Monthly Archives: April 2014

Two go walkabout in Shrewsbury!

Another Bank Holiday – another jaunt for Dan and Dad to another League 1 football ground – this time, the Greenhous Meadow, Shrewsbury, for the home town club’s basement clash with Crewe Alexandra. The last father:son roadtrip had been to Molyneux, to see two sides who were then fighting it out at the top of this division, and we had witnessed a hard-fought draw between Wolves and Leyton Orient. What united the two games was the enthusiasm and volume of the away support as compared to the home fans. Crewe’s support had come in numbers and comfortably out-sang and out-supported the home fans throughout this Good Friday fixture.

Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire, and has been the scene of furious battles over its strategically important position in the border area between England and Wales. The town was founded in around AD800 and became a major wool trading centre in the late Middle Ages, ideally placed on the River Severn and the historic trading route known as Watling Street. More recently, the town has become an established tourist and regional commercial centre, with people drawn to the largely in-tact medieval layout and buildings of the town centre, and the retail outlets that attract customers from throughout Shropshire and mid-Wales.

Greenhous Meadow is a relatively new (2007), nine and a half thousand seater stadium located on the outskirts of the town close to the M54 linking Shrewsbury to Telford, and then onto the larger West Midlands conurbation. The stadium’s location is amongst the most genteel that I have ever witnessed for a football ground – set in semi-rural isolation amongst garden centres and on the edge of a quintessentially English, suburban housing development at Sutton Farm. It was no surprise to learn that local residents had fought a determined rear-guard action throughout the planning phase for the new ground. It is a testament to the success of their campaign that there is virtually no ‘turn up on the day’ car parking for visiting fans within about four miles of the ground (of which more later!).

The gentility of the setting was matched on our visit by the gentility of the Shrewsbury fans. True, the club was in the midst of a very poor run of form that had left them precariously positioned in the bottom four of the division, and confidence and expectation levels were clearly low. Nevertheless, Crewe were hardly better positioned at the time of this game, and a win for Shrewsbury in this classic ‘six-pointer’ would have given the Salop a major boost. In truth, however, from the moment that we entered the ground some ten minutes after the start of the game, there was a palpable sense that the home supporters were resigned to defeat. This contrasted starkly to the party atmosphere that was emanating from the away supporters’ stand behind the goal to our left.

The home team’s starting line-up included three former Cardiff City players in Paul Parry, Aaron Wildig and Joe Jacobson; and it was with some nostalgia that Dan and I reflected on the fact that the last time we had seen Wildig play was as a teenager in an FA Cup clash with Chelsea at a packed out Stamford Bridge in February 2010 (a game, coincidentally, in which Chelsea’s four goals were scored by Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Daniel Sturridge, and Salomon Kalou). Wildig was not at all overawed that day, and mixed it very successfully with the west London superstars. It is one of the enigmas of professional football that some teenagers are able to push on and realise their full potential (cf. another Cardiff City product and ‘Aaron’ now starring in the red and white of Arsenal), while others don’t quite manage to break through into the really big-time.

To be fair to the players of both Crewe and Shrewsbury, the game itself belied the lowly league positions of the teams, and the fatalism of the home supporters, and was actually both entertaining and enjoyable (for this neutral at least). Crewe started the brightest and were probably unfortunate not to go ahead in the early stages, but gradually Shrewsbury established a foothold and began to force the Alex onto the back foot. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when Crewe opened the scoring from a pretty straightforward corner that was headed into the Shrewsbury net by Mathias Pogba from six yards out in the 38th minute. There was always a sense that the next goal in the game would decide the ultimate outcome, and when it came (in the 51st minute) it was a moment of high quality. Uche Ikpeazu received the ball on the corner of the six yard box with his back to goal, before holding off the challenge of a home defender, turning, and curling an unstoppable shot into the far top corner of the Shrewsbury net. For all Shrewsbury’s huffing and puffing after that, a comeback never looked likely, and the final nail in the coffin came in the 89th minute when Anthony Grant ran half the length of the pitch following a Crewe break-away, before coolly finishing past a hopelessly exposed Chris Weale. There was just time for Salop substitute Tom Bradshaw to register a late, late consolation goal in the third minute of stoppage time.

