When I started to write for the Rust I was attracted by the fact that supporters as much as sportswriters contributed. Over the years I have found and used a cadre of loyal fans who know as much if not more than those that have played the game. After the Brighton victory I had a long chat with Ivan Conway. Naturally Ivan was delighted with his team and could not be more praise worthy of Chris Hughton. Nonetheless he was concerned that inferior goal difference would result in a play-off position and as with the last two occasions the Seagulls were in the play-offs they would miss out. As it happened I called a good friend of mine who had a distinguished football and now media career. We have the type of friendship where we can genuinely agree to differ. We work up a fair head of steam over an issue, normally a football or political one, but however heated we part as friends, indeed stronger ones for the underlying bond is so strong.
I passed on Ivan’s fears and observed that Brighton should ‘go for it’ at Charlton this Saturday. The Addicks, already relegated, are in disarray and more supporter protest is anticipated. If Brighton win 3-0 Burnley ‘s 4 goal superiority could be overhauled. I was met with the response that having not played the game at pro level I could not appreciate the first duty was to win however narrowly. I disagreed with both propositions. The notion that only those who have played the game can comment is unsustainable. A speedy poll of the most successful managers over the past 10 years reveal that only Pep Gardiola and Carlo Ancalotti played at the very highest level. Arsene Wenger, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho all had modest playing careers. This year is the 50th anniversary of the most successful international side England ever produced but only one Jack Charlton had a successful career in managment. Managers like Mark Warburton of Glasgow Rangers had stellar careers in the city and another good friend of mine was and is a successful property investor even whilst managing Crystal Palace. Gary Neville was widely praised as an analyst but as manager he could not hack it. Conversely the apex of Roy Hodgson’s playing career was semi-professional at Maidstone.
The evidence is overwhelming that you don’t have to play the game to comment on it meaningfully. Bob Tickler is not a sports enthusiast but knows about business. I asked him for a corporate example of my theory. He referred to Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive at Easyjet. Founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou has a personality not dissimilar to a Premier League Chairman and would rightly demand success. Carolyn McCall’s background was not aviation but media with The Guardian. Yet the business model she has created at Easyjet is the envy of airlines run by hardened and seasoned operators.