Story by Phil Earl
Having a famous dad should be the coolest thing imaginable. It should be all film premieres and sunshine holidays. But it’s not. All it actually means is that he belongs to everyone else as well as me.
We stopped going to the park for kick-abouts years ago, as he was always mobbed by kids wanting to be coached by him. We can’t even play headers and volleys in the garden without the neighbours heads popping above the fence with a ball to be signed.
Interruptions, interruptions, interruptions. I’ll never be as good a player as him if I don’t get him to myself.
Let me tell you, it stinks.
I LOVE Friday nights though, because Friday night is takeaway night.
The night where I get Dad all to myself, even if it is only as far as the Chinese chippy and back. The rest of the week there’s always someone else around.
But every Friday night I get his full attention for half an hour, and if I’m lucky, a bag of battered scraps thrown in as well.
And the cool thing is that no-one knows it’s him, ’cos he wears his Friday night disguise: flat cap, comedy thick-lens glasses and a stick-on moustache.
He looks more like a road sweeper than the England goalkeeper, so nobody looks twice at him. It’s our little secret, a joke that’s kept us laughing the last three years.
But not tonight.
We’re one step inside Special Fried Nice when we hear an excited voice.
“Jimmy Tipps. As I live and breathe.”
My shoulders sag as I see a man at the counter, dad’s team shirt pulled tightly over his pot-belly. His eyes are wide as plates, and he’s not excited about his chicken chow mein.
“I’m your number one fan!” He yells at dad. I can see tears of joy in his eyes. Dad shakes his head, tells the man his name is Geoff, but the fan won’t have it. “I’d know you anywhere. Seen every game you’ve played. I’ve got a scrapbook devoted to you!”
Dad looks worried now. His moustache is sagging at the edges, ready to fall off, but he manages a smile. He doesn’t like to upset people, even if their nosiness bothers me.
The man is patting his pockets frantically, searching for something. “I wish I’d known,” he gabbles. “I’d have bought my book with me.” Instead he grabs a menu from the counter and rips it in half.
Mr Han, who runs the takeaway, looks ready to karate chop him and so am I. “Would you mind signing for me?” He thrusts the paper and a chewed-up biro under dads nose.
I shuffle to the chair in the corner, as I know the man wants more than an autograph. He’ll talk to dad for ages, about the save in last year’s cup final, and the penalty shoot-out at the Euros, when we beat Spain and dad was carried off on a sea of shoulders, the nations hero.
I love those stories too, but I want dad to tell them to me, not some stranger in the chippy. But dad’s too kind to turn him down: that’s what makes him such a hero.
Mr Han tries to cheer me up with a free battered sausage, but it’s dad who comes up with the real surprise.
“Tell you what,” he tells the man. “I’ll sign for you on one condition. If you ask our Lewis for his autograph too.”
I waggle my finger in my ear in case I’ve heard wrong, but the fan’s staring at me now instead of dad. “Eh?” the man asks, “Why?”
“That’s the deal.” Dad’s not being rude, just firm, and he stands there with his hand out, ready to take the pen.
The man is confused but hands it over anyway, and after scribbling quickly, dad passes it over to me.
I look at his name, Jimmy ‘the finger’ Tipps, scrawled messily, wondering how many times in the last fifteen years he’d written it for someone. Nothing I could write would look as cool as that.
“Come on Lewis,” he smiles gently. “His food’s getting cold.” Panicking, I write the first thing that comes into my head, then watch the fan looking confused as he stares at my spidery writing.
Dad peeks over his shoulder, his grin stretching as wide as a goal. “Jimmy ‘the finger’ Tips….and son. England keepers, present and future,” the fan reads, a smile stretching across his face. “Nice one. Good luck on Saturday Jim.”
“No problem. Look after that autograph, you hear. It’ll be worth a fortune once he’s playing for England.”
“Oh I will.” The man grins like it’s Christmas morning. “Maybe I’ll start a new scrapbook with it. One for father and son!” He fixes me with a look. I feel pride bursting out of my chest. It’s the same look he gave dad when he first saw him.
Suddenly I feel ten feet tall and I’m not in the chippy anymore. I’m at Wembley, with the three lions on my chest and eighty thousand people singing my name.
Maybe, just maybe, having a famous dad isn’t so bad after all…