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An outstanding team of individuals will always beat a team of outstanding individuals

April 28, 2014

It happened to Burnley FC on a special day, 100 years ago last Friday on 25 April 1914, just four months before the outbreak of war. We won the F A Cup. In 100 years since it remains Burnley’s one success in the competition to date, and as such, the team remains unique. The Burnley F A Cup winning team 1914 was: Sewell, Bamford, Taylor, Halley, Boyle, Watson, Mosscrop, Lindley, Freeman, Hodgson and Nesbitt. All are legends, heroes. They are the reason Burnley’s name is inscribed on the Cup.

The previous season Burnley had lost to Sunderland after a replayed semi-final, could the team improve on that performance the next year? A first round 3-0 victory on a frosty day over South Shields at home was followed by a 3-2 home victory over Derby in round two, and another home victory, 3-0 over Bolton in the third round, and we were into the Quarter Finals – and an away draw to Sunderland. Could we avenge last season’s defeat?

An epic encounter ended 0-0. A replay four days later at the Turf in front of a new record crowd of 49,737 saw Burnley kicking off the first half playing towards the Bee Hole End having won the toss, and goals from Hodgson and Lindley sealed a 2-1 victory. The match kicked off at 3pm on a Wednesday, and many factories, collieries and mills closed at 1pm to have a half-day. At some mills weavers’ wives stood in for their husbands so they could attend the game. After the match, Burnley was pandemonium, reported the local paper.

The semi-final versus Sheffield United was at Old Trafford. It finished 0-0 and replayed three days later. Twenty eight minutes into the replay, captain Tommy Boyle scored the goal to secure a 1-0 victory and Burnley were in the Cup Final. The team had momentum and was building. In the previous season a club record of scoring at least three goals in ten successive games was achieved and promotion back to Division One. Three players – Mosscrop, Boyle and Watson – played for England in the Cup Final season

Cup Final day, April 25 1914, kick–off 3.30pm. Ahead of the game, Ernie Edwards and Charlie Bates, the Burnley backroom staff, set out the long-sleeved claret and blue shirts, hanging on the wall hooks. The shirts had the Royal Arms, embroidered in silver thread on the left hand side of the chest, positioned over the heart to commemorate the first F A Cup Final being played in front of a reigning monarch, King George V.

Cup Final day was too sunny for football and the ground was hard and dry. Lindley hit the cross-bar in the first minute for Burnley, but half-time came at 0-0. With almost an hour gone, Burnley had a throw in on the right, and the ball was picked up by Billy Nesbitt. He found Teddy Hodgson with a high cross. Hodgson beat the Liverpool full back in the air and a precise header laid the ball into the path of Bert Freeman, steaming into the penalty area.

At knee height, Freeman met the ball on the perfect half-volley and drove it into the net. Goal! Burnley took the lead in the 58th minute. It was a great reward for Freeman’s father, Tom, who had travelled 13,000 miles from Australia to be at the game. Thereafter, Hodgson hit the post, Nesbitt stumbled with the goal at his mercy, and Lindley shot wide.

At the final whistle, the Pathe News reel reveals Burnley captain Boyle pausing half-way up the steps to pull up his shirt sleeves to the elbow before collecting the cup. Four days later when the team returned to Burnley, the town went bonkers, 10,000 greeted the team at Rosegrove station.

What a great team. But it is a sobering thought that this starting XI only played alongside each other on four occasions, and sadly they were never to line up together again after that memorable day. On the 4 August, just three-months after the final, war was declared. Five of the Burnley players in the 1913-14 squad, including Teddy Hodgson, the leading goal scorer in Burnley’s 1914 Cup campaign, made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

In 1920-21 season, two years after the Great War ended, Burnley, still under the management of John Haworth, won the Football League Championship for the first time with several players who won the Cup in the team. During that season they went on a record-breaking run of 30 league games undefeated, a record, which stood until Arsenal bettered it in 2004. It wasn’t until 1925 when the team started to fade, after over a decade of great performances, results and success.

Looking back at the poignant sepia images of men long since gone, match reports and stories of the heroes of the day creates a wistfulness, an almost melancholic feeling despite a victory that created such euphoria at the time and history we can recall with pride. What lies behind the success of that Burnley team of a century ago, and what can we take from it into creating winning teams in our organisations of today?

Visionary leadership Harry Windle was appointed Chairman at Burnley in 1909, and he recruited John Haworth as ‘secretary-manager’, probably the best decision he made in his tenure. It was also Windle who saw investment in the Turf Moor ground that built capacity from 15,000 to 50,000.

All organisations need to look towards the future, have a vision and build momentum, and not just operate in the present. Windle’s foresight in building the football club for the long-term was just as vital a contribution as anything that season.

Strong management John Haworth spent 14 years as secretary–manager of Burnley, appointed in 1910 and was highly successful, guiding the team to both the FA Cup victory in 1914 and Football League Championship in 1921. He was an innovator and thinker, but kept a low profile. He was responsible for changing the colour of Burnley’s green strip to that of claret and blue to match that of reigning champions Aston Villa, and he also signed Tommy Boyle and Bert Freeman. Haworth was a truly great manager who achieved many great things during his tenure: 1913 FA Cup Semi-Finalists; 1914 FA Cup Winners; 1920 League Runners up; 1921 League Champions; 1924 FA Cup Semi-Finalists. Alas he died of pneumonia aged just 48 when still manager.

