Family’s win for football fans affected by autism

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IMAG0152As a big fan of football, I look forward to sharing my passion for this sport with my son as he grows older. Despite not yet having reached his third birthday, he has already been to two football matches. Admittedly he slept through most of the first and didn’t seem too bothered about the second one.

Given my love of the sport often referred to as ‘the beautiful game’, I was recently quite moved to hear about a family here in the UK who have faced quite a few challenges when taking their children to football matches. About ten days ago, I heard about the story of Peter and Kate Shippey. All three of their children are affected by autism.

Reading about the Shippey family’s experience of taking their eldest son to see their local team Sunderland play really opened my eyes to a series of issues that I hadn’t thought about much before. As they explain on their blog, their oldest son was really excited about going to see his team play at their stadium but found the experience hard to cope with and had to leave the game only a few minutes after it started.

The very thought of seeing a child so keen to go to see their team play but end up having to leave the stadium almost brought a tear to my eye. To love a sport but be unable to enjoy it in the same way as many other people seemed such a shame.

However, as this video shows, the story has had a happy end. As has been reported in the press, Sunderland have become the first football team in the UK (and possibly the world) to install a ‘sensory room’ that is designed to make it easier for fans affected by autism to enjoy attending a football match. The facility makes it possible for fans to enjoy matches in a room that shelters them from the noise levels that some find hard to endure.

The fact that such a facility now exists owes much to the efforts of the Shippey family to persuade Sunderland FC to create a facility that makes their stadium more accessible and inclusive. The sensory room is apparently in great demand, and has also been made available to fans of visiting teams.

However, the story doesn’t stop here. Peter and Kate Shippey have set up The Shippey Campaign in order to encourage other sports teams in the UK to follow Sunderland’s example. They are encouraging sports clubs and supporters interested in learning more about to get in touch via e-mail (theshippeycampaign@gmail.com), and urging supporters to call on their teams to make their stadium more suitable for fans affected by autism. I’d like to wish them the best of luck in their efforts, which I hope will bring benefits for many other families.

For more information about the Shippey Campaign, see their blog, their Facebook page and their feed on Twitter

My First World Cup as a Dad


World Cup Baby

The first football World Cup that I vaguely remember is the 1986 tournament in Mexico and the first that I got really excited about was the 1990 event in Italy. During France 1998, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend three matches and in 2002 I took into account the schedule of games in Korea and Japan when planning revision for my final year university exams.

This year’s World Cup in Brazil is the first one since I became a dad last year. As I mentioned a while ago in a post entitled My First Football Season as a Dad, our son has already been introduced to football and in particular Bangor City. He had a Bangor City baby grow before he’d reached a year old and has already been to watch the team twice. He slept through and remained awake through the second, although he seemed more interested in watching the crowd than the game.

He may not know much about tactics yet, but he seems to have the sweeper system sussed.

He may not know much about tactics yet, but he seems to have the sweeper system sussed.

I thought that it would be nice to do something to mark this year’s World Cup for our son and was initially struggled for ideas. At first, I considered trying to feed him something related to a different World Cup team each day during the tournament. It would have been quick enough to tick off countries such as Spain (tapas), France (omelette) and Mexico (tortilla wraps). However, I sensed that teams such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Ecuador might well have posed a greater problem as I was less familiar of their national cuisine and their baby-friendly vegetarian options.

I momentarily thought that if I made something that counted as ‘global fusion’ food, then I could tick off any of the World Cup countries. This could mean that whilst vegetarian lasagna would cont for Italy, vegetarian haggis lasagna could potentially for any country I fancied. As this seemed somewhat contrived, I decided to focus on other ideas.

Our son's caxirola

Our son’s caxirola

By chance, I ended up getting our son a ‘caxirola‘ whilst at our local supermarket. Before my trip to the store, I had no idea that the caxirola was a small percussion instrument that was the official musical instrument of the 2014 World Cup. Nor did I know that the caxirola had actually been banned from all twelve of the World Cup stadiums hosting matches in Brazil. Our son thankfully didn’t seem to mind and has been happily shaking his caxirola whilst walking round the living room.

When I was discussing the World Cup with a colleague recently, they remarked that there had been a lot of child-like behaviour on display. The most notable example so far has been Uruguay’s Luis Suarez biting Italy’s Giorgio. I can’t remember whether or not our son was in the room while I was watching this game, but he has tried to bite my wife and me on the leg a few times recently. As a fifteen month old toddler, he can at least blame this on teething. Such an excuse is certainly not something that Suarez could use as a justification of his behaviour.

He's not exactly Lionel Messi, but he certainly knows how to leave the living room pretty messy.

He’s not exactly Lionel Messi, but he certainly knows how to leave the living room pretty messy.

