Tag Archives: psychology

Boro Took the Mick, Mowatt Took the Chance, Leeds Took the Points – by Rob Atkinson

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This blog has had plenty to say over the past few months about the Football League and its attitude towards Leeds United. That’s a bone of contention that goes back many years, to the days of the late and, quite frankly, unlamented Alan Hardaker.

The current League v Leeds stand-off surrounds United’s temporarily disbarred owner, Massimo Cellino, for whom the suits appear to have it in, big style. Doubtless, many owners and administrators at other clubs will have had a quiet chuckle to themselves over the Leeds situation, particularly those who, unlike the oft-hounded Cellino, appear to be getting away with murder – or at least rape, grand larceny, money-laundering and making a cushy living from the distribution of porn. It’s usually open season on Leeds, and clearly even those of dubious scruples will feel free to have a giggle, if unobserved.

There’s a certain etiquette to this, however; you don’t publicly laugh and point a mocking finger, lest such an overt show of disrespect should rebound on you, leaving you with egg dripping off your face and looking pretty silly. After all, why antagonise and motivate a foe about to meet you on the field of battle? Why do their rabble-rousing for them? There’s little to be gained in making a joke when there’s a danger of that joke, ultimately, being on you. It’s known as “setting yourself up for a fall”, or as we might say in the Broad Acres, “Beggin’ for thi arse to be kicked”. It’s really not wise and best avoided. Most sensible people realise this and conduct themselves accordingly. Not so, it seems, Middlesbrough FC. They risked looking stupid with their “Fit and Proper” banner, pictured above. And, one smash and grab defeat later, stupid is just what they look – however fit and proper Boro owner Steve Gibson might normally be.

It really is rather difficult to understand the thinking, the strategic logic, behind such a pointless gesture. Alright, this blog has added its own six penn’orth with the text over the picture – but we’re in a position to do that. The battle is over, the winners are celebrating a seasonal haul of six points, the losers are licking their wounds and wondering what the hell happened. Now is the time to gloat and, if the gloating is done by throwing an unwise pre-match taunt back in the crestfallen face of the unwise taunter, then so much the sweeter it is. It’s the state of mind that convinced someone this was a good idea in the first place – that’s the thing baffling me. What’s to be gained? Very little, surely. But you stand to lose much if you psyche-up capable opponents by blowing raspberries before hostilities commence. You might very well lose the match, as well as a lot of face. This is what happened to Middlesbrough, and serve them right. Surely, someone up there in Smogland is regretting that banner right now.

In professional sport, this kind of stuff matters – more than you might think. There’s a fine line between victory and defeat, and every competitor strives for any marginal advantage. It’s by accruing those small gains that you enhance your chances of success. It’s hardly rocket science, but it is Sports Psychology. And line one on page one of that book reads: Do not hand your opponent the initiative by saying or doing something daft to rile them up before the game. That’s the First Commandment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not putting Leeds United’s victory at Boro down to one daft banner. Nevertheless, it could well have been a factor. A player in the United team might have seen it and thought “Cheeky gets!”, before mentally rolling up the sleeves and getting ready to demonstrate the unwisdom of taking the mick. Some of the wiser heads on the Boro side may equally have been having a little groan to themselves and damning the stupidity of whoever had risked winding Leeds up to give them a hard time. Even small factors make a difference.

It wasn’t that good a banner anyway – rather embarrassing if anything. The way it furled gave the impression that somebody had stepped on Mr. Gibson’s face whilst it was still warm, leaving it looking lop-sidedly ridiculous. A banner so large must have had club approval – it just defies belief that they should sanction such a blatant own goal.

On the evidence of the Boro game, I’m still fairly certain that the Smoggies will go up. They’re a seriously good side and – well as Leeds undeniably played – if Signor Silvestri had been in less miraculously-inspired form, we could well have been buried. I’d seen Middlesbrough performing well in Cup games at Man City and Arsenal and, realistically, I worried for us. But things went our way, we battled hard, our keeper looked as if he could show King Canute up and actually hold back the tide – it just went our way; well done us.

