A Story of Really Living: Guest Post by Neil Sprackling

A Moment of Really Living I grew up with an undying passion for soccer and in particular my team Crystal Palace FC, the club where I was born and raised in South London. This has everything to do with my father and my obsession seems to have become greater the older I have become.

Fast forward 40 years and I have a son of my own, Julen, born and raised in Australia and now living in the United States. No reason at all that he should either like soccer or be a blossoming Crystal Palace FC fan. Fortunately for me he is both (which might have a sneaky bit to do with me).

As his loyalty with the club increased, I realized I wanted to do something special for him that I never did at his age: be a match day mascot. Now of course when I was 11, being a mascot was not the experience it is today. So on the eve of the 2012/13 season I called the club to inquire about Julen becoming a mascot. I was told that as long as I wasn't looking for a game in the coming months, it would be no problem. So I chose a game towards the end of the season, mindful that I would need to organise a weekend and flights to London for the occasion.

I waited for a special moment at one of our traditional family Sunday evening roast dinners to tell him. I wasn't even sure whether he knew what a mascot was but on sharing the news of our impending weekend, his face said it all as he broke out into a huge beaming smile. I'll never forget the moment.

Fast forward a couple of months to our weekend together in London. I was intent on making it a weekend we'd never forget so on arrival in London, we spent the afternoon at the Natural History museum and then caught a sci-fi movie. The next day we did an open top bus tour of London, visited the Tower of London and finished the day with my brother and best friend at the theatre seeing Beatlemania. We spent so much quality 1:1 time together, just chatting about anything that came to mind.

We saved the best for last of course. On Saturday April 13, we headed to Selhurst Park, South London, home of my beloved Eagles. We got there 3 hours before kick off to be greeted at the players' entrance and taken to the VIP lounge for lunch. Julen changed in to his full Palace gear  and was shepherded away to meet the team in the dressing room (the only part I couldn't join!). He returned beaming from ear to ear, with the white T shirt we had bought (that said "Love Palace, Love Football") signed by all the players and manager.

I had also arranged for my Dad and my brother to join us on the day and they arrived as Julen disappeared back into the dressing room to prepare for the team's pre-match warm up on the pitch. I was allowed to go pitch side to take photos and much to my delight, I was even given permission to stand by the players' tunnel with my video camera as both teams entered the stadium. As Julen came out hand in hand with the club captain, I had tears in my eyes.

IMG_9217-a It was a wonderful game that finished 2-2 and the icing on the cake was that Palace went on to the play off final that year, won the game and got promoted back to the Premier League. The stuff that dreams are made of.

On our last day in London we met up with my Dad and step Mum and they took us on a mini road trip around the area of South London where I was born including the town where my Dad was raised . This was made all the more special by stories from my Dad about growing up in London during World War 2

On our return to the US, I had his signed T shirt framed together with photos from the day and the ticket stub. It was a day that neither of us will ever forget and was truly a "moment of really living".

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