The mentality of losing and dealing with defeat

On 31st Match 2018, Brighton lost 2-0. Losing to a Leicester City team that includes some of the best players in the league and that won the league title two years ago. Yet if you’d read some of the views on social media from Brighton fans after the game you could have believed the Albion had lost 6-0 to Mansfield! In response I write this:

Learning how to lose and dealing with defeat can be nearly as important as winning itself. You only need to look at Chelsea and the contrast of the 2014/15 season and the 2015/16 season to see that losing can build up as much physiological momentum as winning can.

In both seasons Chelsea had very similar personnel that were playing a very similar tactical system, but clearly had very different mental attitudes leading to contrasting outcomes. The perspective of a teams performance can change on the basis of small marginal moments and seemingly trivial decisions leading to a huge swing in fortunes. This is particularly true for a low scoring game like football, where one moment during a 90 minute game can be decisive and can potentially make vast amounts of time spent during the game of utter irrelevance to the scoreline.

The Chelsea team of 14/15 weren’t losers and didn’t need to know how to lose when they comfortably won the title. Though that changed in 15/16; after the fiasco of the 2-2 draw at home to Swansea and the row that ensued between Mourinho and Dr Carneiro, suddenly nothing seemed to be going right for Chelsea leading to a calamitous and awful season.

The focus then became based on the negative rather than being based on the positive the season before. The logical reality for both seasons is probably somewhere in the middle however, but outlook changes everything and is often led by emotion rather than logic. A change in outlook can lead to a self doubt and anxiety that then leads to hesitation and poor decision making. In the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Football fans often demonstrate this with their reactionary opinions after a good or bad result. If enough people express an opinion on Twitter it appears to then become fact in some circles and I have no doubt that this can affect an individuals mentality and in turn their performance.

Football is won and lost on small margins. On Saturday if Glenn Murray had scored the penalty he missed and The Albion defence had stayed firm and kept out Leicester’s first goal scored only a few minutes later, the outlook for both teams then changes vastly. A result ultimately based on a handful of decisions in a game of thousands. But not just the outlook on that game changes but the outlook on the whole season too. These small moments can become of far greater significance than they should and (an albeit understandable) overly emotive response can lead to a very different outlook on circumstances than they did prior to the game.

If a change in mentality effects a persons decision making, even marginally, then drastic changes in outcome no doubt follow. Humans are complex individuals, and modern football clubs are large complex organisations full of complex individuals. Football managers like Mourinho and Hughton have the difficult job of managing every single individual psychologically as well as just picking the best 11 players that fit within their desired tactical system.

On top of this they are also expected to manage the expectations of the fans through the media and again if you read some comments on social media throughout the season you’d see that many Brighton fans had consigned the club to relegation on multiple occasions already. And some would have had Hughton sacked after almost every defeat if they had the chance. Thankfully Chris and the team have a level of composure and focus that sets them apart from the average fan.

Hughton does appear to have built a side with a great deal of mental strength and focus. Many teams and many individuals within it would have been destroyed by the type of disappointment The Albion experienced at the end of the 15/16 season. A draw on the final day to Middlesbrough would cost the Albion automatic promotion to the top flight on goal difference and this was closely followed by defeat in the playoff semi final to Sheffield Wednesday.

Hughton and his team picked themselves up and quickly regained focus, demonstrated in the first game of the following season with a 4-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest. They then went on to win automatic promotion that season at the first time of asking following the disappointment of the previous season.

Hughton himself has had personal disappointment to deal with as well. As manager of Newcastle he did a good job, leading the club to promotion to the top flight only to be sacked soon after the club got there.

And In hindsight Hughton’s pragmatism whilst manager at Norwich appears to have been undervalued and written off as an overly defensive approach. But after each disappointment, Chris, like The Albion at the beginning of last season, was able to show great mental strength and regain focus on the new task ahead.

We now know so much more about the Human mind than ever before and managers need to ensure they utilise this knowledge in order to keep their team and their club as a whole from mentally collapsing just like Chelsea did during the 15/16 season. With 7 games to go and 21 points still to play for, it’s crucial for Brighton to stay mentally strong and focused to ensure that survival in the top flight is achieved.

Given Chris Hughton’s track record and the overwhelming evidence of his impressive character, I trust him to deal with the Leicester defeat with his usual composure and treat each individual with the necessary consideration required.

In the words of William James “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Brighton, Leicester and Micky Adams

Ahead of the game with Leicester I wanted to write about the biggest link between the two clubs from my perspective, the one, the only, Micky Adams.

