Good grief, is it time for the ‘looking forward to the new season’ column already?
Next thing you know, it’ll be trick or treat, Auld Lang Syne, Easter eggs and looking forward to the 2015/16 season. But perhaps I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
As ever, it’s good to be making a fresh start. Even in a World Cup year, it feels like we’ve been rebooted through the standard method of being switched off and on again.
Our thoughts are only for the future, and the new fixture list on the fridge door has the inviting look of a ladder waiting to be stepped on. (Except that the fixtures run downwards, and that’s obviously not the direction we want to be heading in…)
I suspect that one of the reasons supporters enjoy this period of anticipation so much is that it’s a break from the way we usually think about the game.
I have a theory – a loose theory based solely on supposition and generalisation, admittedly – that fans and players have a different relationship with the past.
Fans provide the continuity at a club. We were here before the current players and we’ll be here long afterwards. We are the ongoing narrative, and spend as much time (if not more) looking backwards as forwards. We make the connections between events, we see the repeating patterns, we appreciate the full context.
We continually compare and contrast with reference to the past. For example, when Alex Tettey scored his fabulous volley against Sunderland last season, the mind immediately went back to Youssef Safri… to Jeremy Goss… to Robert Fleck. And when Sunderland went on to put together an unlikely run of results to escape relegation and send us down, it was impossible not to recall Coventry doing the same in 1985.
Of course, you can take this too far and spend all your time looking backwards. You might call your fan site Those Were The Days and constantly hark back to the glory days under the leadership of Robbie Robson. (Well, this individual thinks he was called Robbie, though it’s true he’s not the most reliable witness.)
But overall, the supporter’s mindset can be expressed by the words of Bob Marley in Buffalo Soldier: “If you know your history, then you would know where you’re coming from”.
In this context, looking only forwards as we do at the start of each season represents a break from our usual approach.
By contrast, the mindset of the players seems to be closer to the advice of Don Henley in The Boys of Summer: “A little voice inside my head said, ‘Don’t look back, you can never look back’”.
That is to say, the past is often something that needs to be shut out. Or at least, particular aspects of the past which may have an injurious effect on performance need to be blocked from the mind.
Yes, you can make a case for past failures spurring you on to redeem yourself, and it’s true that past successes can inspire confidence.
But to be a successful player or manager, you have to have that ability to focus on what lies ahead without dwelling on events in the past which may distract you or hold you back.
This can apply to both the recent and the more distant past. If you make a bad mistake in a game, you have to be able to dismiss it quickly and move on. And if there’s a negative vibe around a fixture because of past encounters, you have to ignore that and play the game on its own terms.
(Easier said than done, of course. I suspect that one of the reasons ‘bogey teams’ exist, even with complete changes of personnel over the years, is that the players are continually reminded of their club’s poor record against particular opponents and this gets into their heads.)
This is why players and managers are always saying that the next game is the most important one; it’s a determined effort to look forwards rather than back. Again, it’s possible to take things too far – a notable example being when Jose Mourinho declined to join in with the celebrations after Porto won the Champions League in 2004 since he was already looking ahead to his move to Chelsea – but it’s vital to be in possession of a pair of blinkers.
I don’t possess them, which is yet another item to be added to the list of things which held me back from being a decent player. (Items 1 and 2 naturally being my right foot and my left foot…) Any mistake on the pitch would preoccupy me for the rest of the match, and particularly bad ones would leave a dark cloud of self-recrimination and regret hanging over my head for a week afterwards.
This was a useful trait at school, where I’d be consumed by any mistakes I made in tests and exams and would be determined never to repeat them. But in sport, it can be horribly destructive.
For this reason, it’s crucial that the City players shut out what happened last season. The new and returning members of the squad will help in this respect, but the players who were here during the last campaign have to be able to move on mentally.
Declan Rudd’s comments a couple of weeks ago were encouraging: “We had a big meeting with the gaffer and the staff and we have put that to one side. We have other things to concentrate on now. It’s gone, we can’t change it. It’s all about what we do in the future”.
However, Elliott Bennett still seems to be glancing in the rear-view mirror in the away kit launch video: “We know how disappointing last season was… we owe them [the fans] a lot after last season’s disappointment.”
Perhaps I’m reading too much into his words, but we can’t afford any looking back at all. Playing with a hangover may be common in Sunday morning football, but you can’t get away with it in the Championship.
Eyes front, men. And prepare to attack.