SPOILER ALERT: END OF STAR WARS REVEALED IN THIS ARTICLE
Watching confidence drain from a footballer is like watching the Death Star in Star Wars loom into view. That’s what happened to us for a lot of last season.
Confidence was replaced by fear. Fear can control anything. Fear, ultimately, leads to suffering.
“Fear,” said Governor Tarkin in Star Wars, “Will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this Battle Station.”
But not long after he said this, Luke Skywalker came along, and with the help of his new friend Han Solo, blew up the Death Star and scored a hat-trick against Tatooine Rovers. No need to be scared any longer.
Sorry if I’ve just ruined the end of Star Wars for those of you who have never seen it, but football might just be going through the destruction of its own Death Star.
Over the last few seasons, ‘little’ teams (and by little I mean not the perennially dull procession of Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and nouveau riche Manchester City) have reached the finals of our cup competitions; Leicester City have won the Premier League; and now Iceland, with a population that would struggle to fill a hermit’s shed, have given the establishment a run for their money at the European Championships.
What is going on? What has caused this disturbance in the force? And can Newcastle United learn its ways?
Twenty years ago, we nearly defeated Darth Ferguson. And then a month or two later, England nearly defeated Darth Deutschland. But… we didn’t. There are probably loads of reasons why it didn’t quite happen for Newcastle United and England. But one of them seems to have been overcome by Leicester City, Wigan Athletic, and Iceland: holding your nerve in the face of seemingly overwhelmingly dreadful odds. 3,720-1? Pah! Make it 5000-1!
Wednesday at my old job used to be fish and chip day. I remember one conversation about holding your nerve, while I tucked into smokey and chips. One of the lads, a very football-knowledgeable chap called John, reckoned penalties were a lottery. Little me and another lad, who was an age-graded world level swimmer, reckoned differently.
“The nerves of the big day make it something you can’t train for,” was John’s argument. And that of the England camp, it was reported. But this was in 2003, not long after Johnny Wilkinson had made ‘that’ kick in the last seconds of the rugby World Cup, with a quite frankly enormous Australian bloke running at him, about to remove him from the space he occupied. That sounds like something to make you nervous.
Yet that kick changed everything. Clive Woodward had had Johnny Wilkinson training after matches for months, so he knew what it would feel like to hoof the ball when he was knackered; and he did it from all over the pitch, so he knew his angles. T-CUP, it was called: Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.
I’m not a rugby fan, but I see the sense in this. It translates to penalties in football. If you hit the ball hard enough into the corners, especially the top corners, you will most likely score. It’s clearly harder to execute than it sounds, and that’s why the best goal I have ever scored was against an eight year old; but the goalie will need arms like Mr Tickle and the reflexes of a Jedi knight to stop it.
Iceland and Leicester City have used the same plan. If you do this, then this will happen. They are fit, strong, and organised. They have stuck to their plan, and it’s worked. I’m not saying that watching Iceland is like watching football poetry, but they do seem to be Thinking Correctly Under Pressure.
When you’re playing badly, nothing seems to stop your leg going the wrong way. Most relegated teams finish the season feeling relieved that it’s all over, but next season, Newcastle United are not one of those teams.
We ended up with momentum, and Rafa has got his planning hat on. I’ve got a feeling that, organised as he is, Newcastle United will be able to Think Correctly Under Pressure.
This is a manager who won loads of trophies with Liverpool, despite going behind in loads of those finals. Now that’s a winning mentality. This season, Newcastle United are going to be the Death Star for just about everyone. And for the likes of Aston Vile, and Leeds ‘we invented doing a Leeds’ United, there’s a serious bounty on our heads.
I’m not interested in who is the biggest team in the Championship. Just the best. But if we beat the teams who think they are, we’ve got a great chance of being promoted. Our confidence will build. And under Rafa, maybe there’s a better chance of avoiding the complacency that went with the confidence of the past; of T-CUP.
The Newcastle United Star System depends on it.
You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby