I've cried at a few games, but only once with joy and that was when I recently took my son to see his first proper game of football. When Watford had visited Lincoln, where I am exiled, for a pre-season friendly two years ago I took him, but had to leave at halftime as he kept running off and throwing his teddy bear on the pitch. That night, I had told Ted that going on the pitch was an arrestable offence, but he just stared back glassy-eyed without saying so much as sorry. We left Ted at home for this, his first proper match and away game at nearby Hull in their fantastic new stadium (the wraparound roof means the sound is concentrated so for once this season I could hear the opposition fans). I'm not sure what was the highlight: seeing my son singing 'Yellow Army' or the smug satisfaction when I said, "Watch this player, James. He's jolly good with the ball," just before little McNamee went past three players. Normally when I praise a player he promptly gets sent off.
Your first game, you never forget it. You can change you partner, your career, your car, even your pants but if you're like every fan I've ever met, you'll always support the first team you ever saw. The sounds, the drama, the state of the toilets, the foul language, the screaming at the ref, the lack of replays, the abuse from the other fans, the chants; how your first encounter with the spectacle of live football stays with you. I remember my first game. 1982 it was and Mr Graham Taylor launched Blissett and Barnes on an unsuspecting Barnsley. We hammered them. The away fans took it very well: they decided to ignore the game and do a conga around the terraces. I couldn't believe how much abuse the ref got and I don't remember it being a game full of controversy. I now sometimes catch myself shouting at the ref and the linesmen (linespeople, whatever) and yet I hate it when others do it.
One of my mates, Peter, never even got to see the match at his first game. His dad is a big Gooner, Arsenal had reached the Cup Final and his dad had a precious ticket so his son nagged his dad until he got another. Now, the dad worked in the motor trade and every deal he has been involved in has been ever so slightly dodgy. The first ticket the dad had got in exchange for repairing someone's car; the second, the ticket for his son, he got off a tout. When they got to the turnstiles, the steward pointed out that the tout's ticket was a fake. Peter was only seven so I reckon all of us would curse our luck and find a pub to watch the match (perhaps trying to buy another ticket near the ground or failing that, sell the one real ticket before walking away), but not Peter's dad: he told his son to wait outside while he went in to see his beloved Arsenal. After what seemed like forever, Peter got a bit worried and asked a policeman how long to go and the copper informed him that the game had gone to extra time. When his dad eventually emerged, he swore his son to secrecy, but Peter's mum, like most women being telepathic when it comes to a husband's lies, soon found out the truth and boxed the dad's ears.
I did a straw poll among my mates and the totally unscientific conclusion was that Northerners went to their first match slightly younger, wives can always remember who won, dads can always remember the score, single blokes can always remember who scored and all Wednesday fans saw their team lose (well, start as you mean to go on!).
So, what's the best age to take your heir to a game? Too young and they won't remember it, won't enjoy it or will get bored and ruin it for you. Too old and they'll be all spots and cynicism so if your team lose they'll end up either hating footie or supporting the opposition just to spite you. If you support a big club, the answer is obvious: when they can sit through a match on TV then they're old enough to go. But if you support a little club, then you have to rely on your judgment. As long as you don't put them off football, I don't think it matters: if they end up supporting someone else, at least you get to laugh at them when their team gets hammered...and you can learn from where you went wrong when it comes to indoctrinating the grandchildren!