An article of two halves
The first half.
To kick off, before I write this, it’s only fair that I come clean. Admit my allegiance and acknowledge my affiliation, not only with the topic of this article but the team I have chosen to focus on.
I am a football fan and this is all about Leicester City’s recent FA Cup victory. There, I said it.
For those who engage with me on social media, Saturday was a busy day. From contacting old school friends to posting endless messages and images to followers on Twitter and Linkedin, Instagram to Whatsapp. I admit, I was lost in the moment. A childhood dream had become a reality and a wave of nostalgia had drenched me in primary school playground memories. Recounting with old school friends, the finals we had watched with our respective parents, taking turns to recreate the goals, freekicks, twists and turns on the playground, roads, streets, Cul de sacs and council estates we all once lived.
We were the generation of jumpers for goalposts, that milk advert about Ian Rush, the Anfield Rap, Keith Houchen’s diving header for Coventry, Clive Allen and Gary Mubbut, the beauty of John Barnes, the penalty save by Dave Beasant and the endless pre-game footage that fixed FA Cup Final day permanently within our collective childhood pastimes. Every club had a song and we brought every 7 inch single and played it until the vinyl smoothed. We were always the neutral. There just to enjoy the helicopter footage of the twin towers of Wembley and the spectacle that was once the culmination of the football season. It never rained on cup final day. The sun was always out; blistering hot and the day went on forever. Well, at least I thought it did.
No matter how sketchy and blurred the memories maybe now, a swiftly curated Facebook group of school friends from the past, soon brought these recollections flooding back during the pre-match VT of yesterday. However, as much as we had now all moved on, fortysomethings with family and mortgages, the only recollection missing from this collective sporting chronology was the memory of our team reaching the final but, of course, there was no memory to recall. It never happened and, to be honest, we never thought it would.
Moving on many decades from picking teams in the school yard and double cuppies* with a frayed and, somewhat decaying, tennis ball, Saturday marked a special moment of reflection. A chance to consider those friends, family and loved ones no longer with us as our team and our city undertook their journey towards the annals of footballing history. Not only having the opportunity to be the 44th team to win the FA Cup but the possibility to break the curse, slay the hoodoo, obliterate the blight of misfortune and exorcise the ghosts of yesteryear. Having lost the most FA Cup finals in history; Leicester was, and still is, ever the underdog.
5:15pm on the 15th May, my team, our team, were 90 minutes away from victory and, importantly, bringing the unbelievable back to our city.
You wait for years for this moment to begin and then whistle blows. The crescendo of cheers echoes around the stadium. Fingernails get shorter, silence gets broken with impromptu sighs, shouts and the occasional swear word and the rest, as they say, is history.
I don’t think I had ever imagined the surge of emotion that came over me in the final tense few minutes of the game. Sitting with my Dad (Included in a support bubble) and watching tears fill his eyes is something I will always remember. Having watched Leicester from the 1960s, I don’t think he thought he would ever see the events that took place over the 90 minutes actually happen. That said, as I watched him transfixed and tearful, it wasn’t just a childhood memory coming true for me, it was also shared by someone who had waited much, much longer. A moment we, my dad and I, will never forget.
As the footage continued, watching Wes Morgan and Co, lift the trophy of trophies, my phone began to notify me of messages and tweets from my previous playground playmakers.
We did it they said, we did it.
We did, we really did.
We were all 9 again and ready to grab the tennis ball at breaktime. The blistering heat of the FA Cup final was back but, this time, it was ours.
However, this article isn’t about football, it’s about leadership. Evoked from one very special moment of victorious celebrations. A moment that not only resonated as a fan but now, having retired gracefully from the previous profession of playground midfield dynamo at the age of 11, stirred emotions as an educator and leader.
The man with the trophy in the picture above is Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha, the club’s chairman. He has been with the club since he and is father purchased the club in August 2010, a long way from the premier league winning status bestowed upon us in the 2015 – 2016 season.
At the point of take over, Leicester were heading for life in the bottom tiers of English football. As a fan, it was a bitter pill to swallow. We were a premier league club and we had lost our way. From financial administration, to player misconduct and scandal to the inevitable revolving door of managers, players and backroom staff, life as a Leicester fan was nothing but disappointing.
However, someone had made a promise, at the time of the Srivaddhanaprabha takeover, the club had been owned by Serbian businessman, Milan Mandaric. Having had success as the owner of Portsmouth, he looked to the Midlands for his next purchase and Leicester, struggling through a period of post administration since 2002, were in need of security. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be and the slide, no matter how hard we tried, took hold. As much as this era compounded the fan’s collective disbelief, Mandaric had always stated that he would only sell the club to ‘football people’ and those who had the club’s best interest at heart.
Those words, remained true and, in 2010, a journey of cultural reimagining and challenge of historic tropes of football ownership began.
Over recent weeks, we have watched various groups of supporters, demonstrate against their clubs. With a growing rancor, protesting in anger at the way their clubs have evolved. The historic legacies of community to which these clubs were born, slowing being devoured and engulfed by money and greed. Controlled by the besuited figure in the stand, occasionally in attendance but, more often than not, afloat on a multi million pound super yacht basking in the warm stillness of the mediterranean ocean. Well, who wants a wet Wednesday night in Stoke?
Of course I’m not naive enough to believe that the current owners of Leicester don’t enjoy the luxurious trappings of a billionaire’s lifestyle who wouldn’t, but, for me, what Top and his late father, Khun Vichai, have brought to the club is clear; that powerful element of identity.
An identity that is grounded in humanity. An identity secured in social values. An identity cemented in respect for the fans.
Over the last 11 years, Leicester City Football Club has achieved the unthinkable. From Premier League winners, knock out stages of the Champions League, a consistent top 10 presence and, now, in the last 24 hours, our first FA Cup trophy. Nevertheless, placing all these accolades aside, they have become a club that has placed itself back in the heart of the community. A club for everyone, a club for Leicester but, over 11 years, a club that has been noted for its community philanthropy, endless generosity to the club’s fans, integrity of leadership and, during this time, become the country’s favourite underdog.
So when the trophy was raised aloft, it was clear to see that this wasn’t about players, millionaire egos or a manager looking for his next step, this was clearly about a team. A team not just of players but a team that was wider reaching.
A team made up from everybody who has a part of play in the running of this midlands team. From the cleaners, to the shop staff, from the academy players to the kit man, this was a trophy for everyone. Like the games in which Top, and his father, bought every fan a doughnut, celebrated with us the club’s successes with a free beer for one and all; this was a trophy that now belonged to everyone, for all of us. Encapsulating a sense of community created by those at the top. Two newcomers to our city that saw the opportunity, not just to buy a football team, but to build a nucleus for the city of Leicester.
As Kasper Schmeichel ran to the stands to ensure the chairman, having recently lost his father in 2018, was part of the glitter cannon celebrations and the dutifully performed champagne shower, it was clear that this was a moment for a footballing family. The live footage that played to the millions of viewers across the world demonstrated clearly the values of togetherness and respect to which this club is now built firmly upon.
As my dad wiped the final tear from his eye, he encapsulated the moment and leadership lesson so simply, ” You treat people how you would like to be treated “.
As leaders in schools, we create the culture. We have the responsibility to break from the norm, question the status quo, tear up the tropes of yesteryear and lead our schools with authenticity and humanity. We have the opportunity to create a family from a group of individuals. We have the chance to do things differently, do things better and do things in a way that can be noticed by all. We have the opportunity to embrace our communities and ensure they share our successes; making lifelong fans with a passion for our values and beliefs.
When there is a time of celebration in your school, who will run to you; ensuring you’re there with your team?
Like many owners of football clubs, we are the custodians of our schools for a brief moment in history and it’s up to us, and only us, to build the team ready to make dreams a reality.
Be quick though, the whistle is about to blow.