Football: the glue that can bond families together.
One of my fondest memories of being a dad was when my team, Manchester United, came back from 3-0 down to Chelsea in 2012 to level the scores with a Javier Hernandez header six minutes from time.
I went MENTAL, bouncing around the living room like Tigger, screaming my lungs hoarse, lifting my sons into the air and squeezing them so tightly they must have felt like concertinas.
At the time, they were just seven and four years old and didn't have the faintest idea what had possessed their wild-eyed father – but they loved it.
They joined in, screaming and shouting, racing around the living room with their T-shirts over their heads, bouncing off the sofa, chucking cushions around the room.
And then their mother came in. But that's a different story...
Ever since then, football has brought us closer and closer. It creates moments for us to be pals, for me to be the big kid I still feel, deep down, that I am. Instead of 'just' being their villainous father (the bloke who nags them to get up, get dressed, get breakfasted, do their homework, get into their pyjamas, and GO TO SLEEP) I can be their mentor, their font of all football wisdom, their coach, their mate. Their equal. Their hero. It's brilliant.
And these are the 10 ways football has bonded us....
SUPPORTING THE SAME TEAM
I am the oldest of four boys, three of whom support Manchester City. I am the odd one out, supporting their fierce rivals, United. This caused a lot of tension growing up, so when I became a dad I decided to impose a One Team Only decree on the household: my team. Unfortunately, this happened at pretty much the same time as United fell off a cliff following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and has occasionally led to my sons asking: "Do we HAVE to support United, dad?" The answer is always the same: "Until you can afford to put a roof over your own heads, then yes."
MATCH DAY RITUALS
Tying the scarves around your kids' necks, getting the bus, walking to the ground, joining the throng, singing the songs, getting a pie and a cup of hot choc, taking your seats and looking at each other in excited anticipation as the whistle blows to start the game. There is so much comfort in routine, so much connection in experiencing that routine with your children.
Dad: "Did I ever tell you about the time when United beat Liverpool in the 1977 FA Cup Final? All three goals came in a five-minute period early in the second half. Stuart Pearson opened the scoring before Liverpool equalised through Jimmy Case. But just three minutes later, United won the game when Lou Macari's shot deflected off team mate Jimmy Greenhoff's chest. I went bananas, jumping off the chair and smashing the glass lampshade in our front room, which I had to pay for out of my paper round money. But I didn't care. It was the best moment of my life. OK, I was only 13, but I was at Wembley the year before when we lost 1-0 to Southampton. Did I ever tell you about that, son? Did I?"
Son: "Yes dad. A few times."
SHARING HIGHS AND LOWS
There is no joy to compare with bouncing on the terraces or destroying the living room with your kids when your team scores a last minute equaliser. But the Yang to that Ying is when the opposition run down the other end and pop home a winner in injury time. Avoid consoling platitudes of the 'it's only a game' variety at all costs.
YOUR FIRST KICKAROUND IN THE BACK GARDEN
Especially when you beat them 10-0. Well, it's character building!
DADS V SONS FIVE-A-SIDE
Payback time when they beat you 15-0 and you spend the night in A&E with a twisted hip.
Who can be first to break the news that your team's one up? Or that Ronaldo is about to sign on the dotted line for your club? A great way to bond with your kids – and an even better way to get one over on them to show that the Old Man has his finger on the pulse.
STAYING UP LATE FOR TOURNAMENTS
Eight o'clock bedtimes go out of the window when the World Cup or Euro Championships are on. Unfortunately, football's big cheeses mustn't have kids of their own because they always arrange these events during term time. Still, they only happen every couple of years and a few late nights and yawny mornings will be well worth it when you share the memories in years to come.
You're right, they're wrong. That's just a fact. They'll come to realise that when they become fathers themselves.
SUNDAY MORNING FOOTY
This is really for the die-hard dad who loves to forego his lie-ins for shouting instructions to his bewildered child as he runs around a freezing cold muddy pitch like a headless chicken. But look how it connects us when little Jimmy makes a tackle or delivers a pass or saves a goal or – joy of all joys – scores a winner with a curling free kick under the crossbar.
Football: the glue that bonds fathers and kids.
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