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Football Club Custody

In light of the recent furor over the “Super League” and my own crusade to spread the fandom of my favorite team, Peterborough United, I thought it was worth taking the time to characterize my view of American interest in English clubs. It may not be 100% accurate nor complete in its description but it may be helpful. In order to make my points, a little imagination is needed. Rather than a club being an organization with a team, fanbase, a business structure and a history; I’d like to characterize a club as a child that can never grow up.

Due to the fact that this child is never going to grow up, someone needs to be put in charge of the child. The creators of the club were truly its “parents” but as those people passed away or moved onto other endeavors, someone new needed to “adopt” the club. For the longest time, these new adoptive parents did so out of genuine love for the club. Like any parent, the economics of care meant that at best they were going to break even. Then football became a business and many people with means saw it as an opportunity to get into the game. Some adopted a club with love for the sport or the club. Others recognized the ability to profit from the sheer number of people who love this “child.” It is a difficult balance to strike. Parents with pure love may not have the means to keep the child alive while people with money may not love the child.

On the periphery of the parent-child relationship are all of the other invested parties: siblings, uncles/aunts, cousins, friends that feel like family. Fans fall into one of these groups depending on their involvement. Like any familial structure, there are people who are more involved in a child’s life or less. A fan who has been raised with the club may have the affection of a sibling for it. It’s easy to squabble over the intricacies of fan legitimacy but I’m not sure that it serves much purpose.

For my part, I’d characterize myself and most American fans as distant cousins. You don’t see us very often but we’re out there in the ether. The upside to having a large “extended family” is that there are extra resources coming in from afar to care for the club. Generally the inconveniences of having this extended family are small. A few events may be moved up or back based on a desire for “everyone to be there.” Regardless, most of us distant cousins gain a great affinity for the club. We watch, we visit, we like to stay involved. Some of us despite our distance, eventually begin to truly “love” the club. Perhaps not the same love that someone who is there day in and day out might love it. However it is love nonetheless.

Therein lies the problem with the Super League and many of the owners who get into football, whether American or not. The key to this entire equation is that love should be a major component to the acquisition of a club. Because there are so many people who love this entity like a child, to treat it like a resource to exploit for profit is contrary to its entire existence. It is completely acceptable for an owner to profit from a club. Businessmen almost never intend to lose money. However if the profit was their only intention, then that eventually hurts the entire family because no one wants their child to be exploited.

My personal crusade is to add more distant cousins to the POSH family. This is an opportunity for me to give back while paying it forward. I’ve enjoyed my time as a Peterborough United fan immensely! It is part of me at this point. The promotion to the Championship puts the club on a more visible platform. My hope is that 10,000 brothers and sisters show up each week in the stadium but 10,000 more distant cousins wouldn’t hurt. So I’m searching for people who are looking to love a club. There are no quick rewards here. It’s not the glamorous pick. The past eight years have been spent in a league that most Americans don’t know exists. Buckle up because it is a bumpy ride!

If you want an instant self-esteem boost from supporting a Champion’s League team, then support Man United. However you need to recognize that the adopted parent of the child that you care so much about doesn’t love it or the extended family. The only interest in keeping the golden goose alive is to walk away with as many eggs as possible. No doubt it is possible to love the club and hate the ownership but when everyone is aligned it feels different. Tears of joy from ownership upon promotion says nothing about return on investment and everything about commitment.

Up the POSH!

Pete

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Inflation of the Moment: POSH on the Cusp

With three matches remaining, the POSH are on the cusp of returning to the Championship. Three points is all that it will take to push them beyond the reach of Lincoln and Sunderland. Everyone can feel the excitement of possibility. Despite the desire to achieve promotion on Tuesday night, the players cannot go into the match trying to do that. Winning promotion will be a byproduct of their actions, not something they can force. It will be a sum total of quality actions leading up to and during the ninety minutes of the match. Keeping one’s nerve is much more difficult when the moment is inflated into something that it isn’t.

Aaron Mclean (jumping) congratulates Craig Mackail-Smith after he scored the winning goal for Peterborough during the FA Cup First Round game between AFC Hornchurch and Peterborough United at Bridge Avenue on Sun Nov 9, 2008

Anticipating the key moment to a match or someone’s life is almost impossible. So it is really not worth doing. Putting the extra pressure of anticipation or anxiety is not usually a recipe for success. A moment is just that, a moment. Its meaning will come clear to us after the fact. Most of our performance in life comes down to things that we’ve done hundreds, thousands or possibly millions of times. Freeing one’s self from the weight of expectation comes down to the knowledge that when given an opportunity, you won’t run from it. You will give the moment the attention that it deserves, no more, no less. Consistency is key.

The reason that the POSH are in this position is that they have consistently strung together enough moments to earn this opportunity. They do not need to be better than who they have been all season long. They simply need to be who they have been consistently without the weight of expectation. No one needs to score a hat-trick, a bicycle kick or a goal from a half field. A deflected ball off of any player’s butt will do.

So the key to winning promotion is simply winning the moments. Focusing on the things that are actually within one’s control: playing a ball to feet, being first to the ball, seeing the goal rather than the keeper, and getting back to neutral if anything goes awry. Winning the majority of the moments gives us the best chance and afterward, we’ll all be able to see which ones were the biggest. Those 7 minutes only become famous because the moment wasn’t bigger than the men.

Up the POSH!

Blogpost, posh, SoccerLifeBalance

The Relegation Battle

During one of my first few seasons supporting Peterborough United, they faced a relegation battle. I was riveted! Even though I had no way to watch the matches, I followed the results intently. When I went on a skiing trip where I would have no internet access, I had my brother text me the score of the match that day. The saga ended with the POSH playing in League 2 for a few seasons but I could not help being engrossed with the situation.

At the moment, POSH are on a push toward promotion and I am equally (but differently) riveted. Success breeds an entirely different set of emotions than possible failure. Fear is an emotion that is hardwired within us, our fear response is almost literally set up to “short circuit” our brain’s higher functions in order to deal with a threat. Whether it is a real mortal threat or simply a perceived situation of importance, our brains don’t know the difference.

The Peterborough United squad and management celebrate winning promotion as captain Grant McCann lifts the Play-Off Final winners trophy

Most of the time, we don’t live in a relegation battle nor a promotion push. Our existence is usually a collection of “mid-table” events. Life tends to find some form of equilibrium where this year tends to look a lot like the last and the one before. It can be comforting or frustrating depending on your perspective. I am a firm proponent of being grateful for all that you have but aspiration is not a sin. Being grateful simply gives you a firm foundation to start from.

So if you have been living a mid table life, then perhaps it is time to put yourself into a relegation battle. Not by allowing yourself to hit rock bottom but by raising your standards. Move the line of your “bare minimum” up. Expect a little more from life but recognize that this will most likely require more output from you. A mid table life does not create the emotions that we want to feel on a regular basis. While a life of fear is not something that I would suggest, the emotional tools that you have at your fingertips should be used for your own progress. If you push that line of minimum standards high enough, then promotion is on the horizon. Next year you’ll be playing and a different league and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

Go for it today!

Pete

Blogpost, posh, SoccerLifeBalance

Fanmnesia

In the 1980’s, one of my favorite shows was “The Dukes of Hazzard.” A show about two cousins and their jumping car. Despite the fact that the overall plot was mildly ridiculous, it was an enjoyable watch. One of the more memorable episodes dealt with Bo Duke having amnesia. The villain of the show, Boss Hogg, takes advantage of the situation and convinces Bo that he is Boss Hogg’s son. In the end, Bo’s cousins are able to save him from the trouble that Boss Hogg has conjured up for him. The crazy thing is that amnesia episodes were relatively common in the 80’s. I actually thought it would be a much bigger part of my life than it has been but it seems to be coming around again.

Although it is not full on amnesia, it is a close cousin (haha) “fanmnesia.” This is a complete loss of a fan’s memory regarding past performances of their team or individuals. It’s not exceedingly dangerous to the fan. However it seems to be contagious. Players also seem to be more likely to forget their own abilities. It may be transmitted through the internet and specifically social media. I’m obviously being ridiculous but so is the situation.

Athletes (even top level professionals) have poor performances, great performances and anything in between. A player who has been in a slump of form can rebound. Others who have been performing well can have an off game. They are all people who are variables within a larger equation. Teams win, lose or tie based on the combination of these individual variables into a collective. Each player has a floor and a ceiling. Their ability to access their personal ceiling consistently is often the difference between the players who “make it” and those who don’t. The key for the players is to remember and forget.