As this World Cup has progressed, it’s been fun to see our son toddle around chasing after a little football. His skills are definitely improving and he is now able to kick the ball rather than just pick it up, throw it and trip over it. If he continues to progress, I’m sure that scouts from the big clubs will soon be in touch.


Do you remember the first time that you watched the football World Cup? What do you do to mark the World Cup and celebrate it with your friends and family? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also now a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel free to pin this post if you’ve enjoyed reading it.

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs ‘World Cup for Kids’ project.

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Football and Paternity leave: what’s the score?


Football and paternity leaveThe last twelve months have seen plenty of examples of leading sportsmen taking time off to be present when their partner has been about to give birth. Indeed, last summer the golfer Hunter Mahan withdrew from the Canadian Open whilst in the lead in order to be present at the birth of his first child.

On his blog Fathers, Work and Family, Scott Behson has an entire section devoted to stories about baseball players who have taken advantage of the Major League Baseball (MLB) paternity leave policy. As these stories stories have focused on North American sportsmen, I thought that I’d look at what things are like on the other side of the pond here in the UK and pay particular attention to the sport of football (or ‘soccer’ as some of you may know it).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about attitudes to sportspeople who take paternity leave. Here are five things that stand out for me:


1. The MLB paternity leave policy is doubtlessly significant within an American context but three days of leave really isn’t all that much. It is certainly a start and I’d applaud baseball for taking a lead that I hope that other sports will follow. However, three days really doesn’t sound like a lot of time at all from my perspective as most men here in the UK are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I really felt that I benefited from being able to take this fortnight off work to be with my wife and our newborn son. If I’d only been able to take three days off, I’d have been going back to work just as my wife was being let out of hospital.

2. Even though most footballers in the UK are technically entitled to two weeks of paternity leave, has anyone actually taken a fortnight off following the birth of a child? I can’t think of any examples of footballers in the UK who have take two weeks of paternity leave. Indeed, reports of Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney being given time off by his manager following the birth of his son in 2009 generally appeared to ignore the fact that the UK paternity leave system meant that he could have taken two weeks off rather than the few days that his manager supposedly generously granted him. Indeed, this article from The Daily Telegraph suggests that Rooney’s then manager Alex Ferguson had been intending to rest him for the game that took place shortly after his son’s birth anyway.


3. Some managers don’t seem to be particularly supportive of their players’ family life as was shown in 2012 when Paul Caddis was relieved of his role as Swindon captain because his manager Paolo Di Canio reportedly thought that fatherhood has resulted in Caddis becoming less enthusiastic about football. In press interviews at the time, Di Canio didn’t always come across as particularly sympathetic and Caddis appeared angry that the consequences of his son’s birth were evoked publicly by his manager. As a dad, I was shocked to see that Caddis was not treated in a more supportive manner by his club and especially the manner in which his then manager talked about matters that could easily have been treated with a much greater amount of sensitivity.

4. However, thankfully some other managers see things more holistically when it comes to acknowledging the importance of players’ family life. In a recent article in the Observer about the role of computer analysis in football, Everton manager Roberto Martinez stated that “football players are football players once a week” and added that “the rest of the time they are human beings and fathers and husbands – data doesn’t give you that”. In a sport featuring big money and high stakes, it was good to see a high profile manager demonstrating an awareness of the importance of players’ lives away from the playing field.


5. How would fans react to a player taking two weeks of paternity leave at a crucial stage of the season? Despite the fact that some managers are sensitive to the importance of considering their players’ responsibilities as husbands and fathers, I often wonder how they (and fans) would react if a player decided to take paternity leave at a crucial stage of the season that would mean that he would miss several crucial matches. In baseball, the MLB paternity leave policy makes it easier for teams to call up a replacement from within their own ranks. However, I feel that football fans whose team was likely to be without their star player for a big game would probably see a rule that made it easier for them to call upon a lower profile and less experienced replacement as scant consolation.


The highest level of professional sport is clearly a world apart from the lives that most us lead. Although the vast sums of money that leading players earn brings a lot of possibilities for them and their families, the demands placed upon them as professional athletes do not make it easy for them to spend as much time with their families as a lot of the rest of us can. Indeed, it is for this reason that Celtic’s Kris Commons decided to stop playing international football for Scotland after an international away match meant that he was several hundred miles away when his young son was admitted to hospital.

The vast majority of football fans would probably, deep down, admit that their family comes before their favourite team. The tragic death of Billy Sharp’s son Luey at only three days old in 2011 brought tributes from supporters of both the team he played for at the time (Doncaster Rovers) and also opposition fans, as is recounted in this article from The Guardian. Sharp has himself created a foundation in order to raise money to fund research into the birth defect that effected his on and support other families who are affected by it.

Despite the evident sensitivity that exists within professional football in the UK when it comes to certain aspects of parenting, it seems that the sport has a long way to go when it comes to supporting fathers and making it easier for them to take paternity leave. We may have more generous paternity leave entitlements that some countries, but it is not necessarily easy for all men to take advantage of these allowances.


What do you think about the questions to do with paternity leave that I’ve discussed here? Should more be done to allow sportsmen more time off around the time of the birth of a child? Please feel free to share your views in the comments section below or on the ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen and also follow this blog via BlogLovin. There’s also a Pinterest board for this blog as well, so please feel follow ‘Dad’s the way I like it’ via this method and re-pin your favourite posts.


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My First Football Season as a Dad


Following in my footsteps, our son has already displayed an interest in following the latest football scores…

I always look forward to the new football season and another year of following Bangor City in the Welsh Premier League. Since moving to North Wales, I’ve become a season ticket holder and active member of the Supporters’ Association. The new season that begins on Saturday will be the first since the birth of our son in April.

Even before he was born, my wife ordered a custom-made Bangor City baby grow via the internet that fits three to six month olds. As our son recently turned four months old just as the season is about to begin, this seems to have been a perfect choice! Even when our son was only a few weeks old, reading posts by other bloggers about things like taking their son to their first baseball match made me kind of excited about things to come.

I think that it’s important to add that if we’d had a girl rather than a boy, I’d have been just as keen to take them to football matches. For me, this is about sharing interests with one’s kids and encouraging them to take an interest in sport – both as something to watch and something to play.

If our son and any subsequent children decide that football isn’t their thing, it’s not going to be a disappointment to me, well at least not unless they end up joining the already large group of relatives on my side of the family who for some reason prefer rugby to proper football (…a clear sign of a mis-spent youth I feel!).

My own dad seems to prefer both cricket and rugby to football, but that didn’t stop him from taking me to a lot of football matches when I was growing up. This at times involved some quite long journeys across Scotland and demonstrated a sort of devoted and selfless parenting that I will have to work hard to emulate myself.

For me, learning about football has also been about learning about other countries as it has frequently overlapped with my interests in travel and languages. Indeed, donde puedo comprar un billete para el partido de futbol? is one of the phrases of my less than impressive Spanish vocabulaly that most easily rolls off my tongue.

I regularly watched football matches during the three years I spent living in France, my six years as a student in Leeds and this has continued since I moved to Wales in 2007. Getting to know a new area has at times been synonymous with getting to know some of the local football teams.

I have been lucky to attend football matches in a wide variety of other locations in Europe on my travels, including Barcelona, Malaga, Berlin, Helsinki and Rome. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how attending a match differs from one country to another and will never forget being part of an international group of French learners who won a fortnight-long trip to France for the 1998 World Cup.

Sport and national identity seem to be linked in both my professional and family life. I work as a university lecturer in French and have recently been doing some research about national identity and football in France. On a family level, I’ve thought about the fact that the places of birth of myself, my wife and our parents mean that our son would be eligible to play football for Wales, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

As some have suggested, our son may not turn out to be particularly good at football. In that case he’ll have to make do with the occasional call-up to the Scotland or Northern Ireland squad (…apologies to  friends, family and readers from these parts!). Ultimately, I’m not bothered how good our son is at sport. As Michael Cusden suggested in a recent post on his blog Like a Dad, seeing one’s child having fun and trying to support them in doing so is much more important.  I hope that as a parent I will manage to strike a balance between encouraging our son to enjoy sport rather than become the sort of overly vocal football dad that was described in a BBC News article last year.

Since becoming a dad, and even before, I’ve realised that my relationship with football has started to change. During the month leading up to my wife’s due date, I stopped going to away matches as I didn’t fancy embarking on a frantic dash home following news that our child was about to put in an appearance. In addition, my wife wasn’t all that impressed when I told her a true story I’d heard about a man who went out to a big football match just as his wife was starting labour and took her into hospital after he’d got back from the game.

For Bangor City, the new season kicks off with a game away to Newtown that would probably involve a five hour round trip from where I live. Despite the fact that it’s a place where myself and fellow Bangor City fans have always received a warm welcome from the locals, I won’t be there. As I work full-time during the week, this means spending quite a bit of time in my office rather than at home. For this reason, time with my wife and son at the weekends and evenings during the week is particularly valuable to me.

I don’t really think that missing a few football matches means that I am sacrificing something and I’m sure that a lot of dads (and mums) who are passionate about football and other sports would say the same.


Did your attitude to sport change after becoming a parent? If so, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on this post, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below. If you want to keep up with this blog, there are ‘Dad’s The Way I Like It’ pages on Facebook or Google+. Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen.

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