Having a consistent, long-term focus to management is a key driver of success. It’s true in business as it is in sport – a manager needs time to build his own team.

Motivational leadership Tommy Boyle scored the winner in the replayed semi-final with Sheffield United, and is the only player to have captained a cup winning Burnley team. Having lifted the FA Cup, he then became the first Burnley captain to lift the League Championship Trophy in 1921.  Boyle remains an icon in the town, every fan knows his legacy with his image on the Turf Hotel pub sign on Yorkshire Street.

During the game, and in the everyday cut and thrust of business, it’s vital that there is effective organisation, man-management and overseeing of performance. Boyle inspired confidence, had something to prove and lead the team when the chips were down.

The leadership team of Windle, Haworth and Boyle shows the impact of a clear leadership focus on vision, strategy and tactics. The most powerful thing a leader can do to foster effective collaboration in a team is to create conditions that help members competently manage themselves. The second most powerful thing is to launch the team well, the third is the hands-on teaching and coaching that leaders do after the work is underway. That’s what Windle, Haworth and Boyle achieved.

Research suggests that condition-creating accounts for about 60% of the variation in how well a team eventually performs; that the quality of the team launch accounts for another 30%; and that real-time coaching accounts for only about 10%. Leaders are indeed important in collaborative work, but not in the ways we usually think.

Experience David Taylor, the Burnley fullback, played in Bradford City’s Cup winning team of 1911, whilst Tommy Boyle was in the losing Barnsley team in 1910. Eddie Mosscrop, Billy Watson and Boyle all played for England together that season – three Burnley players in the same England team, imagine that!

A successful business needs a combination of experience, potential and talent to blend into an effective team. Burnley in 1914 had it in spades.

Camaraderie Haven Street is just a stones throw from the Turf Moor football ground, a street of humble but solid terraced houses that still stand today. It was on this street that the majority of the victorious Burnley team lived in close contact.

One of the traits of winning teams is the effective social bonding between the individuals, knowing each other outside of the work context sees camaraderie develop, building rapport and closer relationships, and team spirit builds mental resolve and ‘togetherness’.

Talent Bert Freeman scored the winning goal that day, and his shirt and boots worn at the match are priceless artefacts displayed in the Turf Moor Boardroom. Transferred for a fee of £8,000 from Everton, he played 189 games for the Clarets and scored 115 goals. He was top scorer in the Football League in 1911/12 with 32 goals in 33 games, and again in 1912/13 with 31 goals in 37 games. He also played five games for England scoring three goals. His Cup Final winner in the 58th minute set him firmly in the pantheon of Burnley legends.

Every team needs talented individuals, but Freeman was a team player too. In many businesses the star performers get all the headlines, but a team of outstanding individuals will never beat an outstanding team of individuals.

Teamship Jerry Dawson holds the appearance record at Burnley FC with 569 games, and was the goalkeeper for many seasons. However, Dawson is mostly remembered for one match, the 1914 FA Cup Final, even though he did not play. The day before the game, he told manager John Haworth that he didn’t think he would make it to the end of the game as a result of a rib injury. As there were no substitutes in those days, this would have left Burnley without a goalkeeper. He thus stood down from the biggest game of his career, putting the team before his own personal glory, and Ronnie Sewell took his place. As a sign of respect of his unselfishness and humility, Dawson was given a winner’s medal.

Dawson showed another key trait of individuals in successful teams, that of putting the interests of the team before their own personal ambitions and needs. The team’s success comes before any individual success, is the winning team ethos.

Teamwork Halley-Boyle-Watson. These three players are revered in Burnley folklore as our best half-back line in the history of the club. It was on March 15 1913, in the home fixture against Bury, that the Burnley half-back line read Halley-Boyle-Watson for the very first time. Alas they only played 115 games together, football like life being disrupted by the Great War.

Teamwork is everything. However, also significant is the mental strength of the individuals in a team. For members of the 1914 F A Cup winning team to survive the trauma of the Great War and then reform seven years later as the backbone of the 1921 Championship winning team says something quite remarkable about both the individuals, and the teamwork.

Determination Burnley had won through the previous season’s F A Cup competition only to lose in the semi-final.  Despite the absence of Dawson, Burnley went into the final with confidence. Sewell was a talented deputy and the other ten members of the team had played together in every round.

Unity and collaboration are critical to an organisation that has to respond quickly to changing circumstances. The longer members stay together as an intact 
group, the better they do – they develop a determination to succeed as a group. Teams that stay together longer, play together better.

The larger the group, the higher the likelihood of social loafing and free riding, and the more effort it takes to keep members’ activities coordinated. Small teams become tight-knitted as a cohesive unit.

Fast-forward 100 years to today, and Burnley are celebrating another successful team, winning promotion to the Premier League. In many respects the traits and characteristics of the 1914 team can be seen in the 2014 team – although I don’t think the 1914 heroes had as many tattoos! However, the same conclusion can be drawn: an outstanding team of individuals will always beat a team of outstanding individuals.

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