Leadership in football is just like being a headteacher.. you don't always follow the book | Dave Thomas

The new Micky Mellon book about leadership set me thinking.

By Dave Thomas
Monday, 10th May 2021, 12:30 pm
Dave Thomas with Burnley manager Sean Dyche who is widely acknowledged as one of the finest leaders the club has ever seen.
Dave Thomas with Burnley manager Sean Dyche who is widely acknowledged as one of the finest leaders the club has ever seen.

Micky is a former Burnley man who joined the club in the days of Stan Ternent and is now carving himself a career in management. His book is about the importance of the first 100 days in management.

There are plenty of books about leadership and what it’s all about. Alastair Campbell wrote one.

Michael Calvin devoted a big chapter to Sean Dyche in his book. If you want an example of what leadership is all about, in many eyes, Sean Dyche is the go-to man. Perhaps the best of all, in football, was Alex Ferguson.

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Perhaps the bloke who is the current worst is Jose Mourinho. As the psychiatrist said to Basil Fawlty in an episode of 'Fawlty Towers, “enough material there for a dissertation.” Tottenham had to get rid of him.

Perhaps nobody has written more books about leadership than Burnley fan Andy Hargreaves, who plied his trade in the USA at Boston College, where he held the Chair of Education.

He has 25 titles to his credit that he either wrote or edited. In one of them ‘Uplifting Leadership’ he wrote about

Burnley. It was a time of promotion to the Premiership and he suggested that the boardroom would need to rise to the new levels of leadership required in the new circumstances.

It all reminded me of when I was the headteacher of a small village school in South Leeds. In 1986 when I got the job there, I bought a book about leadership in schools. Great, just what I need.

This will do the trick I thought. Later I wrote a thesis about it and it’s still up in the loft somewhere.

The school was in Thorpe, full title Thorpe on the Hill, this giving it an attractiveness that in reality did not exist. It was in an ex-mining village with, for added flavour, abandoned railway yards just down the hill. It was deprived, tough, semi-derelict (and that was just the mums). It had seen five heads in just three years and I was the sixth victim.

So, I read my book about leadership and made some notes. One of them said get out and meet and greet folks as they bring their children to the entrance. Be sociable, pleasant and chatty.

Thus, on the very first morning I went out onto the top step by the front door to bid a cheery 'good morning' to all and sundry. I was approached by one of the mums, the shape of a sack of spuds, with a face like Desperate Dan, and clearly hadn’t shaved that morning. She fixed me with a glare.

“And how long will you be $&^%£* here,” she grunted. I looked at her, turned pale, and shivered.

Other mums nudged each other, grinned and whispered, clearly amused.

Oh Lord, this is not a normal village I thought. I am talking to an alien being. My leadership book said nothing about this; in short, I was somewhat taken aback. Cheery smiles were not supposed to result in this.

There was only one thing for it. The book about leadership went into the bin. It was time for a rethink. It worked and I stayed there for 14 years.