There’ll be a well-deserved Father’s Day in store for Nigel James on Sunday.
As dad of England youngsters Reece and Lauren, who play for Chelsea and Manchester United respectively, it’s fair to say he’s put the miles in supporting them during their formative years over the last decade or so.
While Lauren, 18, is making the journey back to the family home in Mortlake to spend the weekend with Nigel, the current lockdown means they’ll have to watch Reece in action on television when Chelsea face Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.
And that will be a rare missed game for Nigel, who tries to make sure he sees every match that both Lauren and Reece play in.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” admitted Nigel, whose eldest son Josh also played to a high standard as a youngster, leaving a real juggling act for him and wife Emma as the football-mad trio were growing up.
“I’ve lost count of the games, but Josh was playing for Fulham’s development squad at U9 level and Reece started playing from U6, when he got picked up by Chelsea.
“When he was seven, he was also training with Fulham’s U9 squad with Josh for a whole year which was unheard of really, as playing two years up was a big thing at the time.
“There was three sessions a week, as Reece would also attend the Chelsea U7s development team and then he played with his grassroots side, KPR, on a Sunday.
“So there was basically a game every Saturday or Sunday and then when he signed for Chelsea’s academy and Josh went on to play for Reading, there was a game every week for them both.
“As a family we juggled the two, so I’d go one week with one of them and my wife would go with the other.
“It was the same for training. On a Tuesday, I would go to Cobham and Chelsea with Reece and my wife would go to Reading with Josh and on a Thursday, we’d switch over.
“On a Saturday and Sunday, we’d do the same with the games but I’d go to whichever was the toughest journey out of the two.
“Then when Lauren started playing, it got quite difficult, so it’s fair to say we’ve covered a lot of training and games between the two of us.”
And that commitment has paid off, with Reece breaking through to Chelsea’s first-team squad this term after an impressive spell with Wigan Athletic last year and Lauren starting her career with Arsenal before moving north to sign for Manchester United in 2018.
Both players have been regulars with England throughout the development teams too, meaning Nigel’s road and air miles have continued to climb.
“When Reece went to Wigan and Lauren was in Manchester, I think I only missed one game each,” added Nigel, who is also a qualified coach who runs his own youth academy in south-west London.
“I got to know the M40 and M6 very well, it was challenging at times, but an enjoyable challenge and enjoyable journeys as you can imagine.
“I don’t think I missed any games this season before the lockdown and then you’ve got the England matches too, most of which I’ve managed to get to.
“It’s been the same for Lauren, I try to keep it consistent and fair and you want to make them both feel like there isn’t a preference for the other and thankfully the fixtures have worked out well for me.
“And Josh now helps me with doing the coaching, we cover a couple of schools in the Richmond Borough doing PE and after-school clubs so we’re all looking forward to getting back into that.”