There is no prize for coming second

I was a professional football player for Aberdeen Football Club and had great personal success under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson (The Boss) winning numerous domestic trophies and titles, and in Europe won the European Cup Winners Cup beating Real Madrid and also the Super Cup against Hamburger SV who were European Champions.

Before Sir Alex arrived at as Manager at the club there was a mentality within the whole set up that everyone was quite happy to be ‘legends’ as runners up and getting to Cup semi-finals. I personally think that at that time, Aberdeen Football Club would have been viewed as a club that did enough to get by, yet Sir Alex took this ‘sleeping giant’ of a club and turned it into a global, world class football team.

For example I recall that in the League Cup final post-match celebration in 1979 after we lost to Rangers Football Club, we were served the ‘runners up’ meal which the club provided and in that ‘celebration’ generally the players were all joking and carrying on, smoking cigars and having a beer.

This behaviour would have been acceptable if we were Winners yet we were Runners Up.

The Boss saw that there were players who perhaps lacked that winning attitude and to be part of an emerging successful team. He didn’t like what he saw and wanted to change the mentality within to one of being a club in the business of winning. He also knew it would be a long process but understandably didn’t realise how quick the recovery process would be.

There are no prizes for coming second and I went from two managers who didn’t really have that aggression or belief that they would be successful and who were just wanting to get to finals, to the likes of Bill McNeil and then The Boss who clearly wanted to win trophies and who was driven in everything he did. As he said, Aberdeen Football Club was not a one trophy team! Clearly his drive was to win more trophies.

Whether we won, lost or drew the Boss would say what he had to say in the 10 or 15 minutes after the game and nothing else was said. The Boss would at that point criticise quickly; put the comments to ‘bed’ and truly looked at improvements going forward.

Stan Matwijiw of the Toronto Maple Leafs Ice Hockey once said and which I think is equally applicable for business, “Don’t let the highs get too high, or the lows get too low”.

In the context of ice hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs and indeed whether in business or in personal life, when you make a mistake you must forget that event; focus on the future, or

you will certainly not perform at your top potential. We have all seen this happen live during a professional sporting event. Player A makes a mistake, and then things start to snowball. One mistake turns into four before you can blink an eye. We cannot allow for this to happen. Even more so in business we cannot linger on those moments when we have made wrong decisions or bad judgements; we just got to move on and not let situations ‘snowball’

This is equally important, if not more so, in business and in the case of Aberdeen Football Club this was very apparent. We didn’t linger on the highs nor get low on the lows.

We each knew what we needed to address and do to overcome and move forward. In business as in sport, there will always be the need for clear objectives and, excuse the pun, goals.

Finally, as the great Alfredo di Stefano said after Aberdeen beat Real Madrid to win the European Cup Winners Cup,

“Aberdeen have what money can’t buy; a soul, a team spirit built in a family tradition.”

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