Sunday, 23 October 2011

In which Netmums send me behind enemy lines

I've been to hundreds of football matches. I reckon the tally is into the two hundreds, but could be more. I had a season ticket at football for 6 years, right until Monkey was born. I have been to away matches too and as I started going to matches in the 90s, I've been to some right holes. Things have changed considerably over the last 10 - 15 years.

Since having the children, my attendance at matches has been a lot more sporadic, mainly due to finances. One of my first posts on this blog was about taking Monkey to his first ever live match. His second was to Wembley! Last year, he had a season ticket for Blackpool, which amazingly, was free for him as he's under 8. He's even been to the Nou Camp in Barcelona and we've taken both children to an England U21 match at Deepdale. We're not afraid to take children to football and have generally had good experiences.

When I heard that Netmums were looking for bloggers to review events in the Family Football Festival, I was interested but sadly, Preston weren't on the list. However, we then discovered that one of the matches was Huddersfield Town v Preston and as the children had been pestering me to go to a match again, I volunteered to go and review, even if it meant I had to sit in the home end. I warned the children we would have to keep quiet if Preston scored.

Having read fellow bloggers' reviews and hearing about their experiences, I was quite looking forward to it. Keen to make a good impression, clubs have been welcoming them with open arms and showing them the best they have to offer. It was certainly a great day for going to a football match - dry, clear and neither too warm or too cold. Perfect.

Terry the Terrier
I went to the Galpharm once or twice in the years BC. The stadium announcer said it was ten years since we last played each other, so the ground was still the McAlpine then. As an away fan, I thought it was quite a nice ground but I didn't have children then, which can alter your perception.

We got to the ground after navigating some odd diversions around the town. The nearest car park was permit only but the staff allowed me in to get to the ticket office to collect my tickets because there appeared to be no other way to access the ticket office. Alarm bells started ringing when I noticed that we were in row YY of the stand. Never mind... I took the children back to a local pub to get them lunch, whereupon we became stymied by the service which took 15 minutes to produce 2 iced lollies for the children's treat. I had been intending to park there (and note, I do this at Preston and am happy to pay if necessary) but I was warned it was not allowed. Even though the car park looked nowhere near full and there were no clamping signs up, so I decided not to risk it because of being with the children.

So, we get back in the car, and I try to locate parking. Well, let me tell you, parking was a nightmare. Other bloggers visiting other clubs were offered parking spaces and it would have been lovely to have been offered it here. I fully accept that real families visiting wouldn't get offered this normally so we got to experience what any family would, and it wasn't pretty or enjoyable. I drove down a road signposted for stadium parking but every car park was either permits only or was full. A retail park was nearly empty but big threatening signs bode badly for clamping and after driving around for another 5 or 10 minutes, we finally found a space of sorts at the bottom of an industrial estate which was 10 minutes away.

By the time we were back at the ground, it was twenty minutes before match time. I looked for the family festival activities but saw none, which is odd as I approached the ground on the side of the family stand and you'd think they would be there, but no. We saw the club mascot, Terry the Terrier, and a lady offered the children "Let's kick racism out of football" stickers, leading to an interesting conversation with the children about what racism was. As we walked in, Monkey said to me in a low voice, "Mummy, stand up if Huddersfield score." Bless.

Those steps
We had to go up a number of flights of stairs to get to the family stand. There was a lift, but it said it was not for public use. Nice. But that was nothing compared to what greeted us when we walked in to find our seats. Really quite steep stairs, with no handrails. Family friendly? Hmm, not sure about that. It really struck me as odd, given there are stands which are less steep around the ground. And I've been closer to the pitch at the Nou Camp!

I began to doubt that we had been put in the family section, so much so that I asked the family in front if it was. The look on their faces suggested they agreed with me in a kind of resigned way. I mentioned the football festival to them and they said they had seen a penalty shootout competition if you approached the ground from the other side. This couple had very small children with them and I noticed they left early which meant they had time to walk their children down the very steep steps slowly without being knocked over. The fear of falling is very real - Missy told me she nearly slipped as we descended the steps for half time, but luckily by then, we had reached the small section that had handrails and she was able to grab it to stop herself falling.

