Football: Battle for the box amid domestic disasters

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The Independent Online
LIKE A forward brought down in the act of shooting, my son beat his hands on the carpet in his frustration. On the television screen a character called, as far as I could tell, Mr Watermelon, was doing something that water-melons do. Which was fine, in itself. The only difficulty involved had to do with the time. 4.40pm - 10 minutes into the 1998 World Cup finals.

The next time the World Cup gets underway and my son wants to watch Mr Watermelon, or Walter Melon, or whatever he calls himself, I will make arrangements. On this occasion, sadly, no appropriate measures had been taken, no agenda agreed. Result: a difference of opinion.

The start of the World Cup finals still excites me in the childish way many other sporting occasions now fail to do. That morning had been one like Christmas Days of old, when almost my first waking thought had been: "Today. Something special about today. Ah, yes."

So to find myself having to put the tournament's case to an enraged five- year-old came as something of a let-down. And the question could not be ignored. Why, when it came down to it, was the World Cup more important than Walter Melon?

Mentally, I rehearsed a number of arguments: "Because, son, this is the biggest sporting contest the world has ever seen... yes, bigger than a whale... yes, of course, you can have something bigger than a whale. A whale is a creature, but the World Cup... no, it isn't a fish. It's a mammal, isn't it? Remember? ...Right. So..."

Perhaps this, then: "Billions of people all over the world are watching... it's a million million... No, it's bigger than a million, because it's a million times a million. That means a million lots of a million... anyway..." In the end, it came down to something simpler: "Because I want to watch it."

This argument failed to convince my son.

Fortunately, however, there was another line of approach - one involving the little portable television set living upstairs. That, however, involved a fresh round of negotiations with one of my daughters, who was using the screen for a computer game.

No more than a quarter of an hour later, after a wide-ranging discussion on the topics of children's rights, natural justice and why it was important to be nice to your little brother, the whole thing was set up. Children upstairs under an uneasy truce. Dad downstairs, with the second half and perhaps even a soupcon of the first ahead of him.

It was a disappointment to learn that I had missed the first goal of the 1998 World Cup. The commentary made oblique reference to the "schoolboy error" which had led to Brazil's opener, and my mind ranged over all the classic Scottish gaffes down the years. Perhaps it had been a goalkeeping error from poor Jim Leighton - Wembley 1990 revisited? Or maybe a rocketing own goal off the fair head of a hapless Colin Hendry?

Settling myself down on the patch of carpet that had been so thoroughly pounded a little earlier, I began to get into the rhythm of the game. So this was it. For real. And Scotland were having a good go...

The shriek from the kitchen was loud and prolonged. Some shrieks you hear and think "that sounds serious". Other shrieks you find you are moving towards before a thought goes through your head. This was in the latter category. I found my wife standing over what looked for a ghastly moment as if it might be a blood-bath - but turned out, on closer inspection, to be merely paint. Merely thick, crimson oil paint all over the new sink, maple edged units and grouted cream tiles as a result of some impromptu creative experimentation from our eldest daughter.

White spirit. White spirit. Or maybe that stuff for hands. No. White spirit. But where was it?

There was a roar from the television. I caught the name of Gallacher.

No kitchen roll. No kitchen roll. Toilet paper? Not strong enough. I raced next door to beg...

By the time I returned, the scene had been transformed from the Battle of Gettysburg to A Little Local Difficulty. The instant calculations of replacement costs - a grand, two - had been premature. It looked as though the kitchen was going to make it through to the second round.

So. One-all. As I suspected, Kevin Gallacher had earned a penalty and someone had equalised. Still. Most of the second half left...

Midway through the half the phone went, and I answered it. As I replaced the receiver I heard another televisual furore and returned to a screenful of cavorting men in yellow shirts...