Wednesday 10th October 2001- I still remember the instant crushing feeling in my chest now when my mum woke me for school that day and then told me that the local news were reporting that Micky Adams was leaving the Albion. (and taking the currently vacant assistant manager job at Leicester as understudy to Dave Bassett with a view to taking over as manager the following season)

I had fallen in love with the Albion since their move back to Brighton and the Withdean Stadium. For the period from the move back to Brighton until then it had appeared to me as an almost continuous period of progress. Gone were the days of Brighton being in danger of losing its league status come May and now they were pushing for promotion into the 2nd tier of the football league.

The club was now gaining appreciation from outside of its loyal but modest local fan base. Led off the pitch by the lovably enthusiastic and media savvy Chairman and club saviour Dick Knight, and being fired through the divisions on the pitch by the goals of Bobby Zamora (who was by then quickly becoming a club legend) people were taking note. Having won the Division 3 championship the previous season by ten points after Chesterfield were deducted 9 points, the Albion found themselves taking to Division 2 in a similarly imperious manor, sitting 4th they were well set for another title challenge.

Captaining the ship was the captivating Micky Adams. A man who had been manager for just under 3 years and during that period it had been constant steps forward. Taking over in April 1999 with the club in Division 3 he steered the club to safety and then in its first season at the Withdean he led the club to a top half finish, remaining unbeaten in the final 13 games of the season.

Despite a poor start to the following season Brighton eventually got going and with Bobby’s goals and Micky’s charm, built up momentum and were confirmed champions by beating nearest challengers Chesterfield 1-0 with a headed goal from Danny Cullip.

For me as a young fan who was relatively new to the club at the time, I was not weighed down by it’s recent struggles and was simply enjoying the glory. That said there was plenty to admire, but whilst there were many significant figures within the club at the time, in my eyes Micky was definitely the talisman for the team during his tenure. The man who ensured everyone would “keep the faith” when things weren’t going our way and the man who built the team that would go on to win back to back promotions and titles.

Micky set about putting his impression on the club. He was young, enthusiastic and had plenty of character. He brought in his friend and long time colleague Alan Cork as assistant, as well as players he’d managed at former clubs such as new club captain Paul Rogers and Danny Cullip.

Micky has revealed subsequently that whist succeeding at the time on the pitch with the Albion, he was dealing with heartbreak and personal issues off the pitch. These revelations only go to further increase Micky’s achievements at Brighton the manor in which he went about his job in the glare of the (albeit mostly local) media spotlight.

The success continued into Division 2. The season started with gusto, 4 wins in the first 7 including a 2-1 win over QPR and a 4-0 win over Blackpool. Brighton were proving to be promotion contenders once again. October came around and so did Brighton’s first and only home league defeat of the season 2-1 to Brentford. Sadly for the Albion fans this was how they unknowingly got to say goodbye to the man who galvanised the upturn in prospects for a club almost heading for the scrapheap only a few years earlier.

So Micky moved to Leicester, and whilst there relegation from the top flight and his promotion from assistant manager to manager inevitably followed. But the following season he once again he set about putting his impression on the club creating a team of winners, which went on to win promotion back to the top flight.

After Micky left and in a wonderful move of symmetry, Brighton appointed the man just sacked as Leicester manager Peter Taylor (who quickly left come the end of the season). Under his leadership the Albion went on to win Division 2, which set up a return for Micky with his new club to the Withdean Stadium. However, that game turned out to be a fairly forgettable 1-0 win for Leicester. Forgettable mostly as my view was masked by a thick cloud of fog. For all I was aware it could have been 5-0 to the Albion!

Micky’s time with Brighton and Leicester reached its peak by the end of that season. Relegation and resignation followed at Leicester, as quickly as the harsh world of football management can prop you up, it can push you out.

In 2008, following the Leicester job and some other unsuccessful spells in management, Dick Knight appointed Micky for his 2nd spell in charge of the Albion (then back in league one – previously division 2), telling the then manager Dean Wilkins to step aside and take a role in the youth set up. After the immediate excitement and splurge of new signings, it was soon clear things weren’t working out and personally I think I speak for most Albion fans to say that I was devastated. We were terrible and produced some of the worst performances I’ve seen from an Albion team. Losing at home to 9 man Walsall and 4-0 at home to Crewe were some of the lowlights. Micky left by mutual consent in February and the Albion stayed up by the skin of their teeth.

Despite this period I will always remember falling in love with the Albion and Micky during his first spell in charge, and the feeling of devastation I felt when he left the 1st time and when it didn’t work out 2nd time around just go to demonstrate how wonderful those 2 and a half years were to be an Albion fan.

