Football’s goal-fest – a lesson or a warning for us all

If you follow football, you will have noticed some dramatic score lines in the Premier League as this new season has begun. Liverpool, last season’s champions conceded seven to Villa, a team that narrowly avoided relegation.  Leicester put five past Man City at the Etihad. A few days later, Spurs scored six at Old Trafford. It’s 90 years since goal scoring was so high, so what’s happened?  And, more importantly, are there lessons for businesses other than football?

Inspired play or wandering minds?

There’s a lot of speculation about the reasons. Some claim the absence of fans reduces pressure and gives strikers more freedom to be creative. They’ll take more chances without fear of ridicule: less caution and more spontaneity. But goal scoring isn’t just about the player trying to get the ball in the net. It’s about defenders and keepers too. There are plenty of pundits heaping the blame on the defence, saying that without the fans to keep them alert, minds wander, focus is lost, and the ball hits the back of the net.

There could be truth in these ideas. Football is a business. Its fans are customers – albeit ones with a great deal of loyalty. If customers aren’t there to give or feedback, in the form of enquiries, orders or recommendations, will a business maintain its standards? Will the business get creative, investing in and producing things that nobody wants because there’s no imperative to ensure payback? Football needs its fans. They, just like any other customer, keep businesses on track.

Tired bodies, tired minds?

Hopefully, fans will be back inside the grounds – delivering their vocal feedback – before too long. But some experts on the game have another theory as to what’s behind the goal-fest. Tiredness. Now to me, this makes a lot of sense. There’s been a long layoff throughout lockdown with little stimulus, then a condensed end to the 19/20 season and a compressed start to this one. Players are fatigued, at more risk of injury and uncertainty is greater than ever. Who is at their best under these circumstances? It’s not just bodies that are tired, brains are too. Reaction times are slower. Mistakes are more common. There’s less time for recovery, training, planning and preparation.

Defending ourselves in uncertain times

This is where football gives us a warning. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have had to operate in different ways. Staffing patterns have changed. Order books are either empty or full to the brim. While some firms are making redundancies, others are recruiting. A lot of things are changing very quickly, and we have no guarantee of when things will settle or if they will return to normal. All this upheaval, planning, re-planning, scheduling, shortages, changing suppliers, dealing with different lead times, dealing with staff having to isolate, has a cost in terms of energy. This can be positive or negative.

In glazing, we’re experiencing a mini boom. Householders haven’t spent on holidays and their savings aren’t accruing interest, so many are investing in home-improvements. But we’re aware that many people are coming to terms with redundancy and facing an uncertain future. Being in a construction-related industry, we’re used to dealing with peaks and troughs of demand, but other industries may well be finding this time more taxing, physically and mentally. It’s not just the back four on the pitch. We all need to be on our guard, sense checking our decisions and looking out for each other.

As a nation, we’re all doing our best to get through a challenging time, protecting jobs, education and health. For football fans, the start of a new season, even with its empty stadia, has been a spark of brightness and it’s been great to watch the ball curling into the top corner of the net. But after we’ve finished celebrating – or if our team’s just been thrashed, criticising the defence – we should seek out the reasons. Who’s drained? Who hasn’t had time to plan? Who’s had to cope with one too many challenges?

In business, as in life, we can learn a lot from the beautiful game.