Players need to be able to gain confidence from success while learning from failure. One of John C. Maxwell’s books has the perfect title for this situation, “Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.” Often that process is short-circuited by the ego. Maintaining objectivity is difficult for everyone. Fans can get away with having “fanmnesia” but players need to believe in themselves. They need to believe in their ability to reach the ceiling or even raise it. That belief can’t be a variable. It needs to be as constant as possible. As the manager and the fans forget their past successes, it’s their job to remember. Remember who they are and their value on the field. It’s a difficult equation but it’s made more difficult if a player get “fanmnesia.”

Another word for a fan is a supporter, more than anything that’s what those who aren’t playing need to be. It just makes more sense. These players are wearing our colors. We should want them to do well. We’re part of that equation that helps them to reach and break through their ceiling.

Up the POSH!

Pete

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Fear, Form and Fate – POSH Path Forward

My own anxiety is up a little having just listened to the Yellow Block Podcast. Matthew Kisby is being positive again and it’s a little scary. Although I must admit, he tempered his positivity with the word “chance” when he referred to POSH winning the league this time. Despite the nine points in three matches, it’s not time to get carried away yet. Tim mentioned that the Ipswich game was a “chess match.” Increasingly, that is what the matches are going to become. Strategy and the mental game will dominate the considerations for upcoming matches. One of the other similarities is what my father used to call “playing the other side of the board” in chess. Looking at the options of your opponent in order to determine the moves that they might make. Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury offer the potential of acting as a banana peel but with the right mentality could be easily sorted.

FEAR – That is the emotion that teams like Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury will have when facing POSH due to our offensive weapons. A heavy defeat is catastrophic to their hopes of avoiding the drop. A draw is a great result, especially for Bristol Rovers, who have lost three in a row. Fueled by fear, their options are: bunker down to withstand the POSH attack while hoping for a counter or press to keep POSH away from their goal. Since Shrewsbury have had positive results against teams near the top of the league recently, I would anticipate that they’ll play and look to impose their will on the game. Bristol will more than likely park the team bus in front of their goal.

FORM – Most of the players within the team have been in good form recently. This would suggest almost no changes to the lineup. While this would be the Kisby route, I’m going in the opposite direction due to the order of the games. Since the Bristol match is going to require breaking down a team that are going to be reluctant to give anything away, I would look for some changes in this match. With the five subs, there are too ways to go about this. The first is start the normal lineup and replace at half if we have the lead. The other is to give other players the chance to prove themselves from the beginning. My personal preference would be to rotate the squad for the Bristol Rovers match in order to give a boost to those fringe players while resting the normal starters. SQUAD is my buzz word for the POSH this season. Our form will only last as long as the legs of the players do. This is a balancing act to be sure. Eisa, Jones, Clarke, Broom, et al need a chance to prove their worth. The opportunity to break down a team that is probably going to bunker in their own end might be the right assignment. Shrewsbury represent a much greater threat to a tired POSH team than a fresh one.

FATE – In classical literature, people (like Oedipus) who try to avoid their fate end up falling directly into it. The opposite is usually true here in the real world. People who believe too strongly in the certainty of their objectives tend to falter. That is not calling for pessimism or fatalism. Quite the opposite. It is a call for pragmatism. All of the stars have aligned through the owners’ recruitment, a packed schedule, a strong SQUAD, and an unimpressive league. The path is written in the stars. However just like Morpheus told Neo in the Matrix, “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” The belief that thing will just fall into place is fool-hearty. Yet the opposite end of the spectrum is also fraught with danger because forcing it to happen breeds tension and anxiety. Do that which is necessary and BELIEVE. Other teams should fear us as we are hitting that same type of stride from last season before the lockdown. They are not going to rollover and die though. There is “NO FATE but what we make” (Name that movie quote in the comments). So every day in training and all match days, it is on the SQUAD to show up and do their part. It’s only fate after the fact!

My friends at the Yellow Block are right to be optimistic but we need to keep it in check. I give Matt Kisby a hard time but I actually enjoy listening to him. As an almost pure optimist, I enjoy hearing about the other side of the coin. So I get worried when pessimists start seeing things as rosy. It usually precedes a correction to the balance of the universe. So let’s keep everything in perspective. One game at a time, we can climb the table and leave everyone else behind.

It takes a full squad!

HERO UP SQUADDIES!

Pete

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POSH Take Home Form on the Road

London Road has largely been a “fortress” since the return of Darren Ferguson. This is not particularly surprising considering his successful teams tend to lean heavily on their home form. This season is different than any other that these players or this manager have ever encountered. So, it may be the perfect time to buck the trend of away fixture results being in question. It’s time to take the home form “on the road.”

The home team advantage in normal seasons is far more pronounced. Crowd noise and atmosphere tend to be the major contributors to “unnerving” players on away days. Long bus (coach) trips and unfamiliar surroundings are a few of the other factors that add to the worries of the visiting team. The comfort of home is usually a combination of variables despite the fact that the crowd tends to get the focus. Parking, changing room, food, etc. can all influence the comfort level of players at home and cause worry in those away. Most of these subtle changes in the lead up to the game should be relatively inconsequential. However, they tend to stack up and cause anxiety that doesn’t exist when in familiar surroundings.

So far this season, Ferguson has done well with switching the mentality of the players in necessary ways. The first half lull has been replaced with energy and intent. The balance of certainty vs. uncertainty about places in the team also seems to have been sorted. The next hurdle is the away fixture mentality. London Road is a “fortress” and that is spectacular. The advantage is obviously not the crowd or the pitch. It is the mentality that the players bring to that empty stadium with a dodgy pitch (for the moment). Their comfort levels are higher at home that difference doesn’t need to be so pronounced. I’d love to follow the team around for a few matches in order to do a study on the differences in approach to away days. However without that ability, here’s a few simple ideas. Remember there are two things you should never worry about: things that you can control and things you can’t. Things that you can control shouldn’t get your worry/anxiety because you can control them, do something about it. While the things that you can’t control shouldn’t be worried about because you can’t control them. It’s wasted energy.

The players need to “compress the penalty area” which is my personal way of saying reduce anxiety. There are plenty of ways to do this but regarding an away fixture here are a few suggestions.

  • Cold shower! – Now I am a huge proponent of cold showers in general. It’s a part of my daily routine and many people think that’s crazy. However it has a grounding effect that I can’t fully explain. I’ve been taking 45 second – 2 minute cold shower (after hot for cleaning) for about 2 years now. It works almost like a physical mental reset button. For someone who doesn’t do this regularly, it could be a priming mechanism to add to a pregame ritual. It will engage the “fight, flight or freeze (haha)” instinct. Being able to stay calm through that experience trains the body to go to that state less readily. Anxiety is a state of being. Some people train themselves to get to that state easily. Others train their way out. (physiology)
  • The Island – The game is played between the lines, not in the stands. Think of the field as an island. At the moment, there are no fans to contend with. So the building that surrounds the pitch should not matter much at all. The pitch itself is a factor but even our own is in shambles at the moment. Our players have the ability to move past that issue. Now is the time to develop an absolute focus on only the things that happen on “The Island.” By developing that island based focus, it removes the crowd and the opposing manager as obstacles. They do not need to matter if you don’t let them. It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words. The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.” While I am not a Buddhist, there is wisdom to be taken here. The opposing crowd is going to dislike you based on your jersey. Don’t allow their expected vitriol to become a burden that you carry. If it feeds you, great! Use it! If not, leave it. You’ve tuned out your teacher, father, mother, girlfriend, etc. before. It just takes practice and an indifference toward the message. (focus)
I had this hanging on my wall as a teen with the caption “The definition of hell” under it. However it’s a good representation of a game on an island.
  • Phone a Friend! – The voice of the manager may not always be a supportive one and sometimes the worst voice to hear is your own inside of your head. It’s probably not possible nor practical to phone someone during the pregame or the game itself. However it is possible to have that message prerecorded on your phone or available inside your head. Choose the voice of someone who supports and believes in you almost unconditionally. Have their words of encouragement playing in your ear before the game or during. There is a reason why knights would “dedicate” their battles to ladies. Fighting for something more than ourselves adds another level of importance to the moment. (Internal Dialogue)

These are far from the only options for changing away form. The match does not start at the first whistle, nor is it only played in the stadium. A variety of forces contribute to the result of each match. The key is to take control of as many of those forces as possible. Flip obstacles upside down and use them as stepping stones in order to climb to higher heights. The same humans are playing regardless of the geographical location. Don’t let something that should be incidental stand between you and that which you want most. No one can take away your ability to play at your best without your consent. Don’t stand in your own way and don’t let anyone else either!

Up the POSH!

Pete

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Uninspired POSH Need Last Piece of Ferguson Puzzle

For almost two decades, I’ve been supporting Peterborough United from afar. Despite the inconvenience of supporting a team that I rarely get to watch, I’m comforted by the fact that I know what to expect from POSH. Our chairman (or el presidente) will be on Twitter or his podcast speaking his mind about POSH or anything else. Barry Fry will be working the deals, although much quieter than in the past. Finally whenever Darren Ferguson is our manager, we’ll be close to promotion.

With the disappointment of last season fresh in POSH fans minds, the recognition that we need to amass as many points as soon as possible is plain for all to see. With the backing of the owners and other fortunate circumstances, most of the pieces are in place for us to withstand this marathon of a season near the automatic promotion places. The squad is made up of players who can replace one another with minimal dips in ability. Therefore the tight schedule will affect us less than other squads. The lack of crowds at the moment works slightly to our favor because our away form is usually a factor in keeping us from promotion. By the time that crowds are allowed back, our position in the league and the novelty of being at games bring great support to home matches rather than a fickle POSH crowd. Ferguson’s calculated approach will continue to produce consistent results that will have us in the playoff or automatic places as the season comes to a close. Despite the unique circumstances, this sounds like a pretty typical season under Darren Ferguson. Selfishly though, I’m looking for more.

As I’ve stated prior, I am a huge Ferguson supporter. He has been the manager for a good portion of my time as a POSH fan and enjoy watching his teams play and the way that he conducts himself. However it seems that he is missing one piece from his managerial arsenal. Based on my observation, POSH teams tend to start games slow and only “turn it on” in the second half. There could be many reasons for this but as a person who believes heavily in the emotional side of the game, I think it is due to a lack of emotional priming.

Most of my coaching career has been spent at the high school and college where the tactics and techniques are important but usually in close matches, the emotional side of the game wins. The professional level definitely requires a more steady approach to the management of players’ emotions. However that does not mean that it is not important. As the son of Sir Alex, I’m sure that the halftime resurgence of POSH teams is partially due to a few “hairdryer” treatments. While this has its place, training players on how to manage themselves and especially to “prime” themselves for a peak emotional state at game time is crucial.

This is the last piece to Ferguson’s puzzle. His tactical awareness and man management on a longitudinal basis seem to be spot on. The place where POSH fizzle at times is their ability to start the game on the emotional front foot. A combination of confidence and desire to do what it necessary. The difference between last season’s team that looked like a juggernaut going into the late part of the season and this season is the lack of an emotional focal point. Ivan Toney (the only thing I’ll give Steve Evans credit for getting right) allowed the players around him to play with confidence and joy because he was going to give them a chance to win regardless of how they played. None of the players at the moment has that power. So it needs to be taught to all of them. The POSH team of this year will only dominate this league if each and every player comes to the field with his best mindset available. Expecting 25+ goals out of Clarke-Harris, Dembele or Eisa seems unlikely. So the squad must do it and cannot continually take the first half at half capacity.

Developing a system of emotional priming is not outside of Ferguson’s skillset, he did it beautifully leading into the promotion push from years ago using the video with the Adele song. However this work needs to be done a much more individualized basis. This work cannot be done to the players, it must be done with the players. Dan Abrahams, who has worked with several teams and individual athletes, has players create a persona to bring out their best attributes at the crucial moments. His work is not the only possibility for priming athletes but having heard him speak a few times, I’m a fan of his work.

So the question is not whether or not POSH have it in them to win this league, they do. The question is whether or not they can consistently demand more from themselves physically, mentally and emotionally than their opponents. The difference between this and any other POSH year may come down to the players being trained on how to turn on their own fire without the “hairdryer”.

Up the POSH!

Pete