Thursday, June 23, 2016
It’s more than a slogan and the title of the official Wales anthem, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd, who has just returned from Euro 2016 in France.
With the Wales football team doing the country proud in the European Championships—we face Northern Ireland in the last 16 at the weekend—there have been references to our ‘Together Stronger’ mantra all over the press and social media. It’s been given even more mileage by the Manic Street Preachers, who called their official Wales song for the tournament, ‘Together Stronger (C’mon Wales)’. Everywhere you go, someone says ’Together Stronger’—in the tea-room, in the pub, on the phone, over dinner and in the boardroom—but I wonder how many people consider what it actually means.
I’ve just spent a week in France, where I was among five other adults and seven 12 year olds (one was my son) from the youth football team I help manage. First, the tournament reiterated what ‘Together Stronger’ isn’t about. It isn’t about the disgraceful, moronic hooliganism that blighted the early days of the tournament. It isn’t about associating violence with the beautiful game. It isn’t about causing harm, damage and destruction to the towns where a football tournament is taking place. It isn’t about hanging around with a group of louts tossing bottles into crowds of law officials and fans. It isn’t about organised or any other kind of violence. It isn’t about throwing fireworks, flares and other dangerous items inside or outside football stadiums. It isn’t about covering one’s face and charging at football fans, particularly when women and children are caught up in the chaos. That’s cowardly, weak, embarrassing, dangerous and incredibly disruptive. Together Stupid, maybe.
Such was the extent of the trouble in many of the cities hosting games, we stayed at our base camp in Berny-Rivière, which was about an hour from Paris, and watched matches in a safe and enjoyable environment, where everyone embraced the ’Together Stronger’ spirit. Fans of all ages, supporting different teams, mingled and cheered on their countries. They exchanged banter, celebrated their teams’ successes and congratulated others when their nations scored goals or secured valuable points during the group stages.
The atmosphere at Berny-Rivière was great. Just because we were friendly and spent time with supporters of other home nations and countries, it didn’t mean we didn’t celebrate and cheer on our sides with passion—we did—but everyone understood that support didn’t involve throwing chairs or fighting. We even sung songs to other nations and chanted when we were winning. Singing continued throughout the whole 90 minutes of matches. I practically lost my voice at one point! The difference was, we didn’t follow it up with mindless hooliganism. We shook hands and had a beer together.
Let’s relive the group performances that saw Wales reach the last 16. Remember, we haven’t even been to a major tournament for half a century (58 years, in fact) so this is a huge achievement and proof that ’Together Stronger’ works. First, we scored a late winner against Slovakia to get our campaign off to a winning start. Gareth Bale’s free-kick gave us the lead before scores were levelled, arguably down to some slack defending, but we stuck Together and substitute Hal Robson-Kanu swept (ok, scuffed) home a late decider.
The less said about the next match the better, but credit to England for battling to the end of the game to beat us by the same scoreline as we had defeated our first opponents. Bale was again on target with a free-kick (many thought England stopper Joe Hart should have saved it) but England’s super-subs Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge turned it around after their poor first half showing. Much of the banter with England fans was that their manager, Roy Hodgson, doesn’t even know what his best team is!
We secured our deserved spot at the top of Group B thanks to an emphatic victory over Russia, who had earlier broken England’s hearts with a late equaliser. We gave them no such chance with Aaron Ramsey delightfully chipping us ahead before Neil Taylor scored his first goal for Wales. Bale then edged clear as the tournament’s top scorer with a cool finish.
I disagree with anyone who claims Wales are a one-man team. Yes, Bale is a special talent but without the other 10 guys on the pitch at any given time, he would not be able to achieve what he does. We’re ’Together Stronger’. Furthermore, Bale does a lot for the team. His work rate is exceptional and he wouldn’t hesitate to give the ball to a teammate in a more advantageous position. I would question whether Portugal’s hotshot Cristiano Ronaldo is truly a team man. His body language and attitude has been poor during a disappointing start to the tournament, although he did score twice as they scraped through the group stages with a draw in their last match.
As a manager of a young side, some of whom were with me in France, I would rather they looked up to someone like Bale than Ronaldo, but better still aspired to be part of a team that understands the meaning of ’Together Stronger’. As football fans, we can’t help but be impressed when the latter scores from miles out, beats a whole defense, or goes on an incredible scoring run. However, as this tournament has proved, strong team performances go much further. Wales have epitomised the team spirit required to be successful. I think Ronaldo could learn a lot from Bale and even England could learn a lot from Wales. They’ve been to many more tournaments than us in recent decades but haven’t seemed to have learnt from past mistakes. Maybe we’ll meet again later in the competition.
It’s been good to come home to Bridgend and get the Rope and Sling team’s perspective on the Euros so far. It sounds like there has also been plenty of banter between the other depots. England had bragging rights after the second group game but then they couldn’t score against Slovakia and we cruised past Russia, so they’ve gone quiet now! Seriously, the tournament has been great for morale and we’ve been ordering in pizzas so staff can watch games with their colleagues.
We’ve been ’Together Stronger’ at the company since long before the Euros. I’ve blogged before about the importance of our employees. They’re like players in a football team. Everyone has their different strengths (and weaknesses) and my job, similar to that of Wales manager Chris Coleman, is about bringing everyone together to strive towards collective goals. No, we don’t take to a field and try to shoot at a goalkeeper, but we do have our own roles that relate to someone beside or in front of us and without working together as a team, we’d achieve nothing. We certainly wouldn’t have just opened our fifth depot, in London.
We can all learn lessons from life, business and football that can be applied to each discipline. It’s a message that I try to get across to my son and his teammates in the youth team. When I was in my prime, I was a ferocious right-back. I tackled hard, was good positionally, ran up and down the line for 90 minutes, passed well and was even dangerous when I got an opportunity to shoot at an opponent’s goal.
I’m jesting, of course. What was actually apparent to me very early in my career was how important my mates were to my own game and our success as a team. This sunk in quicker on a football pitch than it did at school. If a youngster embraces this ’Together Stronger’ spirit from an early age, imagine how successful they can become in life, in business and on the football pitch, netball court or rugby field.
As Wales’ three games at the Euros and our youth team’s 2015/16 campaign proved, sport is also similar to life and business in that there are many ups and downs. One minute you can be jumping around, singing, celebrating a goal, and the next slumped to your knees with head in hands, feeling robbed and cheated. Football can be extremely character building. Wales sandwiched a disappointing defeat in between two magical victories. Think of the extremes in emotion the players have experienced already and the tournament has hardly started. Our youth team, meanwhile, lifted the league title but were disappointed to fall short in two cup competitions. In victory and defeat a team is ‘Together Stronger’. Wales can use the defeat to England as motivation in the knock-out stages, while the youngsters can use cup exits as a source of motivation to do better next season.
While we’re on the subject of youth football, I wish all parents would better embrace the ‘Together Stronger’ spirit. Sometimes they get carried away with their emotions and forget it’s about enjoying sport and spending Saturday mornings together. I cherish the opportunity to manage the team and spend time with my son as he learns about sport and life. It’ll come and go so quickly and I think we should all remember that as the next season fast approaches.
“…We can beat any side
So come on Wales
So come on Wales
We’ll win if we unite.”
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Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd