• Alba\Andy

What Can We Learn From England?: The Growth Mindset Litmus Test

So here we are, and here's the piece I didn't want to write in my worst of nightmares; on Sunday, England, our fiercest rivals, are playing in their first Major Tournament Final since 1966.

As the media coverage has been lacking a little, with exemplary non-partisan commentary representing all of the nations found within the United Kingdom, you might be unaware of this, but I'll help you along a little.

You see, 1966 might seem a long time ago, before the first lunar landing, for example, but England won the World Cup at Wembley that year and so 'brought football home' for the first time. This, despite the fact that Brasil were in fact awarded the Jules Rimet trophy on the occasion of their third win in 1970, and so really took it home, or that the first football was found just up the road from me in Stirling Castle (for more on this subject, see @ScotchProfessors.)

As you might've gathered, I've found this quite difficult to deal with, so apologies if you've mistaken my being absolutely and completely devastated with a hatred for England.

As I've chatted this through with my English family and friends, one of my closest friends suggested, with tongue firmly held in Sassenach cheek, that I write a piece on the Growth Mindset behind Gareth and the boys' rise.

As someone who strives to be open-minded and moving towards growth, I used an old technique of embracing his suggestion in my mind's eye, of picking it up, holding it a little, cradling it and seeing its worth... before launching it into it's rightful place, the sea.

The problem is, if there is any backbone to what A\M is built upon, then I can't boot Baxter, Baddiel and Skinner and the Beeb into the sea. I can't knowingly hold a fixed mindset, even on this. Basically, I'm in a glass case of emotion, and there's only one way out; asking what Scotland can learn from England's success.

First thing's first, whilst this isn't an apologetics piece on ABE or football rivalry, it touches upon that, because that's a barrier to growth. For more on this, Adam Miller @OldFirmFacts1 and @GordonSmart laid it out much more concisely across major media outlets than I ever can. However, here's our tuppence worth to understand our starting point.

As I've detailed and outlined again and again on A\M, hatred is something I personally abhor. It is the acidic essence of everything that fuels a Fixed Mindset, which as far as judging people goes, goes something like this; they are different to us, we (therefore) don't like them, we are not changing, they must, we hate them. Identity politics. You might know it from the polarisation and demonisation of current discourse that obscures dialogue and chokes reason by mixing in a tiny bit of truth into a batch of poisonous doubt, feeding fear.

Thinking like this is the thin edge of a thick wedge and reminds me of one of the best lines the late, great Sean Connery ever delivered in answer to the Nazi antangonist in the Last Crusade.

Problem is, we all get caught up in this idiotic prejudice from time to time, this fixed mindset.

That's not because we're bigoted, or prejudiced, it's just because... it works, this obfuscation, it's tried and trusted. Propaganda and wars have been built on the back of it; sowing that first seed of doubt and mistrust, leading to inaccurate thinking, leading to bad stuff happening (see the Capitol last year).

But like I say, we can all miss this sometimes because in this content-injection generation, we can fail to check ourselves as we surf the wave of whatever stuff the interweb throws up, and if one thing's certain, it's that the sensationalist media output is always spouting something for you to get irate about.

So much so, that I was caught out on Twitter 'calling out' a group of Scottish supporters for singing about hating England - in fact, I jumped in two-footed and said it was deplorable.

It was then pointed out to me A) the account it came from had a less than savoury reputation, was less than trustworthy and had a seemingly singular intent to inflame and, B) the entire context was missing (it was football fans singing in jest with a drink in them).

Now, one thing I do stand by is the use of 'hate'. That's just personal preference, I don't want my kids standing next to me supporting our country singing about hating another, but I let this emotion run away with me and judged a whole people-group, missing the key information. So aye, my bad, sorry.

What I mean to say is, if I do understand football rivalry, and can still miss this and get caught up in judgmentalism of my fellow-fan from time to time, then what hope do the folks who don't care about football (ordinarily) have, when they see Scots with Italian flags etc.

If they fail to understand the context, they'll condemn and get offended by sporting rivalries they previously have never cared about, and never will again.

Hyperbole is rife in sports, in football, and with football fans.

The WhatsApp groups containing my best friends straddle those rivalries consistently, without damage, and with appropriate patter and nuance. It's wonderfully petty. It's frighteningly nonsensical. We probably wouldn't share it with anyone, and almost always have notifications on mute so our kids don't see. Basically, we are self-aware enough to know how ridiculous it is, and wouldn't have it any other way.

