Perhaps you saw that video clip which the BBC published the other day - the small boy (by all appearances an Everton fan) going to his first ever game, rounding the corner in a rush, clutching his bottle of Coke, reaching the top of the stairway and then coming to an abrupt halt as he gets his first view of the inside of the stadium, the dazzling green of the pitch, the enclosing stands. And as he pauses to take it all in, all the colours and the noise and the sheer scale of it, a look of wonder spreads across his face and then becomes a smile of the purest pleasure.
That little boy is all of us, isn’t he?
Well, not the Coke, maybe. Coffee, in my case. And obviously not the full kit, including socks. I mean, fine for kids, but on the older man… not so much.
And absolutely not Everton, it goes without saying.
Plus I don’t tend to do running near the stairways. The stewards don’t like it.
But the sense of awe at the scene that greets you, and the wave of optimism that you feel as you emerge from the stairwell and head for your seat – well, we all knew the power of it the first time and it doesn’t really alter all that much with repetition, to be perfectly honest, and is certainly tangible all over again at the first home game of any season.
Unfortunately, though, football being what it is, there is no guarantee that the expression on your face going in will automatically be the one that you leave with a couple of hours later - and especially not if Leicester have just spent the second half spoiling the party you’ve been trying to have to mark the special occasion of Frank Lampard’s return.
Didn’t they realise? What with the brilliant banners and the fireworks and the pumped-up atmosphere at the start (plus the opening 20 minutes of play, which very much seemed to take its cue from all of that), the afternoon was set up to deliver the suitably memorable event we hoped for at this moving moment in the club’s history. But Leicester obviously didn’t read the invitation properly, which is a pity. I don’t know how much more obvious we could have been about it, but there you go. Some people are just very thick-skinned.
Still, there is always something to enjoy if you look closely enough and in my family on Sunday we were celebrating a rite of passage. After 15 consecutive years of lighting up amber, one of my offspring finally knew the honour of triggering the green light at the Matthew Harding automated turnstiles. It was a massive coming-of-age moment – and one which, naturally, I made sure to document for posterity with a photo. There must be any number of ways to measure when a person officially reaches maturity, but the day on which someone passes from junior to adult season ticket holder surely has to be among the most emotional.
And yes, OK, to some extent, I’ll miss the concession years. Indeed, I could become quite sentimental thinking about the money we’ll no longer be saving. At the same time, though, that’s the second child I’ve reared smoothly from amber to green in a stream of unbroken loyalty to this club. I haven’t got everything right as a parent. Who has? But I’m claiming that much.
Funnily enough, while all this stuff was in my mind and I was having some poignant thoughts about the rapid passing of time, someone sitting near me on Sunday had brought a small kid along with them – quite possibly making his debut, like the little boy in the Everton clip, and at about the same age, I would say. And, of course, when they’re that young and new to it, you’re never entirely sure how they’re going to perform. Sometimes the occasion can get to them and they go to pieces. There are no guarantees – not at Premier League level.
Yet, in as far as I could tell, the kid had an excellent first half. Right from the whistle he showed some really promising levels of commitment and involvement. OK, he didn’t quite have the discipline to stay in the space provided by his own seat and occasionally found himself drifting out wide to perch on his dad’s knee, but you’ll get that with youngsters.
Second half, though, (and I suspect the kid would be the first to put a hand up and admit this), the game got away from him a bit. Other factors came into it (like the fact that Leicester started spoiling things) and his energy levels dropped. He faded quite badly after the hour mark and, in truth, ended up spending the last 30 minutes or so ignoring the pitch and playing a computer game on a tablet.
Now, perhaps he’d been allowed to stay up late in midweek and watch the Super Cup, including extra time and pens, meaning there were fatigue issues. But whatever, there is clearly no need to press the panic buttons on the evidence of that one early performance, at this formative stage in the project. On the contrary: you saw what he was capable of in those early minutes. And you know that, given time and patience and the opportunity to develop in a supportive environment, he will be delivering that kind of performance across the full 90 and getting results. This is just how it works.
And the same goes for the team, of course.