The World Cup has been a wonderful experience to share with my young sons.
And to my delight, they've thrown themselves into the football with a gusto not seen since they got an Xbox last Christmas.
They've reminded me of my first World Cup memory, back in 1974 when, at the age of 10, I felt bereft as the Dutch were beaten by West Germany in the final.
My boys are nine and six and it's only fair they should suffer the same heartbreak. Well, it's character building, innit!
But once they got over the humbling embarrassment of England exiting at the group stages, they have immersed themselves like mini Stattos: the oldest knows his Robben from his Robin; his Müller from his Messi.
And the youngest has been obsessively updating the World Cup wall chart, while surprising me and his mum with his photographic memory of the nations' flags, the first-round results and where each country is on the globe. So all's good with the world (cup)!
But I've noticed sinister forces are at play: the perils of pester power.
For the world's greatest football tournament has not just been about kicking a ball around – it's also about mass hypnotic marketing, which might explain why my sons' eyeballs have been spinning around in their heads (either that, or the late, late night I've allowed them – yes, even on school nights!).
I first noticed this when the eldest's classmate turned up at the school gates in a pair of £45 Day-Glo orange monstrosities which caused my son to drool like a dog at the dinner table.
The next day, the lad arrived for school again – this time in a pair of Day-Glo lime-coloured shoes. 'Puce' came to mind.
A day or so later, the whole playground was a-glow with Day-Glo as the power of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) worked its evil magic.
What had caused this acid attack was the fantastically fancy footwear of the dribbling style icons on the football field.
If Colombia's James Rodriguez had bright yellow/blue/orange/pink-with-polka-dot boots, then they wanted a pair.
If Thomas Müller was wearing mint/pistachio/strawberry/blueberry-flavoured laceless metatarsal wraps, then my sons and their mates wanted a taste of the action, too.
Unfortunately, my arms are too short to reach my pockets – and this has led to a few sulks and protruding bottom lips from my pair.
"Why, Dad, why?" they ask in unison, about my refusal to succumb to the emotional blackmail of World Cup fashionistas.
They haven't said they hate me yet, but I can see it burning in their eyes, especially when I pontificate about 'sheep' and 'fickle followers of fashion'.
"Black trainers is where it's at," I insist. "If you want to be different and stand out from the crowd, black's where it's at. No one's wearing black trainers. And you can get them from Tesco for a fiver a pair. Think of how many Loom Bands you could get with the change from a tenner?"
But they're not buying it and I wonder if I have created a couple of monsters I will never destroy in the sense that I have impassioned them about football – the beautiful game – without realising the expense of all that comes with it? For this won't end when the World Cup is over.
Their desire for a replica Rooney shirt one week (short-lived), and a Van Persie replica kit the next (still ongoing) and a Neymar shirt the following (fading since Brazil's 7-1 annihilation at the hands of the Germans) might dissipate once the tournament ends on Sunday.
But in three weeks' time, the Premier League will kick off another season, and only this week my favourite team (and thus my sons' favourite team), Manchester United, unveiled their new kit for the 2014-15 season – along with an enticing link to its online shop where the following was revealed:
A kids' replica shirt costs £42-46; shorts £20; socks £12. If you want them personalised (for example, with my sons' hero v.Persie's name on the back), add another tenner.
That's an outlay of nearly £90 PER CHILD. And that's without the boots!. A total of £180 to help them play keepie up with the Joneses. Groan!
The eldest has only just grown into the kit I bought him last year – and the savvy six-year-old won't settle for his big brother's hand-me-downs on this occasion, I'm sure.
Will I be able to resist their pleas for parity with their footy-mad classmates? I very much doubt it – and not because I am a weak parent, but because the Power of the Pester is far stronger than the Will of the Dad.
Especially when the Dark Forces of Replica Kits Marketing enforces its influence.
When the £90 England kit was unveiled for their short-lived World Cup, fans voiced their outrage – and were even joined by footballers, past and present, in their condemnation of the over-priced stitched together synthetics.
QPR midfielder Joey Barton tweeted: "£90 for the new England shirt is taking the mickey out of the fans... Appalling.
"Football again allows commercialism to eat away at its soul."
Ex-England star Stan tweeted: "Unacceptable. You'll hear the 'extra tailoring, vents, climacool, hand sown crest by Yorkshire virgins' excuse from the manufacturer. A joke. £90 is a rip off."
England fans' spokesman Mark Perryman said: "The prices are ridiculous compared to what they cost to produce."
Will these – and other – protests make a blind bit of difference? Of course not, which is why I'm off to put a bet on Germany to win the World Cup to pay for it!
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