Maybe you're the same? In fact, if you're a football fan, I know you probably are. It really is just footballing rivalry. Occasionally, however, like I said above, it can cause us to hold onto that identity a bit too fiercely, and miss the facts.

In other words, if we read too much into our club/national identities and rivalries, we can slip into missing what can be learned from a look at our rivals, especially if they're succeeding.

That's what we're talking about now.

Scotland didn't turn up at the Euros. We didn't turn up. That's what hurts the most.

Okay, we played out our skins at Wembley, edged it, and maybe should've won but for an excellent Pickford save, a goal-line clearance and Ché Adams missed chances.

But we didn't win our two home games, and to be honest, never looked liked winning them.

This is a problem. This is reality. This is the first station en route to growth; recognising where you are.

England also started the tournament slowly and unconvincingly, in fact, they were outraged at their performance against us. They knew they'd dodged a bullet. So how have they gone from looking second best in their own patch, against their auldest rivals, to where they are now, on the verge of history?

We can track this through a case study of one of their best players this tournament, Luke Shaw.

That Shaw is one of the top peforming players at Euro 2020 is surprising, particularly when you consider that he didn't play against Croatia and that in his first start, Stephen O'Donnell played better than him on his side of the pitch at Wembley.

He's been a divisive player for a few reasons, and for a few seasons, with one aspect being that he plays for Manchester United, and English fans historically used to hate Manchester United, particularly when Fergie was winning everything. (See Beckham's castigation after WC '98.)

Fast-forward to the hyperbolic Shawberto Carlos and you'll see backlash from some Liverpool (and Scotland) fans posting the all too familiar image of 'Robertson's worst season vs. Shaw's best'; a classic move of bitter whataboutery which is wonderfully representative of the footballing rivalry stated above.

The facts are, however, that Shaw is one game away from becoming a legend in the same vein as Bobbys Moore or Charlton.

Club rivalries didn't divide England then, and they don't now.

This England team are united, they have a wonderful team spirit, made up of individuals who grew up supporting a golden generation that sat at different tables on International duty; a fact Ferdinand, Lampard and Gerrard acknowledged was to their detriment as a unit.

Shaw represents the togetherness more than any, for having been omitted from the first and quietened in the second, he had the wherewithall to pursue excellence as part of a whole, leading to his excellent performance against Germany and multiple assists against the Ukraine.

In other words, there was a 'mindset' which provided a focus that got this individual through intital setbacks and disappointments, and what was that?

A belief in the destination, and an unwavering pursuit of that goal, with support from the whole team.

If Scotland are going to learn from their rivals, then we first of all need to embrace the oldest of millstones and move forward, together.

The good news is, we have a similar team spirit, which can provide some wonderful moments. We qualified for our first tournament in 23 years, that is relative success, but it's not a destination. It's a marker along the way.

Similarly, we cannot afford to refer to our draw at Wembley as something to be proud of. We need to see it as two points dropped when we were the better team.

We need to feel the pain of disappointment, not so that we can resign ourselves to languishing in the old 'it's shite being Scottish' mindset, but so that we can use it to effect change. This, and this alone, effects growth.

England were angry at how they'd performed against us. They were disappointed. It hurt. They learned, and became more ruthless - not balancing the books to finish second and 'get an easier draw' - but beating Czech Republic to set up a chance to get another monkey off the back; beating the Germans, which they did, convincingly.

See, growth takes time, and is often painful. This is what we believe firmly at A\M, what we're all about. But growth is only done by seeing a challenge to be overcome and running head on to meet it - shedding the burdens of the past as you go.

Whether it's 23 years, or 55 years, the same thing holds true; what you do next matters more than what you, or the generations before, have done previously.

Similarly, Luke Shaw is not defined by his misspent and painful existence under Mourinho. He is 25 years old and flourishing now, at the most important period in his country's footballing existence since the JFK assassination.

The Scottish players should look at this and use it as fuel. The Scottish supporters need to look at this an use it as fuel, to learn, to change our own mindsets.

We must aspire to better. We must aspire towards excellence. We must go one more and pursue excellence, with our eye fixed on growth, together. Not hearking back to the past, but getting better now.

If England win, and they might, I'll throw a few petty, nonsensical comments out to my anglo-pals, before removing my hyperbolic, tribal, petty-specs, taking my Italy top off, drying my tears with it, before finally holding out my hand and saying, 'well done'.


Because it's football rivalry, not hatred, and I want Scotland to be defined by what we can do, not by our rivals' successes... or historic battles. What's next, Scotland? I can't wait to find out.


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