant play area – the like of which we don’t have at home.
Next challenge. Get into the ground.
Despite asking programme sellers and stewards for directions, we ended up going the most roundabout route to our seats that we possibly could have done – but once in it was clear and well signed. The loos were pretty good too and it wasn’t overly crowded – something that I had been a bit concerned about. Our seats were in the disabled area which was great because the Cheetah Keeper didn’t have to negotiate any steps but it meant we weren’t really in the thick of the football ‘experience’. Ipswich have family zones all the way around their lower tiers so we could see that there were plenty of families there enjoying their time together.
The mascots came round with sweets before the match started (nice touch) and although we could see the players coming out the tunnel (we were right next to it) we couldn’t see the pre-match stuff on the pitch as our view was obscured by lots of flag wavers who are there to welcome the players on.
I was also a bit concerned about ‘language’ and although I heard one word (and of course my ears were pricked up for any hint of it) there was really no concern. I was really surprised about how quiet the Ipswich fans were – like were they still breathing quiet. Admittedly being 3-0 down by half time wasn’t going to have them whooping around but it was deathly quiet – and I was wondering whether the whole stadium could hear “mummy, that ball went really, really high – almost up to that seagull”. The ‘action’ was all down at the other end of the pitch (we were behind the goal at the other end) so it was almost impossible to see what was going on – possibly a good thing when there was a small ‘altercation’ between players in the 2nd half. We could however see the Doncaster fans giving it large throughout – for just 250 of them they made a fantastic noise. The biggest cheer in the whole day went to Billy Sharp – who plays for Doncaster. The Ipswich fans are keen for him to be signed – but across the board it was the fact that he was playing just a week after his son had died at 2 days old. His fans were giving him support as they knew how – it didn’t matter who he played for.
We indulged in a packet of crisps each at half time (£1 per bag – a bit steep but I wasn’t surprised) and a variety of other sweets, pies, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were available – although not many people were buying. Some had gone home already! We missed the mascot race that was on as the half time entertainment but they had clearly thought that something was required to keep younger visitors entertained.
The 2nd half was a bit much for the Cheetah Keeper and his sister – although there was a lot more ‘action’ it was down the other end – they did enjoy singing along when the goals were scored but essentially the size of their crisps was more interesting. I really enjoyed it (there were a series of misses that were worthy of inclusion in a BBC Three compilation of the worst comedy misses in football) but was very grateful that I had wrapped us all up in thick winter coats. Sitting still for that amount of time gets you cold – I wouldn’t fancy it in the middle of winter. We were also only just under the edge of the stand – if the rain had come down as it did just after the final whistle, it would have been very miserable.
So – did we have a good day out? The Cheetah Keeper’s sister said we had a “Spectacular Amazing time at the football”. The Cheetah Keeper enjoyed it, I think, but probably would need to be a bit older to appreciate it properly. He was zonked out in the car within 5 minutes of leaving the carpark – and had a very good sleep as it took us nearly 90 minutes to cover 14 miles. I knew it was going to be hard going leaving the ground, but it seemed to go on for ever. If we’d have left early we’d have missed the goal in the 3rd minute of added time and we didn’t have the hastle of getting out of a packed car park to contend with – it’s just, as with so many towns with central football stadia, the road network just can’t cope with match day traffic.
Would we go again? I think I’d like to go to another match of some sort – it’s not a cheap day out (it would cost us £90 on tickets alone to go as family to another Ipswich match) but it was a day that we spent together – all cheering for the Tractor Boys, eating crisps and sweets and snuggling up together sharing the experience. Shared positive experiences, I think, are great for families and if football can provide these, so much the better.