Mike Rowbottom: A nation's obsession undermines Radcliffe's wonder year

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The Independent Online

Parenthood, as any parent will tell you, is one long sequence of questions. "Can I adjust to my new responsibilities? Can I meet the challenges which this life-changing experience will throw up? Can I mop up those challenges, or would I be better off using kitchen roll?"

Parenthood, as any parent will tell you, is one long sequence of questions. "Can I adjust to my new responsibilities? Can I meet the challenges which this life-changing experience will throw up? Can I mop up those challenges, or would I be better off using kitchen roll?"

And as the children grow older and more articulate, they are able to frame their own questions. "Can I go down to town now?" "Why not?" "Why are you trying to ruin my life?" Or, as a variant: "Can I go on the Internet now?" "Why not?" "Why do I always have to tidy up my room?" "Why are you trying to ruin my life?" Or, as another variant: "Why do I have to wear a coat when it's not even winter?" "Why do you have to be so sad?" "Why are you trying to ruin my life?"

There is a faintly weary, cyclical quality to all this. As the Thought For The Day in this paper had it in midweek: "Nothing has yet been said that's not been said before." Thus spake the Roman poet Terence. Not very original, I thought...

Recently I have found myself assailed by a new series of questions. The interrogation, typically, will occur as I am sitting in my front room attempting to perform some mildly challenging task such as finally getting to grips with my Inland Revenue letters or mastering the switch from Em7 to A without setting too many guitar strings buzzing. More likely the latter.

"Should I buy Michael Ballack?"

"How much for?"

"£11m."

"Yes."

An interlude will follow during which the only sounds are buzzing strings and my son's fingers on the computer keyboard.

"Should I buy Laurent Robert?"

"It's pronounced Lorron Robair."

"OK. OK. Should I buy Lorron Robair?"

"How much?"

"£5m."

"Yes."

Another gap. Then: "Should I play Gary Docherty up front?" "Gary Docherty is a defender." "No he's not, he's an attacker." "Gary Docherty is a central defender for Tottenham and Ireland. We saw him break his leg against Torquay and he was playing in defence. Remember?" "I know that, but it says that he's a midfielder- attacker." "Where?" "Look."

I stare over my son's shoulder at the football manager game which has recently filled his waking hours. He's right. Gary Docherty. Midfielder- attacker.

"I'd play him in midfield. Why didn't you buy Rivaldo anyway?"

"I scouted him. But he was too much money at the time. And anyway I was trying to sell players to raise funds."

A question is forming in my own mind at the moment. A question of sport, you could call it. And it is this. Why football?

Why, for instance, is my son not absorbed in playing Basketball Coach? "Dad – should I buy Dennis Rodman?" "How much?" "$20m."

The answer, obviously, is that football is our National Game, a fact that becomes apparent from the playground onwards and remains true no matter how grown up we become.

Don't get me wrong. I love the game. But if I find myself getting overloaded with it at times it's probably not a good sign.

Driving to an England press conference in Southampton the other day offered me an opportunity to track sporting items as they appeared on Radio 5 Live news bulletins throughout a morning. The previous day, in Chicago, Paula Radcliffe had taken apart the women's world best for a marathon time, knocking nearly two minutes off it in what was only the second 26.2mile race of her life.

As you might expect, the nice young woman from Bedford got an honourable mention for topping off a year of achievement that had already encompassed the retention of a world cross country title and gold medals in the Commonwealth Games and European Championships.

By mid-morning, however, the mentions for Radcliffe had tailed away, less than 24 hours after her achievement. No follow-ups. No nothing.

What we had instead was an item concerning Bruce Rioch, the former Millwall and Arsenal manager, who had let it be known that he was interested in filling the managerial role which had just become available at Ipswich Town. And here was the clinching bit – Bruce lived in Suffolk!

Quite a story, I think you'll agree. Especially in retrospect, now that Joe Royle has been appointed manager at Portman Road.

I'm to blame for my son's current football obsession, I suppose. At the end of the day, as Ron Atkinson would probably say, it was me that bought the cereal with the CD gift.

"My best midfielder is probably Julio Arca. He's Argentinian – he was signed after he played for the under-21 side. You know the Black Cats? That's Sunderland..." I've encouraged the boy too much, I fear. Oh well. It's done now.

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