*Ad – gifted tickets
When I was a child, I used to watch a lot of football and had favourite teams (Man Utd because I’d once met Bryan Robson walking down the street, and Oxford Utd because the captain at the time lived down our road). My brother used to watch and play the sport, so I couldn’t get away from it. But over the years, I’ve lost interest outside of World Cup or the Euros. Sometimes it feels like football is on every night on the television. N isn’t a football fan. He’ll play in school PE lessons, but he doesn’t understand the obsession some of his friends and cousin have with the sport.
We recently stayed in the Double Tree at Hilton Milton Keynes which is in the MK Dons Stadium MK. We had a pitchside view and N was taken with the fact that it looked like some of the players were having breakfast in the hotel when we were there. We were invited to come and watch a match rather than just seeing it when the pitch was empty, and with a family fun day happening at the same time, N was keen to go along.
It looked like the weather might not play ball on the day. Snow due in mid March! I’d checked and rechecked the weather forecast and although it was swirling snow at home, it wasn’t settling and I thought we’d be fine until the evening. It was bitterly cold though so had wrapped up pretty well.
We had parking booked and were really close to Stadium MK. What’s great round there, is that it’s next to a retail park (and IKEA and huge Asda) so you can do your shopping first, go to the cinema, or stop and have lunch which is what we did after picking up our tickets.
After lunch, we headed back to the car park where there were activities going on for the family fun day. It was pretty quiet due to the weather, but we spent nearly an hour there if you didn’t get cold.
N couldn’t be bothered to wait to sit on the old air force helicopter, but it was interesting to see it. There were various performances. We enjoyed listening to the band when we arrived, then heard a personal story of friendship and help before a young girl sand beautifully. A local Rock Choir was also due to sing so there was plenty of entertainment for the 2-3 hours the fun session was on.
There were also fairground rides – N went on an aeroplane ride (he proclaimed it rubbish because his plane wouldn’t lift up, but really he’s getting a bit old for rides like that), and even had a go on the bungee trampolines. He was getting blown all over the place and struggled with actually bouncing, and after only a few minutes decided his legs were hurting from the harness and he wanted to get off. Maybe not the best first experience but I was surprised he wanted to try it. He enjoyed the go karts that Mead Open Farm had brought along. I wish we had a non-gravel drive he could have a go kart on because he’d love it. But he makes up for it going on them on day trips.
There were a few charity stalls and other sports based stands but it was just too cold to hang around. We went back to the car to warm up for a bit before the gates were open for the match.
The football match
I don’t know how excited N felt, but I do love a live sports match for the anticipation. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s still the excitement and buzz, and if it’s a new experience you just don’t know how you’re going to react compared to watching an event on television.
We were seated in the family stand. We were quite high up a corner stand, which meant we could see the whole pitch and be high enough up to see around the stadium easily and get out to the main walkway and refreshments if needed. I was surprised that the seats were padded too – I’d expected them to be uncomfortable.
N couldn’t sit still. He spotted where our hotel room had been, which screens we’d watched from our room, and was pointing out the ball retrievers and little seats the stewards were on. Remember the Eye Spy books of old? We probably would have covered everything for a football match in one visit! As for the music warm up – a bit of rock always goes down well with N, and sending the teams out onto the pitch to Welcome to the Jungle, he was beside himself.
The stands around the MK Dons side was about half full – nice to know that people were able to turn up on the day and get tickets, although I don’t know if that was by nature of the bad weather, or if that’s usual for a league 1 game. We got into it, cheering for the players when the team lists were read out as the teams were warming up.
It seems that N is more interested in watching a match than playing, even though I did need to commentate quite a bit of it. We were happy to see the MK Dons goalie playing well, saving quite a few attempts on goal. And we saw MK send a penalty into the net. Cue funny singing along and dancing to celebrate. I think N thought I was a bit nuts, but you have to join in and he soon got the hang of it himself.
By half term we were just too cold, and decided against staying for the whole match. We weren’t the only ones to leave then and the people on the doors weren’t surprised people were leaving. We were pleased to see a goal, although there were 2 more scored in the second half.
Even for non-football fans, going to watch a match is a great experience with lots to discuss for children in terms of team work, the actual game rules, and getting them used to sitting and focusing on one activity. Once we got home N wanted to check all the football results, and wanted to watch the FA cup match that was on tv. Sigh, I guess that means I now have 2 people in the house who always want to watch the football.
Tips for going to a football match as a first timer
1. Don’t assume your thick coat, hat and gloves will be enough to keep out the cold in winter. Either wear long johns or tights under your trousers, or take a blanket. You’ll get away with this in the family stands (under the pretext of keeping the family warm), maybe less so in the normal stands.
2. Check rules for photography in the stadium. Any match that has tv rights will likely say no photography or videos during the match, and bags get searched. Phones were fine, but recording equipment can be confiscated (presumably press passes have different authority).
3. Check about taking in food and drink in advance. I didn’t check so didn’t take in water bottles with us. I’d assume plastic ones are fine for soft drinks and water, but it’s not like the rugby where you can take a beer into the stands. We saw other people with hot drinks in flasks, and you can buy food and drink there. There looked like a lot of fizzy drinks being given to children, so taking your own water might be a better option. Be prepared to drink it at security though.
4. Keep belongings to a minimum. Some came with rucksacks with extra layers and blankets, but it does mean trekking through seating with it and keeping an eye on it at all times.
5. Don’t panic if you’re not in your seats before kick off. I expected people to be in seats well ahead of time, like at the theatre, but there were people coming and going in the family stand. It’s nice to see the warm up, but if you’re taking children and it’s cold, a) they’ll get cold and b) they might get bored. You can get into the stadium but stay in the more covered and weather protected areas beforehand.
6. If you see a mascot and the kids want a photo, nip down to the front of the aisles and they’ll probably spot you and be happy to pose.
7. Look out for family stands when booking tickets. Much nicer sitting amongst other families, plus you don’t have to explain bad language and crude football songs to your children.
8. Watch out for family fun sessions that clubs might be holding on the same day as the matches. It’s a chance to make more of a day of it.
Are you football fans? Do you take your children to football or other sports matches?