Learning to speakfluent Euro 2004

4th June 2004 at 01:00
We teeter on the verge of a massive trans-Europe migration. Croatians and Latvians, Bulgarians and Greeks: a restless continent will soon be on the move.

Women to gyms and shopping centres, men to sitting rooms and pubs: Euro 2004 will bring us a month-long gender diaspora.

My boys, one 10, one old enough to remember the last time Spurs won the cup and league double, are already encamped in their illegal settlement. The carpet in front of the telly is littered with programmes, sticker books and a voodoo doll of Thierry Henry. We girls, one eight, one 12, one old enough to have been at school with Don Revie's daughter, look on with disdain.

Junior boy's commentary - we are now approaching the educational relevance of this column - started two weeks ago. First of all came modern languages:

"Hrvatska - that's Croatia - have a tough group, with France, England and Helvetia - that's Switzerland. But they have a shining star" - some of this is pure Des Lynam - "in Bayern Muenchen's Robert Kovac". All pronounced with BBC correctness. Then there's geography and citizenship. "Mum, where's Portugal?" Mother makes vague map shape with hands: "It's the long narrow strip down the left of Spain, with Lisbon on the coast." "They've got an estadio da luz there - that's a stadium of light, you know, just like Sunderland. That's funny, that, because Sunderland - phew! Well, Sunderland must be about 100km north of grandma and grandpa."

As for maths, well there are all those groups and points to work out, of course. I should think that's good for probability theory, but as a child of Leeds in the Revie years, we didn't do probability theory: if anyone looked likely to wake up Gary Sprake at the far end there, Nobby Stiles ate him. And that wasn't probability, that was certainty. On top of the groups, there are the weights. These sticker albums ("Mum, they're 35p a packet.

There are seven in a packet and 22 in a squad. That'sI.") give the players'

statistics. "Cor, Dad! David James weighs 17kg more than David Beckham."

We girls make feeble jokes about the weight of Wayne Rooney's neck, but wither under the male scorn coming from the telly settlement. They have established a border and our territories have shrunk to the area west of the piano - "Can't you practise in the morning? We can't hear Gary Lineker."

Football is a mixed blessing, as any teacher knows who has tried to keep a space clear in the playground for girls and non-footy boys, but it's also a hugely misunderstood educational resource.

My boys - old and young - are just like other owners' boys. They have a phenomenal ability to learn and sort data. They are also extremely competitive: think of any major boy sports - angling, cricket, darts - they all involve facts and fighting for position on the basis of all those facts. That's what they are doing.

Non-footy boys aren't that different. What are they doing in that tiny corner of the playground between the grit bucket and the bin while the football whisks to and fro behind them? They're swapping Battlehell cards, that's what, learning all the stats on them and trying to be the first to complete the collection. Then - guess what? - they play the game on a board or a computer and knock hell out of their mates.

No wonder boys get frustrated with nicey-nicey primary schools, where the top table is called table number 6, the bottom table number 1 and the swimming teams are chosen on the basis of who should be "given a chance". A chance of what? Total ridicule by the neighbouring school who have been training twice a week since Christmas?

I'd put 'em in teams to learn their times tables; teams to get through the reading lists; and teams to pick up the litter in the playground. They'd be happier and so much easier to handle.

I could go on, but my boys need the computer to get on the Euro 2004 website. Apparently, there's a really good Qamp;A with Nuno Gomes of Portugal.

("You know, Mum. That's the long thin bit down the left of Spain.") They've just annexed another bit of domestic territory. Come on, girls, time we got out more.

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