You don’t have to be academically bright to be a footballer which is why so many of them struggle when a microphone is thrust under their nose. They know the game, don’t worry about that. They know what has gone on in a match. But they don’t always have the words to explain it to the rest of us and those who do, often don’t think we would understand anyway.
Keeping things clear and simple is a must for managers and coaches which is one of the reasons the game abounds in sayings and slogans to act as instant reminders.
Perhaps the most famous is one of the simplest: ‘This is Anfield’. Only three words but seen by every player as he goes down the tunnel to play there and proclaiming a powerful message. If you are a Liverpool player it should be a boost – you have been chosen to represent a club whose expectations and standards are high. You are part of a roll call that includes Elisha Scott, Billy Liddell, Kenny Dalglish, Ron Yeats, Ian Rush and many, many more. If you are an opponent, you realise that the next couple of hours are going to test you. It would be hard not to wonder if you are going to be up to it.
It’s easy to mock some of the sayings but they do the job. ‘If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, ‘that which does not kill you, makes you stronger’, ‘the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary’, ‘there is no I in team’. They may all seem a bit trite but they contain a reminder of what is expected.
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Malcolm Allison who, despite his playboy reputation, was a thinker who read widely. He was a master of getting his players to think positively. The famous fedora that he wore as lowly Crystal Palace reached the sem-final of the FA Cup was a deliberate ploy. ‘I needed something to relax them, make them laugh and forget about who they were playing,’ he said.
On another occasion, when I was distracted by some problems, he advised: ‘There are two kinds of worry. You worry about things which you can’t do anything about and you worry about things you can change. If you can’t do anything about it, there is no point in worrying. If you can do something, get on and do it and stop worrying about it.’
When that was met with some scepticism he issued a challenge: ‘Write down for two weeks everything you worry about in a note book alongside the date. Put it away for a month then get it out and read it. I’m willing to bet most of the things you agonised over came to nothing.’ Try it, it works.
It was Malcolm who came out with the slogan that I’ve tried to adopt ever since. Asked why he had got into yet another scrape that had made tabloid headlines, he shrugged and said: ‘Why not? This is the only life I’m going to get. It’s not a rehearsal.’