Leading the way
It was 1999, it was the quarter final of the Champions League and Manchester United were partaking in the customary handshakes before their huge battle against a star studded Inter Milan side. Roy Keane was leading the way and working his way down the line, shaking every hand with that piercing glare that has been accustomed to the fiery Irishman. As he reached the end of the line, he was met by Diego Simeone and Ronaldo who were bent over, fiddling around with their socks and boots. Did Keano wait for them to stand up and sportingly shake their hands? Did he hell…Roy Keane waited for nobody. He just walked passed. In his eyes this was war.
It reminded me of the days when I used to walk from the changing rooms and out onto the pitch behind Tim Oakes. I used to make sure that I was second out, right behind him; because following him out along that green and white corridor made me feel ten feet tall. I couldn’t wait for that first tackle, I felt aggressive and it was down to the fact that our captain was harder than theirs. He was a Roy Keane kind of leader and without question, our team would put their bodies on the line for the greater good of the team. We had no choice, we had to, because he did.
It got me thinking about all the different captains that I had played for and who I thought was the best. I looked at those who led me onto the pitch and tried to sum up the qualities that I though a good leader would need. I realised that I was lucky enough to play under many amazing captains and each of them were completely different in the way that they approached the job of leading us men from Lymm.
Oakesy was by far the most aggressive captain that I had played under and if I happened to be heading to Normandy in 1944, I’d want him at the front of my boat. However, if you haven’t the aggression of Keane and Oakes that does not mean you cannot be an exceptional leader. Look at David Beckham. He quietly dragged that England squad to World Cup qualification back in 2001. People loved him, they wanted to play for him and if you can remember that free kick, you will also see that when the pressure was on, when the team needed something, he could be relied upon to pull something out of the bag.
Cue Adam Fletcher’s intercept and match winning try at Liverpool St Helens back in 2008. It secured our promotion spot and prevented LSH from remaining unbeaten on the last day of the season. Fletch was a great leader, a natural captain who could motivate his side without banging the walls and screaming in your face. He was honest, people respected him, he was a good communicator, a thinker and he understood the game. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the current team are enjoying such success under his guidance.
I apologise if this seems like an old sod, reminiscing on the past but I could only decide on the qualities that I think a leader needs by analysing my own experience. Those of you who are still reading will have your own thoughts and that will be based on your experience, your teams and your own captains. I believe that different squads demand different styles of captain and maybe the thinking captain is now the most sought after because intensity, commitment and fitness is an expectation.
But if I was to summarise this article and make a list of all the qualities that I think an exceptional leader would need and then rubber stamp them onto one man, there is only one option. I believe the perfect captain should have the intensity of Adam Bray, the aggression of Tim Oakes, the energy of Joe Knowles, the intelligence of Fletcher and the class of Higginson. They should also be a calming, father like mentor to the younger members of the team, an example to the more experienced, have unbelievable mental strength and inspire others by setting the highest standards of all. My first captain at Lymm had all of the above and that was Mark Sutton. A real leader of men who had such a positive influence on us all.
It is wonderful to see so many leaders in our current first team squad and we will need all of them to overcome Hull at the weekend. Good Luck boys, do us all proud.