Adding a Personal Touch

Aidy Boothroyd gave me some of the best (and worst) times as a Watford supporter – I was sad when he was sacked after a poor run of form in 2008. He is known throughout the footballing world for having a unique style of man-management; that real personal touch that so many people in football lack.

So imagine my non-surprise when I read Can you make it as a footballer at 34? on the Guardian website yesterday, and he popped up as the star of the show.

Guardian hack Steven Rowland undertook an experiment to see if, at 34 years of age, he could get a trial at a professional football club:

Hands up if, when watching a football match, you’ve thought, “I could do better than that.” Me too. In fact, I thought, ‘I could do better than that’ so keenly that I wrote to each of the 92 clubs in the football league asking for a trial – at the ripe age of 34.

I highlighted my age, experience (Sunday league stuff), and willingness to put my career on ice. As a more mature player, I felt I could offer something different. “It’s said that Teddy Sheringham, who played professionally until he was 40, had an extra yard in his head,” I wrote. “This is something I can relate to. I may even have two yards up there.”

Replies pinged back within minutes. Mostly they were generic and polite but amongst them there were reasons to be optimistic. Millwall were uncharacteristically delicate (“It could be that you are a late developer . . .”), Fulham tried to let me down as gently possible (“I don’t doubt your talent”) and Middlesbrough got straight to the point (“I’ll give you credit for trying, but there’s no way we would give a 34-year-old a trial”).

Steven’s most positive response came from Aidy, now manager at Colchester united, who offered him the chance to go for a trial, despite his (in footballing terms) advancing years.
Steven didn’t get a lucrativecontract, despite impressing Aidy.

By the time of the trial I felt half ready and half terrified. There was just one other trialist: a former Newcastle, Aston Villa and West Ham star, with more than 100 international caps. Oh dear. Still, Boothroyd put me at ease. He told me to go out, enjoy myself and to play my natural game – as if I had one. Initially intimidated by the size, speed, skills and youth of the first team, when I relaxed I just about held my own in training exercises, drills and a few seven-a-side games. “Have you got the papers ready?” I shouted to Aidy, after neatly turning a defender.

Unfortunately not. He praised my skills and called my enthusiasm “terrific”, but I was just a bit too old. So if I was 10 years younger I could have been a contender? “More like 20,” the gaffer deadpanned.

What we’ve seen here, I think, is that by adding a personal touch, no mater who you are, football manager or budding football star, CEO of a large multinational or a fresh faced grad, the personal touch benefits both ends of the career spectrum by connecting people in a real, dare I say, ‘normal’ way.

Brands are beginning to realise this, and as we go into 2010, we’ll see this approach become not just a rare luxury, but the norm, or consumers will just switch off.


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