How much, if at all, did that banner aid our cause? We’ll never know, clearly. But I do know it’s not the sort of thing I’d like to see at Leeds. We have enough trouble winning games (with due deference to this great recent run) without doing the opposition’s team talk for them. It’s just not a good idea at all.

Silly Boro – really very silly. Many thanks for the six points, though. We’ll miss you next year for that much, I suppose – but not for your strangely daft, weirdly unfunny sense of “humour”.

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Can Olympic Champion Murray Mint Himself a Wimbledon Winner’s Medal at Last?

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Two breathtaking, heart-quaking performances in this week’s Wimbledon quarter and semi-finals have seen British No. 1 Andy Murray through to the Final on Sunday, a progression many foretold from the start of the tournament, and all the more so following the early exit of both Federer and Nadal.  That formidable pair had loomed threateningly at the start of the Wimbledon Fortnight, promising to be Murray’s nemesis as they had each been on far too many previous occasions.  Their obliging co-operation in bowing out before any such calamity could strike has kept alive the dream of so many British tennis aficionados who have been yearning for a lifetime to see a British lad lift that famous trophy aloft.

Up to last year’s Final, Murray had been regarded by many with a sort of grudging respect which rarely if ever amounted to actual affection.  His slight tendency to taciturnity and the odd throwaway remark about his non-support of the England football team apparently did not endear him to many fireside patriots.  In the pubs and front rooms nationwide, as well as on the internet, you’d see many actively hoping for an early exit for our  only hope of ultimate glory.  Whether or not any of this was fair, it changed radically in a few tear-stained moments after Murray’s Final defeat to Roger Federer last summer. Trying manfully to fulfill his after-match obligation to speak to the crowd, Murray choked up with genuine emotion and palpable distress – and the stony old heart of England melted in a trice.  That iconic moment, together with the somewhat more relaxed and natural demeanour Murray displays since his happy partnership with coach Ivan Lendl began, seems to have converted the majority of the nation into supporters of our Andy. My wife, who is usually the best example of any feminine trait you might care to name, typified this sea-change.  She was a committed disciple before Murray’s first handkerchief was properly bedewed with manly tears, a complete volte-face from her position a mere few moments before when she had been relishing the Scot’s impending defeat.  Women, eh?

The thing is though, it’s not just the women.  Many blokes of my acquaintance and further afield – really, quite blokey blokes – now display positive support for Murray, and wish him well.  Apparently a few raw emotions, wrung from a stoic by the agony of defeat, can seduce even the proud male of the species.  I was a fan before, so I can’t really comment on the phenomenon, other than to observe that it has happened, and maybe just in time to stop the nation scowling sulkily at his ultimate triumph.

After last year’s Wimbledon, and the tears, Murray returned to the same venue shortly afterwards and carried off the Olympic Gold Medal, thrashing Federer in straight sets in a Final that he had reached – interestingly – via his only grass court meeting with Djokovic, his opponent on Sunday.  This also was a straight sets triumph.  An omen there, we may hope?  A first Grand Slam triumph followed too, with victory at the US Open where he beat Djokovic in the final. Another omen?  Murray is now very much “our lad” as he heads for his second consecutive Wimbledon Final on Sunday, and the vast majority will wish him success.

Murray can certainly seal himself in the affections of the nation for good this weekend. His demeanour on-court, and in his dealings with the press, still attracts criticism in certain quarters, but those people should remember that tennis is a game played, more than many others, in the head – the mental demands of a war of attrition over the best of five sets are gruelling at the best of times.  Murray will have learned from last year’s experience, and it seems likely that after his slightly less demanding semi-final, as compared to his quarter, or indeed to the epic semi that Djokovic had to weather, he should be in prime nick, both physically and mentally.  He’ll certainly need to be in order to beat the World No 1 again, and he’ll be aware too that in order to create further history, he now simply has to win the crown.  Last year, he wrote himself a page in the annals of British tennis just by reaching the final.  Now it’s time to take that last, decisive step.

