IF there’s anything worse than being caught out and exposed as a fraud, it’s being caught out and exposed as a fraud by your wife.
But I have to accept the fact I’ve been rumbled — big style.
Let me explain.
For every big international soccer tournament since 2006, I have been buying the Panini stickers album, ahem, for my kids.
I used to collect these stickers as a kid, and was convinced my own children would derive equal pleasure from opening the packs, gradually filling in the album, collecting ‘spares’ and swapping them with other kids, until the album was full.
There is something particularly male about this kind of collectible obsession, I always think.
Strangely, my kids never seemed too enamoured with it, but I kept up the tradition for them. My wife said nothing, simply indulging me for the past 15 years.
Alas, this year, when I bought the Euro 2020 Panini album, I was finally rumbled.
I blame the kids.
Number one son is now 16, and barely glanced at the album when I proudly brandished the shiny new one a month ago.
Number two son hates all forms of sport.
Number three son prefers his PlayStation.
That just left the five-year-old daughter, so I set out to convert her to my stickers cause. It seemed to be going well, too, or so I thought, until something inside my wife snapped. She pointed out our youngest child really wasn’t interested at all in this quaint old tradition. In fact — and I gasped audibly at this — my daughter was indulging ME.
Regretfully. Sadly. Mournfully. I had to accept the truth. I asked my daughter if she wanted to stop doing the stickers and a look of relief passed over her face.
“Yes, daddy, that is your game. I want to play with my dolls.”
Readers. My heart broke, just a little.
Of course, at this juncture, any normal father would have accepted the inevitable, tossed away the album, and moved on gracefully into middle life.
However, I am not a normal father. I jutted out my chin, set my face into a determined expression, and vowed to continue the Panini stickers tradition alone.
Perhaps, one day, I can pass it on to a grandchild who is not an ungrateful little wretch...
Not only that, last week I pinned up the Euro 2020 match chart on the wall — another long-standing Dolan tradition — and last night, I settled down to watch the first game of Euro 2020.
You see, dear reader, I love international soccer tournaments, to the extent that in summers when they don’t take place, a little part of me dies.
All those matches. All that drama. All those goals. FOR A WHOLE MONTH. Brilliant.
We’ve had to wait three years since the last one, so, even though Euro 2020 is — as its name suggests — a year late because of Covid, and even though the lack of full houses will dent the normally wonderful match atmospheres, and even though the Republic sadly didn’t make these finals, I am in sporting heaven.
Being English-born, I will naturally be cheering on the Three Lions, but I wouldn’t dream of imposing that hardship on you — aside from all that 800 years stuff, it is sure to end in tears.
Besides, most Irish people get a perverse pleasure out of seeing England crash and burn.
So, who to support?
I have the answer: Finland.
Who, says you?
Yes, Finland: And here’s 10 reasons why...
1. Rooting for the underdog
Finland have tried manfully to qualify for 19 World Cups, and failed every time. Only little Luxembourg have a worse record.
The Finns have tried manfully to qualify for 14 European Championships, and this is their first time qualifying.
In other words, think Ireland 1988 and Ireland 1990, put them together, and you get some idea of how Finland is feeling right now.
2. You can win a fortune!
As befitting a team that has been a perennial flop, Finland are 500-1 to win the Euros. To put that in perspective, Danny Dyer is 500-1 to be the next James Bond. Danny who? exactly.
Now, I would never openly encourage betting on this page. All I will say is, if I place €1 on Finland to win the Euros, and they oblige, I will be €500 richer, And possibly become the next James Bond before I wake up.
3. Finland are like us
Think of a country with around five million people, which has a long history of being in the shadow of a malign empire, and which signed a peace treaty with that empire a century ago... and you have just described Finland’s relationship with Russia.
The Finns get us, probably.
4. Daniel O’Shaughnessy
Yes, Finland do have a player by that name, and yes, his old man, Robert, is from Galway! Come on you Dads in Green!
The fact defender Daniel declared for Finland instead of Ireland is, of course, hurtful, but we won’t hold that against him (but we will NEVER forgive Declan Rice, Jack Grealish, and Harry Kane for snubbing us, naturally!).
5. Ordinary Joe in charge
International soccer managers are charismatic narcissists as a rule. Finland boss Markku Kanerva left his job as a maths and PE teacher at primary school to lead them to the promised land. He treats his players as pupils and the matches as exam. Love it!
6. Meat-and-two-veg style...
The best Irish teams have had a workmanlike ethic, and Markku espouses similar traditionalist methods. He likes a 4-4-2 formation — no fancy dan Christmas trees here — and keeps it simple.
7. ...they can play though
Finland beat Ireland and Bulgaria twice in the Nations League, and remarkably, beat the world champions France in their own backyard 2-0. France are favourites to win Euro 2020!
8. The Cork connection 1
Still looking for reason to support these likeable underdogs?
Finland’s star striker Teemu Pukki is team-mates at Norwich City with Douglas ace Adam Idah, who calls Pukki his role model.
9. The Cork connection 2
Jonas Häkkinen is a Finnish defender who plays for Cork City. So do it for him.
10. You can start cheering right now!
Finland kick-off their Euro 2020 campaign at 5pm today against Denmark, and also face fancied Belgium, and, yes, old foes Russia in their group.
Come on Finland, or as they say in Helsinki, Tule Suomeen.