Sixteen years as a top level pro would be perceived by most as having reached the ultimate goal; the stuff of dreams; real-life Roy of the Rovers.
Not for Paul McVeigh.
Macca, as we now know him thanks to his BBC Radio Norfolk double-act with Rob Butler, used his retirement from top level football as a springboard. An opportunity to explore and achieve all the dreams, ambitions and goals that had been unobtainable while living life in the bubble that is professional football.
Inspired by the psychological techniques that he’d honed over the years, and refined thanks to working closely with his mentor Gavin Drake, Paul has already ticked off several things from his ‘bucket list’. These include running a marathon, jumping out of an aeroplane, cycling from London to Belfast, a bungee jump, keynote speaking, starting a company and writing a book.
The book in question, which has recently been published, is entitled The Stupid Footballer is Dead.
It examines Paul’s footballing journey via the aforementioned thought processing techniques and is spiced with sporting anecdotes throughout – many of them from his time at Carrow Road. Initially aimed at those who aspired to make the grade in the professional game, it gradually morphed into a fascinating guide to the mental side of performance.
While related specifically to football in the book, Macca explains that it can be equally applied to other sports or, in fact, any career or situation. “Once you have ‘trained’ your brain to process in this way it can be used to improve your performance across life in general, whether that be playing football, mountaineering or starting a new job”.
In an interview with MyFootballWriter, Paul explains that within top level sport the psychology aspect is the one area that is yet to fully explored, especially in football. “Data produced by the FA showed that just two professional clubs employ full-time sports psychologists, which is astonishing given the benefits it can provide to a top-level sportsman. All other areas such as nutrition, sports science and data-analysis form a massive part of football these days and have really been exhausted to death. The one area left is the psychology of the mind and while it’s only just hitting the radar I expect, by 2020, this to form an integral part of every club, with full-time professionals employed across the board”.
Macca acknowledges that while he benefitted massively from employing these techniques throughout his career, others in the pro game are less willing to embrace its benefits. “In many cases, lads make it to the top level in spite of their mentality, not because of it. These same players however often find themselves ‘standing still’, with their longevity in the game often compromised because of their unwillingness to develop the mental side of things. Pure talent alone is not enough to succeed”.
In terms of those who influenced him most on the pitch he cites Teddy Sheringham and Gianfranco Zola, both of whom allied a positive mental attitude and an unquenchable desire to improve with their God given natural talent. “Teddy was a legend. I made my league debut for Spurs playing alongside him and as a youngster tried to model my style of play on his. When Zola came to English football, given that he was of a similar stature to me, I then further adapted my style of play to replicate his. I was lucky enough to chat with him one day and he explained that there was no magic formula… it just came down to practise, practise and more practise.”
One of the aforementioned goals that Macca has achieved is to form a company, which he has done in partnership with his mentor, Gavin Drake. ThinkPRO was created by them with a view to use their knowledge of top level sport and sports psychology to improve the performance and success levels of serious amateurs and top level professionals.
The book provides fascinating insights into the mindset of managers that Paul has played under, in particular Nigel Worthington and Paul Lambert – the latter of whom tellingly described his single aim in the game as ‘to win trophies’.
Others who feature are Craig Bellamy, Darren Huckerby, Malky MacKay and Robert Green; all of whom have been on the McVeigh radar for a variety of reasons – some good, some not so good. The story of Malky giving a young McVeigh a ‘rough ride’ in the early days will be of particular interest to the Yellow Army.
All in all the book provides a fascinating and ‘out of the norm’ insight into the mind of a City ‘hall of famer’ and, as well as highlighting the benefits of positive thinking, tells an intriguing story that includes a first-hand view of a troubled Belfast of the mid-eighties.
The Stupid Footballer is Dead is published by Bloomsbury. Signed and personalised copies of the book can be ordered from www.paulmcveigh.co.uk/author
Russell S. says
Respect to Paul McV. but if you’re talented enough, you don’t need a psychologist surely. I don’t think Pele or Bobby Charlton required the services of one did they?
I’m not so sure the stupid footballer is dead – more a case of their agents being more powerful and demanding.
With managers, they do have to employ mind games with players to get the best out of them but they are driven more by a (hate to use the word) ‘philosophy’ rather than psychology.
Gary Gowers says
Russ – And there’s me thinking we’d agreed never to use ‘philosophy’ ever again… 😉
Russell S. says
Gary – I did it through very gritted teeth. ‘Approach’ is more acceptable maybe.
Sporting psychologists? Ok for individual sports maybe (tennis, golf etc) but not for me in football. If you start filling a footballer’s head with psychobabble, it’s a slippery slope. Let them focus on playing their natural game and leave the manager/coach to ‘motivate’ them.
If the PL and 15-20k a week isn’t motivation enough, there is a problem.
Ben K says
Russ, I don’t know if you watched ‘Football’s Suicide Secret’ last week on BBC3, but it had some fascinating insights from former pros who have suffered with depression and covered cases like Gary Speed and Robert Enke, where well established, well known footballers ended up taking their own lives. It dealt with the whole idea that someone doing what every young lad dreams of at some point and being paid a fortune for it ‘can’t be depressed’.
The point is that it’s not as simple as that. Being taken on by a club at eight years old means your way of thinking is moulded, warped you might say, by the club and others from that point on. To be so single minded while growing up is a problem to start with. Then there are all the promises made that might not come to fruition, the rejections in many cases, the stick from fans who aren’t happy, the loneliness at times, the restrictions on your life that the profession brings. The documentary (presented by Clark Carlisle, who’s had his own battles with depression and even tried taking his own life at one point) said it much better than I can. It’s probably still on iPlayer and I would highly recommend it. There’s also Leon McKenzie (remember him?) taking about when he was suffering and he says there was no one to help him, at least not in the professional game. He tried calling the PFA who he says, “didn’t know what to do”.
If these players had had someone at their club they knew they could go to it could’ve helped them enormously. If they had considered the mental/psychological side of the game and profession beforehand they might not have had the problems they struggled with so much.
Russell S. says
Ben – hear what you’re saying. I haven’t read McVeigh’s book but from what Gary said in his piece and what I’ve just seen in an interview with him on Anglia news, he is talking about using psychological/motivational techniques to improve performance to supplement talent. This is very different from using a professional to combat serious mental/depressive tendencies.
People in all areas suffer from those and can get referral from their GP to psychiatrists/therapists and the like. Surely the same applies to professional footballers who have club doctors to turn to for help/referral?
Gary Speed’s case is almost unique in that he had retired from playing and was a successful manager.
Dave B says
What a good psychologist can do is to retune a player as to what it is that they do well, and to get them to see how their skills can be maintained and developed. A good manager will be able to do the same,to some extent, though I imagine that the dynamic would be very different because of having a different agenda.
Assume for example, that there are two equally gifted and physically fit players, one goes on to play for Norwich regularly in the premier league, while the other hits a rocky patch which goes from bad to worse, and he quits . The former has the resilience to bounce back from adversity, whereas the latter, although he may be a brilliant footballer, does not have the skills required to think positively. As a consequence, his game falls apart.
The skills can be taught by a professional and learnt by the player, and for some, probably require almost as much practice as the physical training. This is not the same as offering encouragement, worthy though that might be. The difficulty is that self doubt and lack of self belief, are perceived in the game as weakness. In fact the opposite is true, they are potentially the starting points from where transformation can begin. If the culture in the game changes, more players will come forward and go on to be exceptional.
What a shame the Welsh team didn’t have one, Gary Speed might still be alive. I think Rooney could also benefit. Be interesting to know what Darren Eadie’s view would be. Thanks for the article Gary