Terence Blacker: A father's fancy footwork

Barnes looked delighted by the news, but then he had looked delighted by Liverpool's lead over the champions

Related Topics

At a meeting of fans who supported a large football club, a man in his forties once stood up to speak. "This is our club," he said. "Let's face it, nothing matters quite as much as this – wife, family, whatever. For me, the club always comes first." There were mutters of agreement, a smattering of applause.

That level of engagement is visible on the faces of members of the crowd in many televised football matches, but this weekend it was one of the TV pundits who provided a perfect example of putting sporting loyalty first. The former England player John Barnes was part of the TV team covering the match between Liverpool and Chelsea. It was a great afternoon for Barnesy. His team, Liverpool, thumped the league leaders Chelsea, with the moody Spanish striker Fernando Torres hitting form for the first time this season.

There was good news off the pitch, too. During the first half, perhaps at the very moment the baby-faced Spaniard was finding the net, Barnesy's wife Andrea was giving birth in hospital. News of the arrival in the world of little Alexander Barnes was mentioned at half-time, briefly interrupting Barnesy's analysis of the game.

He looked delighted by the news, but then he had looked delighted by Liverpool's lead over the champions. Asked by the presenter whether he would like to go to the hospital, he showed not a moment's hesitation. He would be staying for the second half, he said.

There was a time when such an attitude would have caused no more reaction from viewers than a cursory nod of agreement, and perhaps mild surprise that something as important as a top Premier League game should be interrupted by the news of the birth of a child. In the past, it was not unusual at a football match to hear a member of the crowd being congratulated over the intercom on having just become father.

There was a feeling then that giving birth was women's business. A dad could do little to help. As a spectacle, a good match had the edge on anything in a delivery room. Watching one's team, there was the illusion that one could affect the result by chanting, screaming, punching the air and abusing officials, none of which tends to be appreciated in a hospital.

Those days are gone. Family life is no longer a faded backdrop to the brightly-coloured achievements of the outside world. It is seen, quite rightly, to be part of who we are. There is an assumption that a man who is not prepared to put his wife and unborn child first at a time of pain, danger, exhaustion and joy, is probably not going to be the best bet as a husband or a father.

It is, admittedly, not easy being a father in the delivery room. Programmed to be active and manly at a time of crisis, he is now utterly useless, standing on the sidelines muttering words of encouragement which are either irritatingly wimpish or inappropriately hearty. He has not been trained for this.

Barnesy, no stranger to the delivery room having already had six children, may have thought he had paid his dues paternity-wise and deserved a break. It was a bad decision, domestically and professionally. Andrea Barnes will need to be a saint not to remind her husband at regular intervals that he put Fernando Torres before Alexander Barnes on the day of his birth.

The public, too, is unforgiving towards the bad dad. We are better parents than previous generations were, but that improvement has brought with it a sort of domestic exhibitionism. It is why the Prime Minister is happy to have family photographs in the public domain, why Nick Clegg burbled on so eagerly about his family on Desert Island Discs.

Ed Miliband has done the correct, normal thing this week, while Barnesy now represents the bad old days. It is going to take some of the fancy footwork for which he was once famous to redeem himself.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little