The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 12 September

Why do many parents turn into bullies at their children’s sporting fixtures? It’s time for some red cards, says Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
With the new school year underway, as a parent I’m dreading the awful behaviour of other mums and dads at Saturday sports fixtures. Last season saw one father actually trying to play the ball in a football match and others making nasty remarks about their child’s teammates as well as getting into arguments with the referee. Can anything be done?
David Stanhope, Canterbury

Dear David,
Excessively interfering parents on the touchline are a problem all over the world. From New Zealand, Australia and America reports of rude, aggressive conduct are rife. Manic ‘support’ for your own child, to the exclusion of all others, leads all too easily to outrageous, open mockery of his or her teammates. At a north London prep school, a mother collapsed at the poolside after rushing up and down shouting at her daughter who wasn’t winning the race. David Beckham got a red card at a children’s football match in Los Angeles for protesting with the referee when a seven-year-old (not his son, at least) was sent o‚ff.

Bare-fanged aggression is not just con„fined to sporting events. At a singing competition in Lewisham, a friend of mine, as she led her daughter from the stage, was greeted by a rival mother pointedly shaking her head and muttering ‘loser’ under her breath.

What’s the matter with these parents? Their behaviour isn’t just antisocial, sel„fish and rude, it’s dysfunctional. Never mind that, in team sports, the idea is to support the whole team and to maintain pleasant camaraderie among supporters on the same side. These fools are actually doing serious harm of another kind that often leads to their children giving up sport as soon as they can.

Young people don’t particularly like being singled out for attention. Insults to their teammates cause particular embarrassment for obvious reasons – that person might be their friend or at least someone they see every day. Instructions bellowed from the sidelines can con‹flict with what the coach has said. Above all, the young person wants independence and clear boundaries. They participate in sport for their own pleasure and satisfaction, not to please their parents. They build up trust and con„fidence in their teachers. Parental involvement, however apparently ‘supportive’ of the child, is most likely to be experienced by the child as confusing interference.

Schools should get involved if there is disorder on the touchlines. This isn’t just a question of etiquette but of the wellbeing of the child. If you are concerned, alert whoever is in authority. In New Zealand, a mother of four sporty o‚ffspring always brings her huge muscular husband along to keep the other parents in order.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Often a gracious host will say, ‘Do go down to the second layer.’ They mean before the top deck is finished. A kind gesture, especially if all that is left is the dusty old hazelnut crunch or some horror with fingernail-like coconut.

My friend Sarah Long, the novelist and expert on French culture, says that in her home the lime barrel is always the unwanted one. I couldn’t believe it. That’s my absolute favourite. To adapt Tolstoy, is it true that all homes have a different, least-favoured choc? But to return to the question of going down to the second layer; we don’t like to, do we? It’s just so terribly wrong, like starting on cake at tea before you’ve had your bread and butter.

Even worse, is, if given the goahead by the owner of the chocs, is to prise one out from below then put the top layer back again. Because, then, when the upper storey is truly finished and removed, someone will have the trauma of discovering that the lower deck has already been raided, as so many pharaohs’ tombs were found to have been in the Valley of the Kings.