Good luck, Andy Murray – we’re almost all right behind you.

Brian McDermott Preparing Leeds United for 46 Cup Finals

ImageHe’s a pretty downy old bird, Brian McDermott. You get the feeling that he doesn’t miss a trick in the business of getting the very best out of the resources at his disposal, and it’s a safe bet that he’ll be bang up to date with any factors that might affect his team’s chances of success. The last time he operated in this league, his Reading FC team recovered from a dodgy start to scorch through the pack and leave the rest of the division breathless in their wake as they clinched the Title.  On the face of it, there’s no reason he can’t do the same at Leeds – as long as he’s fully aware of one vital fact. Everyone raises their game against Leeds United.  We are everyone’s Cup Final.

What this means, in effect, is that – more so than most clubs – our players have to be prepared to face a very stiff challenge almost every week.  When the fixtures come out, fans of every other club in the league dive to examine the list, looking for one game: Leeds at home.  Those fans will leave their club and team in no doubt in the weeks and days leading up to their Cup Final – we must beat Leeds, or die trying.  So many times since we dropped out of the Premier League – and even before that – I’ve seen teams put in gut-busting, lung-bursting performances to pull off a great result against my hapless heroes in White.  So many times I’ve noted that this team’s next game produces a limp and pallid display as they struggle to a draw or defeat.  But, no matter – as long as they did it against Leeds United, their fans and their manager are happy.  We’re the scalp they all want, the potential feather in everyone’s cap.

This is particularly so when you look at the other teams in Yorkshire, for whom – you get the unmistakable impression – beating Leeds really is the be-all and end-all.  Your Huddersfields, your Barnsleys, your Sheffield teams.  Doncaster, even.  All those Hovis and cobblestone outfits.  They all have this chip-on-the-shoulder, urgent NEED to do it against Leeds.  Their fans demand it, motivated by a hatred for which they’re not even sure of the reason – summat to do with what their dad said about the sixties and Don bloody Revie.  But they simply must beat Leeds – do that, and avoid relegation and it’s been a good season.  Look at opposition message boards after Leeds have beaten their favourites.  The grief and bitterness are palpable, it’s something they just can’t cope with. It’s the same for the managers.  Remember the amusing sight of Darren Ferguson on the very edge of tears after defeat at Elland Road?

Brian McDermott, you feel, will be thoroughly aware of this – of the local derby factor, and of the feeling further abroad which inspires the likes of Forest and Derby, Millwall and Leicester to raise their performance levels against us.   If anyone can make this deep-seated hostility work FOR Leeds, you can bet Brian is that man.  He’s building his squad, and he’ll be building an attitude as well, the us-against-them solidarity that served him so well in this league at Reading.  Leeds is a horse of a different colour, of course, but the wily Brian will have it figured out, and he’ll want to use the other lot’s hostility against them.  We supporters will have our part to play too.  The fans just have to make Elland Road a cauldron of hostility again, somewhere that other teams and opposition players hate to play, because they know they’ll be facing 11 motivated and buzzing white shirts and 25000 12th men, screaming abuse at them the whole game through.  That’s how we handled it in 1990 under Wilko, and this guy can get the same thing going, if anyone can.

46 games is a long, long haul – the original football “marathon not a sprint”.  The advantage the other clubs will have is they’ll only face two Cup Finals in the season, maybe a couple more for those with local rivalries.  But for the other clubs, Leeds is The One, so we’re going to have to be up for it – bang up for it – each and every week.  If Brian McDermott can foster that attitude and that fighting spirit, and if we can win enough of those 46 Cup Finals as a result – then maybe, this time next year, we’ll be poised at the gates of the Promised Land.