The secret to keeping any relationship going is, of course, to see as little of each other as possible. We all know what familiarity breeds, so there’s no point pushing your luck. Imagine my delight, therefore, on discovering a holiday company that specialises in separating you from your other half while you’re away. Well, for a couple of hours anyway.
Footballbreak.co.uk offers trips to European cities whose teams play the beautiful game particularly beautifully: Madrid, Munich, Paris and the like. As well as organising your flights and hotel, they also arrange tickets for the match. So while the female(s) of your party swan off to hammer the credit card, the male(s) can sit and admire the skills of Ronaldo or Alonso or Silva. If you think that sounds sexist, you might be right.
My partner and I took our seven-year-old son to Barcelona for the weekend. Mostly we savoured the city together — admiring Gaudí’s lunatic architecture, hoovering tapas in the Gothic Quarter — but all the time Jo was looking forward to her window of peace, the moment when Barney and I would head off to the Nou Camp and watch the football. This would be her break from the never-ending stream of negotiation that is parenthood. (Sometimes I think the familiarity/contempt ratio doubles when applied to children.)
Not all football breaks involve glamorous clubs. Apparently a significant proportion of the firm’s customers travel to see ‘cult’ teams — St Pauli in Hamburg, for example, or Palermo in Sicily. Supporters on the Continent also come to England for matches: again, your Chelseas and your Liverpools get most of the attention, but smaller clubs feature too. It is with a heavy heart, QPR fans, that I tell you your team is a cult.
In the end — and hopefully this will further restore my feminist credentials — Jo came to the match after all. She was so intrigued by my reports of the Nou Camp (the biggest stadium in the world, apart from that mad one in North Korea that doesn’t really count), and the hero-worship surrounding Lionel Messi, that we arranged for another ticket.
It was worth it just for the roar when Messi came on — he’d started on the bench, the evening’s opponents being lowly Deportivo Alavés. But the minnows parked the bus, or rather an entire fleet of Routemasters, and somehow prevented the world’s best player from scoring. They also nicked a couple on the break, and ended up winning 2-1.
This had two advantages. It prevented Barney’s first trip to a football match being perfect, giving him something to look forward to in future. And it quietened the Barca fans down a bit, so allowing Jo to enjoy the experience. I once took her to watch Coventry City at Highfield Road, and she found the noise levels there perfectly frightful.