A few months ago, I told my seven-year-old son a secret.
Since I was about his age, I’d had a parallel footballing universe going on inside my head – with made-up clubs, players, managers and international tournaments.
I remember creating it one summer holiday when there was no football on telly and I was bored out of my mind. Sometimes I sketched out invented club crests for imaginary teams called things like London West FC, Birmingham All Stars or New Forest Rangers. I would also doodle invented players such as the Chilean playmaker Pancho De La Cruz or the lightning-quick English winger Tyrone Taylor.
I have become addicted to my own son’s imagination. Not only does it make me laugh, it makes me proud.
Maybe it was pretty normal for a seven-year-old to use his imagination to entertain himself in the pre-internet age. But is it normal for a 44-year-old father of two to do the same? Because I have never quite managed to kick the habit of my made-up footballing world. Imagining dramatic cup finals or elaborate transfer dealings involving fictitious characters still helps me get off to sleep at night and often makes tedious meetings slip by quicker. Yes, I suppose it’s a bit weird. But some people fantasise about mad sexual perversions in their spare time. I think my mental netherworld is more wholesome than many.
Anyway, the reason I told my son all of this was because he too was worried about how to pass the long summer holidays without any football tournament to watch. I just told him to dream up his own football world just like mine. And so he did. Only his is so much more rich, complex and compelling than mine could ever be.
In the space of a couple of weeks he had invented a sprawling galaxy of make-believe teams, cups, players and coaches that rivals the Star Wars saga in its depth and detail. I was so spellbound by his creations that I started talking about them on my football podcast, Top Flight Time Machine. Soon, the listeners were so hooked on the unfolding drama of a small boy’s imaginary football world that they wanted daily updates. He invented an international competition called Earth Tournament. It became so popular that we had commemorative T-shirts printed up and started selling them via our website.
Just to be clear, in case you’re not following me here (and who would blame you?): my seven-year-old son has invented a pretend football world inside his head and now grown adults are buying T-shirts and discussing the whole thing in detail on Twitter.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
My son has even invented a nightly Earth Tournament TV show called Team Talk. He says it is presented by a 94-year-old retired footballer called Freddy George. And do you know what? I’m getting more enjoyment out of listening to him spout all of this nonsense than I think I could out of watching a real TV show at the moment. I have become addicted to my own son’s imagination. Not only does it make me laugh, it makes me proud. Best of all, it’s free. I might as well just cancel Netflix.