Famous figures with links to Shrewsbury include Carol Decker (lead singer with T’Pau) and Charles Darwin (naturalist and author). At the end of this game, Shrewsbury Town’s ambitions to remain in League 1 looked like china in their hands, and Crewe’s survival hopes were undoubtedly the fittest.

One of the advantages of watching football in relatively small grounds is the speed with which the crowd (6,947 for the record) disperses after the match, and so it was that Dan and I were in the club shop within 15 minutes of the final whistle. Dan was delighted to add to his growing ground-hopping memorabilia collection through the purchase of an end-of-season clearance bargain, hat:scarf combination at the give-away price of just £6!

Which leads me on to the only gripe that we have about the whole day…

If you are planning on an unannounced (and to be honest, pretty poorly planned) visit to Shrewsbury Town FC, don’t (whatever you do) assume that it will be possible to find somewhere close by to leave the car. And if – like us – you eventually get to one of the designated Park & Ride car parks, don’t – under any circumstances – assume that you are guaranteed to be able to BOTH park AND ride! We left the car in the Shire Hall car park which is located on the edge of the town centre. We joined a group of about 20 other Shrewsbury and Crewe supporters patiently waiting at the designated football Park & Ride bus stop at about 2.20pm (it was a 3pm kick-off). We waited…. and we waited…. and we waited. By 2.45pm, we were in that state of nervous anxiety that on the one hand urges you to cut your losses and set out for the ground on foot, and on the other is absolutely certain that the moment you are out of sight of the car park, the bus will turn up and then sweep past you as you walk along. Eventually, at 2.48pm we decided to take fate into our own hands and began the walk to the ground. It took twenty minutes and we missed the first 10 minutes of the game. If anybody connected with the club does read this, then you might want to think about improving the information on park & ride arrangements, and making clear when they will be operating. We were lucky that it was a lovely spring day for our visit – the walk through Shrewsbury’s suburbia wouldn’t have been half so pleasant in the pouring rain!

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Imposter Syndrome : At last I’ve found the link between me and Emma Watson!

I’ve badly neglected this blog recently. I could offer any number of platitudinous reasons seeking to explain why this has been the case. I’ve been busy in work; evenings have been taken up with family and other commitments; I’ve stepped up my refereeing commitments at weekends to make up for the long period between December and March when the weather made football impossible… All are true to a greater or lesser extent, but in fact none of them (individually or collectively) really explains why I’ve found it difficult to get back to writing contributions to post here. And then, quite by chance, I attended a workplace seminar delivered by Hugh Kearns from the University of Flinders, Australia, that probably explains much more precisely the reasons for my sudden cessation of activity here

The title of the seminar was The Imposter Syndrome, and it draws on an area of workplace psychology that Kearns has been researching for a number of years. In essence, Imposter Syndrome describes the feeling experienced by significant numbers of very successful people in all walks of life, that they are just one step away from being exposed as a complete fraud. Kearns quotes from an interview given by Emma Watson in which she describes the anxiety at the heart of the Imposter Syndrome : “It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going : ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved’.”

You can see the full seminar that Kearns has been delivering to academics and Faculty professional services staff at Universities all over the world on this Oregon State University recording (https://media.oregonstate.edu/media/The+Imposter+Syndrome+-+Hugh+Kearns+2014/0_g4uz2wsb). It’s important to grasp from the outset that the Imposter Syndrome is not about people who are actual frauds – who have lied on their CVs or made up qualifications in order to achieve positions that would otherwise have been denied to them. Rather, all of us are liable to experience occasions when we feel that what we have been asked to do in our lives – whether professionally, personally, or socially – is beyond us, that we simply aren’t equipped to meet the challenge, and that failure will expose us as not only being incompetent in that task, but also in everything else that we claim to be able to do

