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Do you have a vision, like William McGregor and Charles Sutcliffe?

June 24, 2013

Last week’s release of the 2013/14 football season fixtures brought the usual clamour and excitement for the season approaching, as we all searched out for those local derby games and when the games against antagonistic rivals (dirty Leeds United) would be played.

The season ahead is also a special one, with the 125th anniversary of the founding of The Football League, and with an eye on nostalgia, some of the opening day fixtures are to be between the 12 original founding members of the Football League.

My own team, Burnley, will entertain Bolton on the opening weekend of the new season, 3 August. It will be the usual jousting for Lancashire pride, armed with we eat more pies than you and other tribal songs resonating with ribald humour.

The Clarets’ Turf Moor ground hosted games in the inaugural 1888-89 season, and is one of only three original grounds remaining – Preston and Sheffield United being the other two – reflecting the roots of the game in the working class Northern towns.

There will be drama and excitement, disappointment and triumph in league games in the coming months, as players make their mark, but who were the visionaries who pioneered the football industry 125 years ago?

The roots of The Football League can be traced back to William McGregor, then the secretary of Aston Villa FC, who created the league itself, and Charles Sutcliffe, a doughty solicitor from Rawtenstall, Lancashire, who devised the mathematical process for compiling the fixtures and a host of other reforms and innovations in the early C20th.

William McGregor was born in Perthshire in 1846. In 1888 he owned a linen draper’s store in Aston, and was attracted to Aston Villa by their link with the Aston Villa Wesleyan Chapel. He sent a letter to clubs including the line: I beg to tender the following suggestion… that 10 or 12 of the most prominent clubs in England combine to arrange home-and-away fixtures each season.

He wrote the letter in pencil on the back of a draper’s fashion plate and two weeks later all the concerned parties met at Anderton’s Hotel in Fleet Street, London, to discuss the proposals.

It was here that a set of basic principles was agreed. Among these was the stipulation that a team should always field a full-strength side. It is the only one which remains in the Football League’s rules and regulations today (rule 24.1).

A further meeting took place at the Royal Hotel, Manchester, on 17 April. It was there that the name The Football League was born on a suggestion from the representative from Preston, Major William Sudell.

It remains a pivotal point in football’s development because it is the moment when the idea of league football was given a public expression. Before that, the major clubs in England played mainly in cup competitions, with those games supplemented by a series of ad-hoc friendlies.

The McGregor letter is the start of Saturday at 3pm as we know it today. It’s the point at which professional football decides it has to get organised and get regular, reliable income or be strangled at birth.

The inaugural season kicked off on 8 September and was won by Preston North End, who went through the 22-game season unbeaten. They also won the FA Cup and became known as the Invincibles. On the opening weekend, Preston beat Burnley 5-2, but we won’t linger on that.

It was not until the first season reached its midway stage that the points system was agreed. Some clubs felt none should be awarded for a drawn game, but at a meeting in Birmingham in November a motion was passed by six votes to four in favour of two for a win and one for a draw. It was also McGregor who also first suggested the idea of a league table.

It is a little known fact that up to 1968, a Burnley supporter and his son compiled the entire fixture list of the Football League. They were Charles and Harold Sutcliffe, solicitors who lived in Rawtenstall throughout this period.

Charles Sutcliffe was a remarkable man. He developed and perfected a system of working out the full fixture list, which was an arduous task to say the least, especially when one considers that by 1923 there were 88 league clubs. It was a task he performed until his death in 1938 after which his son Harold took over until he died in October 1967.

Sutcliffe joined the Management Committee of the Football League in 1898, serving for 40 years, eventually becoming the President of the Football League from 1936 until his death. Sutcliffe also founded and was the first president of the Referees’ Union.

So two visionaries who shaped the football industry.  I’m working with a couple of clients at the moment on the vision for their organisations, do you have a clear vision for yours?