Fan Protests – How West Ham’s current plight mimic Brighton’s in the 90s

Malcolm X “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
The West Ham fans protest recently took a dramatic turn during their 3-0 home defeat to Burnley with angry fans invading the pitch and surrounding the directors box to show their disapproval and contempt for their current Joint-Chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan.

As a Brighton fan it’s hard not to draw comparisons to my club’s struggle in the 90s and the attitude towards many supporters of the club at the time. The apathy from the FA and more generally the football establishment, the public condemnation of the fans and the civil war between fractions within the club’s own support all mimic my club’s situation when fighting against irresponsible and reprobate individuals who asset stripped Brighton and Hove Albion football club and almost ran it out of business.

There has been plenty written about that time in the club’s history, so I won’t go into any greater level of detail here, but for those looking to get a greater understanding should read the fantastic book “Build a Bonfire” by Paul Hodgson and Stephen North.
What I will state about that time is, if it wasn’t for those protesting and their perseverance for the cause, it’s fair to say that the club wouldn’t be where it is today. In fact it’s quite likely there wouldn’t be a club at all.

Whilst the situation at West Ham may not be quite as near to a potentially terminal one, it certainly appears to be potentially terminal for the culture and spirit of the club. English football is renowned for its fan culture, and West Ham are one of the clubs which has a unique place in English football history, for better and worse. From 1966 World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, to the Hooligan element of the fanbase that played a part in the bad reputation that overshadowed English football in the 70’s and 80’s. However, they are currently starring at very different future, which threatens to endanger this and what the clubs aims to stand for.

Whilst West Ham still have an element of their fanbase that have been rightly regarded with disdain and that I certainly will not defend, (a quick google search and you’ll find various incidents of appalling fan behaviour just from the past two years) the clear majority are purely passionate football fans who want the best for their team. Sadly, it’s my opinion, that the same cannot be said for Mr Sullivan and Mr Gold. I am in no doubt that the tears shed by Mr Gold during the protests that day were more out of self-pity than anything else.

At Brighton in the 90s, the protests at the club created a sense of community amongst the supporters and incoming board of directors that was then galvanised during the various campaigns that were to follow including the at the time seemingly unceasing “Falmer for All” campaign. Whilst West Ham currently appear far from the sense of community created at Brighton, if the fans persevere with effective protests that catch the imagination and attention of the public, this can still be a long-term goal for the club.

Whilst some clubs like Brighton have flourished and succeeded following fan protests, others have failed. Blackburn Rovers supporters were widely criticised for not backing the team when protesting about their owners Venky’s during the season they were relegated from the Premier League and now find themselves in League One. Whilst the protest towards Charlton Athletic owner Romain Duchâtelet seems only to have hasten the clubs inevitable fall down the leagues. However, even if it is at the short-term hinderance of the team’s success, I fully believe fans should protest if they believe it is in the long-term interest of the club.

In ten years’ time, most owners and shareholders of professional sports teams will have lost any sense of amusement they currently get from their respective clubs and no doubt in time will neglected them, leaving the fans and local community to pick up the pieces (See Portsmouth, Swansea, et al.)

However, this is not to say I don’t appreciate some of the anger towards the protesters. The understandable reaction from players like Mark Noble who in the heat of the moment threw a supporter to the floor in anger and probably a slight sense of fear for his own safety, should only go to motivate those in power to appease the concerns of those protesting rather than vilify them. Vilifying them will only make the chasm of understanding between the two parties grow larger. Just as much as it did when the then Leyton Orient Player Ray Wilkins was attacked by Brighton fans during a pitch invasion at a league game between the teams in 1997. One of many pitch invasions at Brighton which at the time had already cost the club two league points and a fine. Whilst that is a worthy comparison, the intentions of the fans were not to harm the players on the pitch, not that Mark Noble knew that at the time of course. It’s easy to say that but of course many probably thought the same when Gunter Parche ran onto a tennis court in Hamburg during a WTA tour match quarter final in 1993, until he stabbed Monica Seles in the back that is.

The club and local authorities have a duty to protect the players but let’s not let the behaviour of a small number of individuals undermine the anger and contempt towards the owners of the club. The fans do have a right and maybe even a duty to protest about the mismanagement of their club. Whilst there will always be those that express the anger they hold in idiotic ways, let’s just hope the fans concerns are listened to and that this can lead to a productive solution rather than just vilifying an already oppressed set of supporters that simply want the best for the club they love.