5/31/2011 10:42:35 AM
Alex Ferguson, Trojans RFC, and Barcelona: winning the long game
“Football eh? Bloody Hell.”
It’s one of the pithiest and most oft-quoted gems to have
escaped Sir Alex Ferguson’s lips. And I found it escaping my own
the weekend before last as I watched the highlights of “Survival
Sunday”. As a sort of gestalt annual sporting fixture, it lived up
to its billing this year, with so many teams fighting the drop.
Over the course of an hour and a half on a Sunday afternoon in
which the weather seemed as capricious as the fates determining the
survival or doom of the teams battling relegation, the shifts in
fortune of the teams wrestling to stay in our nation’s top flight
of football were tortuous.
With so many teams on dangerously low points, the formulae of
for-and-against, goal difference and googol divided by pi that
designated the protagonists either survivors or losers would have
vouchsafed sweat to the brow of a mathematics professor.
Fans glued to real-time results, in whatever choice of
communications media they favoured, experienced no fewer than
fourteen changes in who would stay up and who sink over 90
At White Hart Lane, where I was, the travelling Birmingham fans
alternately roared and went quiet as the results from the other
matches were broadcast.
It wasn’t until Monday that I learned that meanwhile, over in a
game played by a greater number of men - and with different shaped
balls - our friends at Trojans RFC were celebrating promotion on
the same weekend that three top-flight football clubs bore the
agony of relegation.
Trojans Rugby Club men’s first team were involved in a play-off
against Aylesford on Saturday; a win would seal promotion to the
London 1 South League.
They won it 28 - 14, gaining promotion, and can now look forward
to locking horns with local rivals Portsmouth and Basingstoke.
For me, one of the appeals of sports like football or rugby is
that teams are judged over a season. We all know from Messrs
Hanson, Shearer and Lawrenson that to win the long game you have to
“get a result” - that most vapid of punditry staples - even on the
days when your side is not touched by genius. I’m sure Trojans
would say that same.
What breeds success in a long season, where continual
performance is required - even on your bad days – and can we mere
mortals learn from this and apply those lessons to the daily
I’m pretty sure that all winners would say that hard work and
preparation underlies every win – plus a lot of grit and an ability
to withstand the slings and arrows of misfortune when things aren’t
going to plan. I reckon a hefty dollop of a unified, united vision
is also a part of that successful menu: that all players in the
team know what the team is fighting for, and why, and have a stake
in it; not because they’re told they should feel that they do, but
because they actually do.
Which brings me nicely to our Barcelona team: Not the holy
trinity of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, but those ARM staff whose
performance over the last six months won them three days in “Ciudad
Condal”, as reported in a previous blog.
They all worked consistently hard and they all deserved their
place in the sun. I guess they’re an example of that grit,
determination, united vision and hard work that allows a team to
win the long game. I guess they all must have put into practice the
truism that to win on a long timeframe, you have to pace yourself
and make sure that you do it right on the worst day of your life,
and that takes concentration and effort. Even when genius isn’t
striking, you can still go through the motions that equate to a
good effort and know that the rest will follow.
And speaking of Barcelona, football and genius, did you see the
Champions League final? Football eh? Bloody hell.
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