On the day that David Beckham announced that he will be retiring from professional football, I felt compelled to put aside the theme I’d been planning and write this piece instead.
My mum’s side of the family is from Salford, the Red part of Manchester, and my Grandad Sykes always brought me up on United, forever complaining that that lot from Liverpool were ruining the game by winning everything. I wonder what he would have made of these last glorious twenty years! So, safe to say that the team I’ve always supported is Manchester United (and, yes, I am from Manchester AND have been to Old Trafford!!). And, because of this, the trails, tribulations and adulation of David Beckham have been closely followed.
As people start to reflect on his career, the comments have already started. He couldn’t beat a player for pace, he couldn’t head the ball, he couldn’t tackle. But, who ever said he was meant to? Lets focus on what he could do as a footballer and learn a lesson from Beckham.
He could deliver a quality of cross, with a speed and accuracy, which was a dream for every centre forward and a nightmare for every defender. And, he worked bloody hard for the team. During the season that United won the treble, David Beckham was the hardest working player in the squad, covering the most distance per match of any player. For someone who has embraced the limelight off the pitch, it’s ironic that it’s probably what he did away from the limelight on the pitch that was so important to his, and the team’s success – working so hard to get to the position he needed to be in to work his kind of magic.
And, he had an abundance of passion for his sport and his country. Despite being rejected at Real Madrid by Fabio Capello (remember him, the manager that was going to save England) and by England Manager, Steve ‘The Wally With The Brolly’ Mclaren, he never turned his back on his country and never acted smugly when they recognised they needed David Beckham and recalled him.
And so, it’s from this combination of hard work and dedication, combined with an abundance of passion for his profession that I’ll remember David Beckham. He is truly an example of the Power of Practice as focussed on in Matthew Syed’s wonderful book, Bounce. This is someone who harboured dreams of playing for Manchester United and then applied himself, relentlessly and well before he ever met Alex Ferguson, to pursuing that dream by putting in the hours that would lead him to Syed’s 10,000 hours of practice rule.
I was a British Champion gymnast at the age of ten, represented the North West of England squad for eight years and always finished in the top six gymnasts, nationally, in my age group. When I decided to call time on my involvement with gymnastics, I always remember my coach saying to me, ‘you were never the most naturally gifted gymnast I worked with, but, my God, you always worked so hard to be the best you could be’. That’ll do for me!
So, it might have taken me a little while to get to this point, but the lesson from Beckham is one that resonates with me. It’s a lesson that I wish more people would have in their social enterprise endeavours, especially at that all-critical start up stage. I see many people with the passion about their social cause but lacking in a focussed and unrelenting application to stick the hours in, do the unglamorous jobs, become students of their enterprise AND their topic and, above all, LEARN the characteristics that are required to lead and develop any kind of endeavour.
I joined The Big Issue in the North from the world of high-street retail; I knew nothing about homelessness. But, I absolutely made it my job to find out. How could I ever do the cause of The Big Issue justice by not committing myself to learning all I possibly could? How could I possibly try to credibly champion the fight against homelessness and be the voice for all the homeless people we supported without the application that this cause inspired but also deserved? Put simply, without doing whatever was needed, I couldn’t have done my job. But, the rewards (and not just the personal ones) were worth all the hard work. Knowing that during my time as Head of Sales for The Big Issue in the North we achieved the highest ever magazine and advertising sales figures remains a constant source of pride because of what this meant for all the homeless people we supported.
Developing any enterprise is a tough task and this can be even tougher when trying to achieve positive social impact within a sustainable enterprise framework. So, anytime you start complaining about the cuts to public spending; whinging about the increased competition for funding or crying that nobody will buy your service, please get past the Brand Beckham, the sarong and the pop-star wife and think about what we should learn from David Beckham: that if you truly believe in something and have a passion to make it happen, it will come true if you apply, apply and then apply yourself some more.