Visioning is a process, not an output. A vision helps inform direction and set priorities for your business. Without a vision how do you know if the direction in which you’re currently heading is the right one? Without a vision, how do you know if the decisions you’re making are beneficial?

A vision isn’t a single statement, it’s a set of ideas that describe a future state of the business. Of course, the future is something that all organisations must grapple with, but the vision should provide a sense of aspiration, and stretch the imagination too.

Visioning is like dipping your toes into the future so you can start to understand what your organisation needs to do in order to achieve future success as you see it, and gives you purpose and direction, and helps to set priorities.

Let’s say you’re setting up a new business and designing a new product to bring to market. Without a vision of what you want to accomplish with your product, you will have a hard time providing direction to your decisions, giving purpose to the countless hours you’ll spend in development, and influencing the various practices to bring the product to market

What are the attributes of a vision for your business? Look back from the future and ask where do we want to be? In the present, ask where are we today? – and the gap is what we need to do to get there?

Let’s get a little more practical and talk about important elements that make up a properly defined vision:

Passion You have to be passionate about your vision, if you’re not passionate about your own vision, no one else is going to be bothered!

When Kennedy announced that his vision was to put a man on the moon, he captivated the American people with his passion. Passion is contagious and if you are passionate about your vision chances are you’ll get others to be passionate about it as well. Your vision may not seem very grand to you, in the same sense as perhaps Kennedy’s vision was, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be passionate about it.

Reality While passion is essential, it’s good to have a helpful dose of reality from time to time. A realistic vision doesn’t have to mean a mediocre vision, Kennedy’s vision was far from mediocre, it was a giant leap for mankind to be sure, but he was confident enough in the capabilities of those involved in the project to get the job done.

It’s important to be realistic, because your vision needs to be attainable, otherwise it wouldn’t be a vision, it would be a dream. But something that’s attainable doesn’t mean it has to have already been attained. You want to stay grounded, but not at the expense that you can’t look above what’s already been done.

Simplicity The simpler your vision is the more attainable it will be, the more complex then the easier it will be to become bogged down in the details. A simple vision doesn’t mean an easy vision, Kennedy’s vision was far from easy, but it was simple enough that the American people could understand it, and simple enough that those around him could develop it.

Go for something great Go for a vision of greatness – something far out there from where you are today, something that is big but also specific, scary but also exciting. Get past the 49 reasons why it won’t work. If the early draft isn’t sounding a little far-fetched, then you probably haven’t pushed yourself hard enough.

Step into the future Visioning works better when you see things from the perspective as if you’re already sitting in the future you’re envisioning. This seems strange, but it really is critical. Don’t write as if your vision going to happen, write as if it already has happened.

A vision with the above attributes is quite simply a picture of what success will be at your chosen point in the future. It encompasses answers to an array of questions: What does our organisation look like? What are we famous for? Why do customers buy from us?

Complete the visioning process, and you’ll have a clearly articulated focus for your organisation, something that won’t change every time the market or your mood shifts.

A vision also makes it much easier to handle the business opportunities that present themselves every day. The calls come in every day, and then we agonise over what to do, without a vision they tend to grab what’s just in front of them.

Having a vision makes decisions much easier: The only opportunities even worth considering are those that are going to help us attain our vision.

A great vision is inspiring. It gets you and everyone in the organization excited to come to work. When we do effective visioning, we’re moving toward the future we want, not just reacting to a present-day reality. If we do our job well in this regard, I believe that we keep our competitors reacting to what we’re doing, instead of the other way around.

Business life is one big road with lots of signs, so when you’re riding over the bumps, don’t complicate your mind, put your vision to reality. Be daring, be different, be impractical in your initial thinking, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imagination against the play-it-safers.

Throughout the centuries there were men and women who took first steps down new roads, armed with nothing but their own vision. So, be a McGregor or a Sutcliffe, get yourself a vision. Make it compelling, challenging, clear and concise, and inspiring.

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