Surprisingly, I don’t think I have previously mentioned that I’m a bit of a football fan.
Although I take a real interest in how Leeds United are faring, and hope the Northern Ireland national team do well, my true passion is Carrick Rangers.
I started supporting them in 1982, and have followed them home and away ever since.
Over those 37 years, I have witnessed successes, failures and mid-table obscurity. A rollercoaster of ups and downs. I have been fortunate to meet and get to know some terrific people associated with the club: managers, coaches, players and supporters.
This season, though, has been one of my favourites, yet we didn’t win any silverware to add to our honours list. We finished second in the Bluefin Sport Championship, the second tier of football in Northern Ireland. That gave us a place in a two-legged play-off with Ards, who finished second-bottom of the Danske Bank Premiership. The winning team over two-legs would earn the right to play in the top division next season.
Remarkably, to some, my team won both games to get back into the big time. A just reward for one of my best years following the team.
So, why you may ask, is this better than previous successful, trophy-laden campaigns? We won a second-tier double in 2012 and a treble in 2015, both times earning promotion, so surely they were much more memorable.
Quite simply, the difference this time was teamwork.
The current squad had good players, obviously, but no “stars”. What they had in abundance, though, was a strong team spirit, drive, commitment to the cause, and belief coupled with footballing ability.
When I was involved in sport during my late teens until late twenties, I was only interested in team, rather than individual, sports. I saw very early on that my lack of sporting prowess was not too exposed if there were others to share the load.
I had the same approach in my working career too. I was much more comfortable being in, or leading within, a team. Either being encouraged to contribute to the group’s outcome, or if fortunate enough to be asked to take a lead role making sure I got as much out of the team as possible.
This desire to stretch those within my team was not just to produce a desired outcome, but also as a way to develop those within the team. I sometimes think that those who have the responsibility to lead are so focused on the task at hand they forget about the people.
It’s up to good leaders to get their team functioning for a common purpose that they believe in, trust them to get on with the job, encourage them to take calculated risks, support them when times are tough, and pat them on the back when things are moving in the right direction.
Of course, it doesn’t always go to plan, but rather than storm off in a huff, a good leader will learn from any setback, regroup, and try again. Resilience is key.
When the going gets tough…
When I look back over the last nine months, Carrick Rangers got off to a horrible start. Four defeats from the opening six games was relegation form.
This is when true leadership turned things around. The manager and captain, in particular, showed no signs of panic, or looked for excuses. Sleeves were rolled up, game plans were set, players were trained to make the plan work on the pitch, and as results improved so did confidence, belief and resilience.
So, when the final whistle blew to conclude the play-offs, and the supporters joined the players on the pitch to celebrate promotion, I knew the success this time was built, more than any previous spell I could remember, on effective leadership and teamwork.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Michael Jordan