A Birthday Treat to Treasure

It’s not often that you get to fulfil a boyhood dream with your own two boys.

Last Saturday afternoon, I was able to do just that by standing on the Kop at Anfield, home of Liverpool football club, and watch them win a thoroughly entertaining match.

It wasn’t my very first visit to Anfield. Back in 1995, Liverpool played Ipswich Town in the season that the latter were relegated. Unbelievably, Liverpool lost 1-0. It was very disappointing not to have heard at least one celebratory roar from the home crowd.

This time, I prayed it would be different. This time, I was standing on the Kop. This time, I had my boys with me and a lot had changed for Liverpool as a club since that cold. depressing January day in 1995.

Liverpool must have lost the coin toss before kick-off as they were attacking the Kop end of the stadium for the first half. Everyone knows they always prefer to capitalise on the passionate support of the Kop in the second half – especially if they are losing.

Five minutes before half-time, our dream really came true, when Sadio Mane scored right in front of us, to make it 1-0.

That gave us plenty to talk about during the break. Not that hadn’t talked constantly due to the sheer enormity of the occasion. This was a birthday treat to both Isaiah and David and the culmination of literally years and years of talking about “one day, we will go to Anfield and watch Liverpool play.”

One of my clients, Ali – to whom I will always be grateful – had managed to secure the tickets when they were released in July. Now, here we were, driving for five hours, then sitting in a Liverpool supporters’ pub a few minutes’ walk from the stadium, joining the increasing throngs of devoted supporters, hoping for a seventeenth Premier League win in a row.

Boyhood dreams. Where would we be without them?

I guess most of us have had boyhood dreams. Or girlhood dreams – even though you never hear women describe them like that as such.

The truth is I suspect, most of us have far too many unfulfilled dreams. As Denzel Washington has said on a number of occasions, “Dreams without goals, remain just that…dreams. And dreams tend to disappoint.” You can watch a brief video here of him speaking to some drama students about this crucial life lesson.

Goals of course, are what football is all about. and thankfully, this current Liverpool team are very good at scoring them on a very regular basis.

Leicester City – their opponents last Saturday – managed to score an equaliser just ten minutes before the match was due to end. This was not in the plan.

A draw is better than a loss of course but it is a big disappointment when you want to see your team win.

Liverpool won a penalty and then there was more drama as the relatively new VAR (video assistant referee) technology was checking to see if it really should be a penalty. To our huge collective relief, the penalty decision stood.

The whole of the Kop prayed and released their encouragement as Jame Milner – the oldest as well as fittest player in the squad – stepped up to take the crucial spot-kick.

We all stood, as we had done throughout the entire match. We watched as he ran toward the ball and calmly side-footed it in to the corner of the goal.

Anfield erupted pandemonium ensued on the Kop as everyone jumped up and down.

It’s actually not that easy to keep jumping up and down while you have each arm around the person next to you and they are doing the same on both sides. I thought I was going to crash into the plastic seat behind me as we all cheered, jumped, laughed and smiled.

It was enough to win the match and we were all so relieved.

Isaiah, David and I took our time leaving the ground, trying to take in all that we had witnessed. The fellow supporters on the Kop – young and old alike – this was their domain, their world. There were several people like us – not regulars but made to feel like one – as well as those who you could tell this was what they did every other Saturday afternoon.

It was indeed a birthday treat to treasure and hopefully, repeat in the relatively near future.

We couldn’t resist getting a photo together in front of the man at the centre of Liverpool’s revival – Jurgen Klopp – and here is a tiny clip of his unique form of celebration and thanks in front of the Kop and this time, we were there to enjoy it with him.

What dreams have you still got locked up, waiting to be realised? What’s the plan that could turn your dream into a goal to aim for and eventually become a reality?

If it’s anything like as satisfying as the one I’ve just described, the work involved will definitely be worth it!

Isaiah, my eldest son, made a lovely gesture the night before. He had ordered Liverpool football shirts for all three of us – from the era we each first started watching them on TV. I had not worn one of these since I was about nine years old. It even has a number seven on the back like Kevin Keegan! I never did manage to get a number on the back of my first one, so there’s redemption right there!

Develop and Deploy

Well, I survived. No, it wasn’t anywhere near as physically demanding as last year’s adventure in the highlands of Scotland but it was not easy either. I should have guessed by the slogan on the website ‘Develop and Deploy’. I am fascinated by so many military things but when it comes to actual deployment, I find myself wondering what on earth I was thinking! I had to constantly remind myself, ‘It’s not meant to be easy. No pain, no gain’ and all of that.

James Ray, the hugely likeable, charismatic but also naturally contemplative leader and founder of 4MUK– the organisation that organises these Extreme Character Challenges in the UK called it a “self facilitating journey”.

In other words, this was going to be a classic case of “however much you invest in the process, you will reap a huge personal dividend.”

As with before however, I can in all integrity, only reveal snippets of the experience as one of the primary drivers of all XCC experiences is the element of surprise and how you as the individual deal with that challenge that is suddenly looming in front of you.

I prepared as meticulously as I knew how and was feeling very high levels of excitement and anticipation all the way to Liverpool Street Station. After a couple of cryptic clues to oil the wheels of wonder and intrigue still further, we were finally given a platform number and six minutes to get on the train.

Despite my preparations however, a great deal of this went out of the proverbial window after the first RV point. I can’t exactly tell you why but suffice it to say, when I look back, a lot of life simply does not pan out the way we planned does it?

The question then becomes, ‘What are you going to do about it, and how can you work towards turning it around as a positive?’

As ever, there was a lot of walking but this time, it was mostly warm and sunny – always my preference – in contrast to freezing fog, wind and rain.

There was however, plenty of water involved and surprisingly, I loved every minute of it! Many of you will have hopefully read my blog about what it felt like to complete the Blenheim triathlon and how much pain that put me through. My attitude towards swimming has never been the same since and this held me in good stead over the course of this leadership challenge, put it that way.

Another obstacle that I think I can reveal to you was a herd of steers who didn’t take too kindly to our gang of five ushering them away from the gate we needed to access. Our elder statesman, Geoff (see below) took charge at this point and bravely came through the gate last and survived.

Along the way, we shared stories of our lives and the journey we have been on until this point. In the midst of the struggles and potential sources of stress, this is the ultimate leveller and instigator of true camaraderie, heart to heart intimacy and is always my favourite element of experiences like this.

In our group alone, we had a man who had raised £20,000 for international charities on two different occasions and is now energetically raising money for a defibrillator to be installed outside their local convenience store.

Another guy who survived being blown up in his military truck that landed nose down in the road and lost none of the men under his command. His latest mission is to help rescue 1000 addicts off the streets of Brighton.

Someone else who left their native country because some bad people were potentially coming after his Dad and therefore him also.

I could say more but that would involve revealing things that are not so obviously anonymous.

What I will say is we all went in at the deep end, shared our hearts as well as our hurts, and this always helps the next man to step up and be honest and vulnerable.

Finally, we stood in a circle of five and stepped into a metaphorical but equally, very real arena where we declared our dreams, plans and intentions going forwards and why they mean so much to us. Our small band of brothers then challenged us, forcing the questions that we often refuse to ask ourselves.

‘Why do you want it? How much are you willing to give? Tell us the plan and when you are going to deliver it? Is that realistic? Who else is going to help you?’

With barriers broken down by all that had taken place before, these men were driving each other deeper still, towards the destination that lies inside the heart of every man if he has the courage to confess it and dare to be challenged.

Develop and Deploy‘ is the headline for this experience and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who like me, needs that push to go further and for longer.