Paul McVeigh’s curiously named The Stupid Footballer Is Dead outlines some important lessons potential footballers must learn in the modern age of footballing. With great focus nowadays on sports science, the days of when a footballer could sink pints down at the pub following a game are well and truly over. McVeigh, however, insists that understanding sports psychology—a fascinating yet underappreciated frontier—is just as important in a footballer’s quest to succeed at the professional level and beyond.
Chapters titled ‘Create a Helpful Self-Image’, ‘Think About Thinking’, ‘Focus on Success’, and ‘Take Preparation and Recovery Seriously’ aren’t exactly new and edifying topics for a footballer already initiated at any professional level. Such advice is straight out of an instructional training session of an honest pro made good in the world beyond football. However, McVeigh very often hits the right tone when doling out his wisdom that is based on his experience mentoring young footballers and aiding in their psychological development. Paul McVeigh is a rare breed—a former pro at the highest level who is also an authority on footballing psychology. He provides case studies of footballers embodying the psychological tenets he describes—examples include James Milner typifying ‘Preparation and Recovery’, and Robert Green typifying ‘Meet Adversity with Strength’.
The anecdotes from McVeigh’s playing days are there too, and serve to flesh out his points. You’ll get snippets of what happened to Rory Allen, McVeigh’s fellow professional at Tottenham; how McVeigh got a gig with Sky Sports; and his on-field tussle with Tim Cahill. He touches on tragedy too, particularly with a car accident following a win in the Championship playoff semi-final.
Here is where The Stupid Footballer is Dead seems to be caught between self-help and autobiography. Autobiographies of players of McVeigh’s ilk are gold dust in a burgeoning market for football literature. Content here, however, is often abridged so as not to override a point. From his Belfast boyhood to sharing a dressing room with the likes of Craig Bellamy, Dean Ashton, and Robert Green (“never fully integrated with the team”), the kernel of an entertaining autobiography is here, yet never fully explored.
Some of McVeigh’s assertions are perhaps a little wide of the mark, also. With the wealth of excellent footballing journalism and long-form nowadays, his criticism of journalists who have never played the game is needlessly dismissive, churlish and straight out of the Robbie Savage book of punditry.
Despite the above shortcomings, The Stupid Footballer is Dead certainly also holds value for the typical footballing fan. McVeigh is a success story in retirement from football, and is a product of the discipline and open-mindedness that he practiced during his playing career. Many of the lessons McVeigh describes can be applied to high-performance tasks or everyday life, and will attract the more reluctant reader of self-help books. He introduces the wonderful mantra to live by, “There is no such thing as failure, only feedback” which should inspire many readers.
From McVeigh’s mentor, Gavin Drake:
“Gavin had explained to me that when we ‘focus’ we should be channelling our energy into what we want to happen with an expectation of achieving that aim. The brain works ‘teleologically’, which means that it will lock on to and help you achieve whatever you focus on, and quite naturally, you will gravitate in that direction.” (pg. 52)
FULL TIME SCORE: An inspiring 2-0 win led by the red-faced veteran at the heart of defence, willing his young charges on until the final whistle.