Lessons in Development from Newcastle

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

“It is your brain that makes you a player.” Peter Beardsley was always thinking three passes ahead.

“It’s not me, it’s practice” – Peter Beardsley.

Peter Beardsley was one of the marque English players of the pre-Premiership era.  Part of a thrilling attack at Newcastle that included Kevin Keegan and Chris Waddle, he won the championship with Liverpool and almost won it again (twice) with Newcastle in the Premier League.

Looking back now he was part of a true golden generation of talent for England.  Waddle, John Barnes, Glenn Hoddle and Beardsley were each outstanding footballers but had the misfortune of coming up eventual champions Argentina and Germany respectively during the knockout stages of the 1986 and 1990 FIFA World Cups.

Street Football
Starring on the world stage was a long way from his mind when growing up in the northeast of England.

Street football or, more accurately, playing with a football on the street was core to Beardsley becoming the player he was.

Beardsley took every opportunity to practice with a ball.

Whenever his mother asked him to go on an errand he would take his ball with him.  Down to the local shops, the ball would be at his feet, getting kicked off walls along the way.  Money was tight in this family so the ball was not of the highest quality – it was plastic – meaning that it sometimes seemed to have a mind of its own when rebounding off surfaces.

Once the shopping was completed Beardsley didn’t put the ball in one of the shopping bags.  Rather, he would return back home with the ball at his feet, a shopping bag in each hand.

During the hundreds of time he completed this task for his Mum he built a routine that needed to be completed perfectly each step of the way.  If he made a mistake he would stop and repeat that element until he got it right before continuing on this way.

His journey included crossing train tracks via a 12 metre high bridge.   With the ball not touching the ground as he went up and down the steps on each side, it is no surprise that young Peter developed outstanding technical skills and balance.

Competitive Intent
His technical skills were honed in “The Sweatbox”, an indoor court at the famed Wallsend Boys Club, through competition.

With the winning team staying on after each game, there was only one way to make sure you got to play lots of matches – win.  The court was 30 metres by 40 metres meaning impeccable control and passes were needed to thread packed defenses.

Beardsley had time to evaluate his performance as he dribbled the ball home each night after training.

He realised that the key to success was footballing intelligence.

“It is your brain that makes you a player.”

Passing to the right teammate, at the right time became the foundation of his game.

He focused on building awareness of when and where his teammates wanted the ball.  A feature of this approach was passing to space, forcing defenders to turn and creating options in attack through quick ball transition.

Collective Understanding
For Peter Beardsley to be the player he became he needed to have players around him who could understand what he wanted to do and where they needed to be.

This is a massive focus for Top Flight Football Academy in 2016 and one of the primary reasons we have taken the approach of consolidating with Uni-Mount Football Club.  Building teams that have that awareness will, over time, showcase the qualities of each player in a squad.

Final Word
In a time when football in New Zealand is taking a hammering in the media for a number of reasons, remembering what is special about the game is vital.

Rather than be annoyed by incompetence, it’s important that the creativity, brilliance, joy and fun of football are top of mind.

The Big Interview with Graham Hunter podcast, “Peter Beardsley: Three Passes Ahead”

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