The Imposter Syndrome is what happens when our unconscious feelings (our Automatic Negative Thoughts – ANTs) overwhelm the rational, thinking parts of our being; in a professional context, it might be when we are asked to take on a new project, or in the early days of a new job following  a promotion. Typical ANTs in this context might take the form of statements such as : who do you think you are to be taking on this challenge; what qualifies you to do this; you’re going to look really silly when this all comes crashing down around you. Rationally, we know that we have been asked to take on the project, or were successful in securing the promotion, because of our track record in successfully managing similar projects before, or because we have demonstrated the necessary competence to meet the person specification and job description. However, the Imposter Syndrome leads us to ignore or distort the evidence as we allow our feelings to overcome our reason. Thus, we seek to downplay the significance of previous success by attributing it to luck, or the contribution of other people, or to the fact that we worked so hard to achieve it (“if I was really qualified to do this job, I wouldn’t have to work so hard to be good at it”)

There are typically two responses to the Imposter Syndrome -neither of which is especially helpful. The first is simply to work even harder at the task/project/activity in order to compensate for the negative feelings. “It’ll be ok if I can just make it to the next milestone, deadline, submission date, examination etc…”. The problem with this, of course, is that the feelings of relief associated with successful achievement of the short-term goal are (by definition) short-term – and Imposter anxiety soon returns. Thus, undergraduate students feel that they’ll be ok once they’ve achieved their Bachelors degree, and then their Masters, and then their Doctorate, and then their first grant programme, and so on. For professional services staff, the track might focus on successful completion of probation, and then the first promotion, and then being asked to lead a multi-team project, and so on. The problem with ‘success’ inspired by the Imposter Syndrome is that it is driven by fear of failure, and consequently, even though goals may be achieved, the emotional cost is significant, and the individual never really has an opportunity to enjoy her/his achievements

Alternatively, the Imposter Syndrome can lead to all sorts of actions that serve simply to ‘protect’ the individual from being exposed as a fraud. Thus, we might seek to self-sabotage our performance – to create reasons why we might fail, or might fall short of expectations. So – we prevaricate and procrastinate, delaying completion of tasks until we have analysed every possible alternative, and collected all possible pieces of supporting evidence, such that by the time we come to actually do something, time is so short that it’s hardly surprising that we didn’t complete it very well. Alternatively, we hide behind ‘busy-ness’, taking on far more than we can ever hope to successfully manage, never saying no, and filling the diary with meetings, briefings, updates and visits, such that the time available to actually DO anything is reduced to a vanishingly small window. Kearns claims (with some justification) that ‘being busy’ is one of the very few acceptable reasons for poor performance in western society (“I know it’s rubbish – but I’ve been so busy recently!”)

Kearns suggests two more positive and productive ways of responding to Imposter Syndrome. The first – relevant to those for whom the Syndrome is less chronic, and who are able to manage its expression in their day-to-day lives – is simply to keep on doing what you’re doing. Whilst occasionally the ANTs may prompt feelings of discomfort or anxiety, most of us will be able to recognise them for what they are, set them to one side, and carry on with our lives more or less successfully, without allowing temporary crises of confidence to significantly impact on what we can achieve

However, if you find that feelings of inadequacy, or being an imposter, are seriously impacting on your ability to function at the level that you are capable of, then you may need to engage in a more structured approach to dealing with the ANTs. It’s crucial to recognise at this stage that Feelings are not Facts. To exemplify this, how many of us have left an exam hall FEELING that it was the worst paper that we have ever sat, that we are bound to have failed, that our whole lives will be scarred by the appalling experience, only to subsequently find that in FACT, we had passed it. All those feelings of shock, pain, failure, catastrophe are part of the Automatic Negative Thoughts that tumble into our consciousness unbidden and unlooked for. We can help to manage them through the application of conscious reason – by defining the More Accurate Thoughts (MAThs) that are the logical counterpoint to ANTs. It’s highly unlikely that any individual event in our personal, professional or social lives will go so catastrophically wrong that it will erase all of the successes that preceded it. When we find ourselves being over-run by ANTs, then coolly recalling the facts and concentrating on the More Accurate Thoughts that they inform, can help us keep from responding manically (working ever harder to prove our worth), or like rabbits in the headlights (stunned into inactivity as disaster looms)

So – that’s it. My prevarication and procrastination over what to write here has been a result of fears that sooner or later I’d be exposed as a fraud, with nothing of interest to say and nothing that anybody else would want to read. My ANTs were getting in the way, but (thanks to Kearns) MAThs has saved the day!