Some football! Yes, we did see some, played by Huddersfield mostly.
Onto the match. Oh dear. I don't think I can look at the highlights, PNE were that awful, but it was a pretty good game, which I would have enjoyed more had I been a neutral. And for the record, I never did stand once when Huddersfield scored. Three times. And I had to keep quiet when we did get a consolation, then nearly score a second. Monkey got right into it and clapped and cheered like he was a home fan. That child doesn't care who he supports. Turncoat!

Missy enjoyed the football.
The stand didn't seem family orientated at all, although I believe they may have given away a lot of tickets to schools for this match. There were a lot of adult only groups around us. The group at the back were constantly told to sit down and I was constantly on watch in case any swears came our way. They didn't; at least I don't think they did. Missy still doesn't totally get football - she spent some time during the first half doing her sticker book!

At half time, we went to get a drink. At £5.60 for a bottle of Diet Coke, 2 Capri Suns and a packet of crisps, I found it extremely expensive and certainly not something families would indulge in regularly, especially as none of it is particularly extravagant.

When we returned, I managed to find some spare seats a bit lower down so we didn't have to climb those steps again. The benefit of being higher up was we were shaded longer from the sun but as the sun descended, it got in all our eyes, even with sunglasses on. The second half was better for me because of the goals and it did look for a while like we were getting right back into it, but when we didn't, I made sure we left early so we didn't have to deal with the stairs in the post-match scrum. I noticed that most of the families with small children did the same. Monkey and Missy Woo did behave really well and they seemed to enjoy themselves.

As a parent, however, I didn't. I really wanted to have a great time and I think the Family Football Festival is a great idea. I praise the Lord that I didn't tell the children there would be lots to do, because if there was, it was well hidden. The family stand is not really family friendly at all, given there are other parts of the ground that could better serve families with younger children than that stand, which must have some of the steepest steps I've had to climb in an English football stadium. I cannot understand it - it's almost like whoever designated that for families has either never had small children, or has forgotten what it was like to have them. What also seems strange is allocating someone who is coming to do a review centred around your family friendliness tickets right at the top, like it was some kind of afterthought. That said, if that is how they treat paying families, then I guess we got the full experience. I have tried looking on the club website to see if there is any information that I might have missed but there is precious little there directed specifically about families.

All in all, it led me to conclude that Huddersfield Town pay lip service to being family friendly rather than actually going all out to be properly attractive to families. That is a damned shame - the younger you get fans involved, the more likely it is that they will keep coming. And with people being short of money these days, clubs are going to have to offer wonderful, value for money experiences if families are going to spend their cash on a football match. I'm really sad that I've had to write a negative review because I love football and I want families who haven't experienced a live match to give it a try because, when it's good, it's thrilling, captivating and fun. I really hope that someone from Huddersfield Town reads this review and takes on board what I have to say - I am happy to talk to them further if they wish. And I am not writing this because my team lost. The die was cast before a ball was kicked and this review would have been no better had PNE won, even though I would have enjoyed the game more. I'd take my children back to the Galpharm, but I'd stick to the away end this time. I went behind enemy lines - and I felt sorry for the enemy.

Finally, if you do think about taking children to a football match, I have some tips for you.
  • Take a small rucksack, filled with small (silent) toys or books and perhaps an iPod or portable radio as younger children will get bored, even if it's a great match. 
  • Taking your own food and drink would not be a bad idea either. Most clubs allow it to be taken in.
  • Wear layers, lots of them. There is nothing worse than being cold at a match.
  • During winter, always take hats and gloves. It will be dark before the end of a 3pm kick off, even if it is a nice day.
  • Check your seat is fully under cover or you could get wet. In most stands, the front few rows can be exposed to wet weather. 
  • Whilst front row seats sound fantastic, small children often can't see much from ground level. 7 to 8 rows back allows children a better view of the game as a whole. (Edited to add - seats right next to an aisle are also a good idea, so check where the seats are going to be before you buy!)
  • Try and give yourself as much time as you can to get there. 
  • Toilets get busy at half time so pop down early if you can, especially if you have recently toilet trained. 
I am a member of the Netmums Blogging Network. I am paid an expenses fee to cover my time but Netmums have no editorial control whatsoever about what I blog about. Being a member of the Netmums Blogging Network means that I get to try out products and brands and get my expenses covered but that I retain full editorial integrity.
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