I spent Sunday morning in bed with Stanley Matthews and his autobiography The Way It Was. If ever there was a pioneer for positive mental attitude it was he. What a man. Stan the Man. Beloved Wizard of Dribble who saw his failings as stepping stones to success, a man who started with nothing but a rubber ball and a will to win and became famed for his performance for Blackpool in their FA Cup Final win in 1953.
My partner is shooting a feature documentary about Stanley Matthews and I was intrigued by how much he had captured the hearts of generations. There have been other brilliant football players but arguably none so well loved. What was it about him that made him so successful and so popular? He was certainly single minded, his goal to win as part of his DNA as his studs were to his boots. But he was also generous spirited, understood the importance of teamwork, celebrated the successes of his fellow players and appreciated and learned from those on the opposition who aced him.
He was a respectful, courteous, modest, hard working and optimistic man who protected his family from the limelight. He loved football with a passion and saw it as a microcosm of life itself, reflecting on and sharing how to get the most out of it and the lessons to be learned from it. Eventually he was to tour the world spreading the ‘gospel of football’ as he called it.
His love affair with the game started as a lad but from early on his dad drummed into him to ‘expect nowt’ and never be disappointed. His dad wasn’t given to outward displays of affection but his few words were wise and put the young Stanley in good stead. He taught him to keep humility in the face of aplomb and applause but to be confident in his ability through hard work and the right mental attitude.
He studied the game, he read every football book going, he pioneered good nutrition before science and sports were ever linked and he developed and practised his techniques every day until it was dark. He made it hard for himself, muddied the ground, put weights in his boots, and he raised his own stakes, tricking his brain and his body to think and act quicker, instinctively, intuitively. The tougher he made it for himself the better he got. With no guarantees, as in life, that it would get him where he wanted to be.
When he fudged his second International game as a relative newbie against Germany in 1935 he could have sunk under a barrage of self-criticism that made the surrounding press coverage look kind. “He did nowt against Italy and he did nowt tonight. He’s not good enough, simple as that.” But his dad took him aside and told him, that game’s done, no sense dwelling on it other than to learn from his mistakes and focus on the games to come.
Stanley took his dad’s words to heart and in his next match at Stoke he stormed it. He spotted his dad in the crowd and raised his fist to his head. A silent message of understanding that it was his strong mental attitude that won the day. It was that spirit of hard work and positivity that kept him on his toes throughout his career. It stayed with him to his retirement at 50 and beyond into his global mission and campaigning work to use football to help get kids off the streets and into lives that contained hope. He taught them to know what hope is made of.
None of us knows what is in store for us but hope is having a dream, making it our goal and training and preparing to make it happen. Who knows what the week will bring, but we can prepare for success with hard work and positive mental attitude. We can lay the ground work so when opportunity comes knocking we are pumped and ready, at the top of our game to grasp it with every sinew, pore, bone, nerve and muscle.
5 Top Tips to scoring success
- Know your goal. Picture it as clearly as if it’s real in front of you.
- Work out what actions you need to take
- Do something every day that will take you nearer to achieving your goal
- Embrace the things that trip you up. Understand how you can learn from them and use the challenges to make you better at what you do
- Practise patience but be prepared to act fast when the opportunity arises. Trust your gut instinct and go for it!