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!

How to Deal with People Judging You

“I’m not interested in who judges me, God will judge me one day. That’s the only thing I’m interested in. What other people say about me, I couldn’t be less interested in.”

This is what Jurgen Klopp, said recently during a press conference, after being asked what he thought about being judged on how many trophies he may or may not win at Liverpool Football Club.

As you know, I am interested in football and the various lessons we can learn from it.  I have loved watching Liverpool since I was  a young boy. Now I find myself not only enjoying their highly entertaining brand of football but also loving the things that their manager, Jurgen Klopp, says at press conferences.

What I love the most however, is the way he treats his players, staff and the incredibly loyal, passionate fans.

He is famous for his exuberant celebrations, his sprints down the length (and on one occasion across the pitch) in order to embrace his ‘boys’ who play their hearts out for him, week in, week out. I think he acts like a wonderful father towards his players, who looks for any and every opportunity to celebrate what his children have achieved. He alway protects them, even when they make a mistake. He never exposes them or publicly rebukes them, unlike how Jose Mourinho would often do…before he got fired.

He does not deny that he will be judged. He doesn’t deny there is pressure in a high profile position like his. His secret I believe, is he doesn’t let it get to him because that is not where he places his focus.

“For me, it’s no pressure (to win trophies), it’s only opportunity.”

So my question to you as you think about this is: How do you think God (or any other word you may choose to use) will judge you? And then, how can you allow that knowledge to liberate you from the fear of judgement that may and often does come from your fellow human beings?

 

The Southgate Redemption

It was 26th June, 1996, and England were yet again pitted against the Germans in a terribly tense penalty shoot-out. I remember so well – not just because we lost – but also because my eldest son was born about ninety minutes after the final penalty was taken, and we rushed off to the hospital!

Gareth Southgate remembers that night well too, due to the fact that he found himself a member of the worst club in English football history – those who missed their penalty in a major competition and cost England the match.

Ever since he was appointed caretaker and then permanent manager of the England football team, I have taken so much more notice of him than ever before. It comes with the territory; but more than that, with every passing interview accompanying the slow but steady progress of an exceptionally young team, I have watched and listened with increasing respect for this young manager.

He always speaks in mature, measured tones and – during interviews – does not get drawn into answers that will not help anyone.

He doesn’t blame, he doesn’t criticise.

He rarely accepts credit – acknowledging that success is always all about the players… and when defeat comes, then it is his turn.

As manager, he accepts responsibility for the loss.

What I admire most of all about Gareth Southgate is his bold innovation and creativity. He has spoken much, during this World Cup, about the players “writing their own stories” and not being “defined by the past”. On the dreaded prospect of penalties, he has spoken of the players “owning the process” through diligent practise and not simply leaving it to chance on the night.

And so, when England magnificently won the penalty shoot out against Colombia this week, millions of people around the nation – and ex-pats all over the world – will have jumped for joy (or thumped their pouffes like I did!) and been pleasantly surprised by a team of very young players who held their nerve and secured a win.  They – no doubt – also felt extremely pleased and proud of the manager who never got the chance to redeem his own penalty miss personally but has gone one better in bringing  a whole team to victory.

He has instilled in his players a belief that, perhaps, hasn’t truly been there before since 1966. A belief that says…

They can play exciting and intelligent football and win.

They can even win on penalties if they have to – and who knows how far they can go now?

As a leadership lesson, this is priceless I think.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” we were told as children; and this is good, old-fashioned advice.

What is far better, however, is if at first you don’t succeed, help others to succeed with you… and in so doing, there is redemption multiplied.

The Southgate Redemption.