Start ‘em Young: How young is too young to take kids to a match?

Leeds United were involved in yet another new debate last week when a mother took her five-week-old baby to a match. Laura Jones looks at the argued risks of taking an infant to a game.

Leeds United; one week it’s a managerial sacking, the next it’s ‘Pietax’ and this week it’s ‘Babygate.’

Local news picked up on the story of a Leeds United fan who took her five-week-old baby to a game and the club wanted to charge her to take him into Elland Road.

Instead of it being a debate about whether Leeds United wanting to charge a five-week-old baby for a ticket to attend the match, it became a debate about whether the baby should have been at the game in the first place.

Now, I have to hold my hand up and claim a vested interest in this debate because I have known the mother in question for years, I’ve even danced at her wedding. But having a young baby of my own I wanted to debate the question, how young is too young to start taking your children to the game?

I asked the mum, who at this point was being labelled an “irresponsible parent”, why she took baby Ollie to the match. She told me that she wanted to go to the game and as she was breastfeeding and had been advised not to express milk before six weeks, if she wanted to go to the game then Ollie needed to go with her.

People waded in to say it was “unsafe” for a newborn to be in a crowd of that size, that he would be exposed to the winter weather for a few hours unnecessarily and that the noise would be too much for a baby that young, all valid points on protecting a baby.

As always on social media it got more vitriolic than that where other people, notably women, saying the mother was “stupid” for doing it and that when you have a baby, “sacrifices” have to be made.

Ollie’s mum told me “He was well dressed, he was not remotely bothered by the noise and slept through the game, and because we’ve been in the same seats for a number of years and know those around us, I didn’t feel that safety in the stands would be an issue.”

Playing devil’s advocate, if our hobby was shopping on say Oxford Street, exposing our children to the elements, jostling with thousands of people and the ear shrieking noise of humans and traffic; not to mention bloody great buses avoiding people in the street, would anyone bat an eyelid or is it just because football has a reputation?

This is a question of choice, if the sporting establishment allows children this age of course. Leeds United later responded that they wouldn’t recommend bringing a baby to Elland Road but neither did they recommend their family enclosure which is designed to encourage children into the ground. If the mother or father is confident that the risks involved can be mitigated, is there any harm in spending family time together at a football match?

Personally I wouldn’t take my own baby yet because a) he’s bottle fed and the paraphernalia that comes along with that requires a truck and b) I’m not sure I could wrestle him out of his grandmother’s arms to get him down to Hillsborough, but if I did decide to take him I know that he would be safe with me and the people around him. The safety aspect was probably just as high when I was heavily pregnant and I still climbed up and down steep stairs of the stand, with crowds of people all around me. It was a calculated risk I was willing to take to enjoy my leisure time.

When I asked my friend whether she would be taking Ollie again, she just laughed and said “Perhaps, depends if I have to pay for him!” In my opinion the only reason to call social services at this point would be that she’s bringing him up as a Leeds United fan.

Read more from Laura Jones here

Follow Laura at @YICETOR

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