A Quiet Genius

The bronze statue erected without huge fanfare at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium a few weeks back does not immediately project its subject as one of football’s greatest managers.

He, Bob Paisley, is depicted in his old Gola tracksuit, carrying one of Liverpool’s players on his back. His brow is creased with the weight on his shoulders – Emlyn Hughes, bearing a gash to his left leg. He stares into the middle ground as he trudges off the Anfield pitch.

When a statue to Liverpool’s most famous manager, Bill Shankly, was erected in 1997, it captured the proselytising Scot in a familiar pose, taking applause from his adoring fans. Paisley had not even succeeded Shankly when the scene which his own statue depicts took place. He was merely ‘the trainer’.

There is something immensely fitting about that. Paisley was always embarrassed by a fuss. On one of the very few occasions when he took applause from Anfield’s Kop – his last home game as manager, against Aston Villa in 1982 – he had to be shoved out in their direction by Graeme Souness, the last of his captains.

Paisley was, to coin the title of my biography of him, a Quiet Genius. What he lacked in the powers of oration commanded by the firebrand Shankly, he more than made up for in qualities of delegation, collegiality and a profound capacity to listen. ‘If you want to tell anybody anything, speak softly,’ Paisley once said. ‘You’ll find they’re trying to listen to you.’

Others stood on his shoulders, you might say. And so it seems wholly appropriate that the image Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore felt passionately that the statue should be modelled on was that Emlyn Hughes scene, which dates from a home game against Tottenham Hotspur in 1968.

It says everything about Paisley that he never considered the moment or the image to have been iconic. He never seems to have considered it at all. Not once in his interviews and reflections on the game did he reference it. Neither does it crop up in the autobiography of Hughes, who went on to be Paisley’s first captain, lifting the European Cup on a balmy Rome night in 1977.

The statue has arrived somewhat belatedly. I reflected in the preface to Quiet Genius, three years ago, that the absence of one by that time was a travesty. Paisley may have been far less of a box office manager than Shankly but his haul of trophies – 14 in nine years, including six league titles as well as three European Cups – was by far the greater. By a ratio of trophies per season, he was arguably the greatest British club manager of all.

But it has arrived just in time. Liverpool are about to clinch the title for the first since 1990, when a squad featuring some remnants of his serial championship-winning side clinched that same crown and the comparisons will be made between then and now; Paisley and Jurgen Klopp.

In many ways, the two do not invite comparison. Klopp’s mighty charisma makes him far more akin to Bill Shankly. Klopp is a manager for this multi-media age. Paisley, whose County Durham accent was barely comprehensible to many of his players, was not. It is highly doubtful that he would have survived the media demands of these times.

Quiet Genius - Ian Herbert JACKET IMAGE.jpg

What the pair do share is a capacity to bring the best out of others, a relentless determination for hard work and an ability to listen. A few months back Klopp described standing in the pouring rain in his back garden early one morning, wondering how he had reached the pinnacle he had found. ‘I am stood there in the garden with the dog,’ he said. ‘I didn’t know (how I got here). I know that I am busy. I am interested. I have sensational people around me. And I am really skilled at listening to smart people.’ Bob Paisley would have appreciated that.

Ian Herbert is a staff sportswriter for the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday and author of Quiet Genius, shortlisted for the 2017 William Hill Sports Book of the Year, available here.



Posted in Football

Searching for the Superhuman Sports Star

In 1960s West Coast America there was a group of New Age thinkers who thought they could create a superhuman sports star through a heady brew of meditation, yoga and nude-hot tub bathing. They were part of a movement which inadvertently ended up inspiring Cold War killers and the Star Wars movie franchise. The Jedi were real. In The Men on Magic Carpets Ed Hawkins sets out on a quest to find out what happened. 

In this guest post Ed Hawkins explores why he became fascinated with the search for the superhuman sports star.

The Men on Magic Carpets - Ed Hawkins JACKET IMAGE

Most sports fans will ponder – probably obsess – how and why teams win or lose. Usually their own beloved. Usually when they’re supposed to be doing something else, like working. It is not advised that when someone pipes up with a question in that important conference call to respond: “Switch to a 5-3-2 and hit the wide areas early”. But I think about it, too. All the time.

In football, it might be a short wondering. In this era of financial doping (cue Manchester City brethren outrage) the team that spends the most money wins the most matches. Or you might go down the analyst’s rabbit hole and become discombobulated by goal expectancy, possession percentages and the like.

Cricket – blessed relief – remains relatively untouched by the grubbied hands of the monied men. The franchise leagues which have sprung up over the last year may offend the purist but, by and large, they are all bound by wage structures. Instead one can pore over toss bias, expected averages, expected economy rates and expected strike rates.

Many will have sat in front of a laptop, barely noticing the hours ticking by, trying (hoping) to make the matrix reveal itself. And that’s without getting started on percentage gains, sleep coaches, nutritionists.

One day, though, I thought a different thought: what if a team, desperate to win, had attempted to harness something otherworldly? Something really crazy to inspire their players – to inhibit the opposition and breach that fine line between success and failure? Wouldn’t that be, literally, mind-blowing?

As it turned out, it had been tried. An illusionist known as Romark (real name Ronald Markham) had been employed by Halifax Town, a nondescript soccer team in an economically broken part of northern England, to hypnotise their players to help them beat Manchester City in an FA Cup match in 1980.

This was real David versus Goliath stuff. John Smith, the Halifax striker, said at the time: ‘I’m sat there with this guy called Romark, and he was saying, “You will go to sleep now, John Smith, and then you’ll overcome the power of Manchester City. You will play the greatest game of your life.” I’m thinking, “What’s all this about? What a load of nonsense.”‘ But John Smith, in mud up to his knees, helped set up Halifax’s winning goal.

Surely a glittering career would follow for the mysterious Romark? Not quite. His next trick to prove his paranormal powers was to drive a car blindfolded through the streets of Ilford, in Essex. After a few yards he crashed into the back of a police van.

“That van was parked in a place that logic told me it wouldn’t be,” he said.

Something else Romark didn’t see coming was the fraud squad. He was imprisoned for embezzlement. He died in 1982.

I was undeterred. In fact, I was inspired. Here was somebody who had tried to use psychic powers to influence sports games. That was crazy enough for me.

What followed was a three-year descent down another rabbit hole. I ended up on the West Coast of America talking to New Age thinkers who, back in the Sixties, created a school for teaching superpowers to athletes and coaches. These seers believed in a race of gnostic beings who could slow down time, change shape, move balls with the power of their mind, levitate, and make themselves invisible. Basically, any sort of superpower you read about in the comic books, they thought they could do it. Handy to have someone like that on your squad, eh, in the race for the Premier League title?

These hippies had influence. The US Military, paranoid that their Soviet enemies were using such skills to win the Cold War, had to act. They co-opted the yogis, gurus and mystics to help them set up programmes of their own, like the Jedi Warrior Programme, The Stargate Project or, most well know, the First Earth Battalion – inspiration for the movie, The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Once the Cold War was over, though, the hippies returned to their search for the superhuman sports star. Who they inspired and how is quite a tale. And it’s far more interesting than percentage gains, algorithms or splurging the cash. And perhaps more controversial than any belief that you can create a superhero in shorts.

That’s because the true way to find an edge is to love one another. To make athletes the best individuals they can possibly be. To recognise them as human beings instead of commodities which can line the pockets of international conglomerates or boost the profiles of dubious states with poor human rights records. In a sporting era where teams must win at all costs and to hell with the consequences, there are a small numbers of coaches who are swimming against that macho tide. Maybe you can win another way. Think about that.

The Men on Magic Carpets: Searching for the Superhuman Sports Star by Ed Hawkins is available now from www.bloomsbury.com

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How to prepare for a marathon

401 - Ben Smith JACKET IMAGE.jpg401 is Ben Smith’s story of running 401 marathons in 401 days. During his 10,506.2-mile odyssey criss-crossing the UK, Ben ran in 309 different locations, accompanied by more than 13,500 people. He visited 101 schools, burned an estimated 2.4 million calories, wrecked his back and braved every extreme of the British weather, while raising £330,000 for charity, touching the lives of millions.

Are you running the London Marathon this year? Whether it’s your first or fiftieth preparing ahead of the big day is essential. Ben shares his advice to getting race-ready.

“I’m asked quite a lot, how do you train to run a marathon? My answer is normally, how do you want to train to run your first marathon. Might seem like a strange answer, but there is a sensible reason for this answer.

“Running a marathon is very personal to each individual person. People run and train for marathons for lots of different reasons and this will have a impact on how someone trains. What I mean by this is for example, if you are going for a PB or to smash a time goal then your training will be very much focused around short runs at quick speed and long runs at varying speeds mainly. If you are running your first, most people just want to get round which to be honest is exactly how I feel when I run a marathon even now.

“It’s all about your mindset, if you can keep your mind healthy when training for a marathon then the physical aspects will follow. Running a marathon to most people is a huge undertaking and therefore conjures up lots of negative thoughts that can ultimately hamper the way you train, I always found that breaking down the 26.2 miles helps.

“Remembering why you signed up to run a marathon in the first place is a good place to start. Connecting yourself with the emotional reason is something that will ensure you stay strong during the times when it’s tough.

“Having a realistic expectation of what you can achieve is also important. Imagining you can run a sub 3 hour marathon as your first one may be exciting to visual, but mostly it’s unrealistic and can end up with you feeling disappointed when you achieve the 26.2 miles.

“Don’t compare yourself to other people, some people are naturally built to run marathons and others struggle more. I remember when I first started out, shifting 17 stone around a 3 mile course was something I never thought I could do, but obviously there were lots of people in my running club that found it easy. If I had compared myself to them then I would have given up.

“Surround yourself with people that are the same speed as you, maybe run with a group, club or friends that hold the same goal as you.

“When you are training, if you feel tried and your body is screaming for you to stop, then don’t push it too hard, just walk. Let your body recover and then start running again. You don’t need to run the entire distance, in fact the vast majority of people that run marathons do walk at some point or another, it’s not a failing – you are still getting the same medal and covering the same distance as all those that finish in under 3 hours!

“A great trick on those long runs is break them down into shorter distances. Maybe focus on running to a coffee shop, having a treat and then running home. You’d be amazed what a lovely piece of cake and a nice coffee or tea can do for your mindset.

“The ultimate goal when training for a marathon is making sure you keep it fun and enjoy it. Your mindset is key to this so rewarding yourself is very important. Just remember, completing 26.2 miles is an amazing feat and one that a lot of people will struggle with, but once you have achieved it you will be so proud of yourself and will always be able to look back and say I did that!”

401: The Extraordinary Story of the Man who Ran 401 Marathon in 401 Days and Changed his Life Forever is available from www.bloomsbury.com


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The Magic of Cheltenham

“It would be difficult to exaggerate the spine tingling excitement and anticipation I feel every year on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival. The four day extravaganza in the Cotswolds is the best race meeting of the year AND the best racing party of the year. Of course it helps that Prestbury Park racecourse is situated in a stunning natural amphitheatre at the foot of Cleeve Hill and the history of the Festival – which dates back to the early 20th century – matches the beauty and grandeur of the setting. To be hailed as a true jump racing champion – an Arkle or Golden Miller, a Desert Orchid or a Kauto Star – you have to win at Cheltenham in March and the fact that so many great horses have won there, some returning season after season, imbues the occasion with an incomparable aura and back story.

I have no doubt that Patrice des Moutis, the flawed hero of Monsieur X, would have been in his element at Cheltenham. Patrice loved the atmosphere and camaraderie of the racetrack, the smells of crushed grass and cigar smoke, the champagne bubbles and fat bundles of cash, and it was a bitter blow for him when he was banned from all French racecourses in 1953 due to his illegal bookmaking activities. He often compensated by going racing in Britain in the late 1950s and 1960s but mostly to flat racing fixtures near London like Ascot and Sandown Park. All of them enjoyable in their way but lacking the epic, bacchanalian quality of Cheltenham. Afficionados plan their annual trips to the Festival months in advance, not just for a day but for the whole week, to enjoy heartfelt reunions with old friends and share a deep and passionate reverence for the beauty and spectacle of jump racing and the courage and skill of the horses and riders. But what’s unique about the Cheltenham Festival, and would have been seized on eagerly by Monsieur X, is that it’s also a rip-roaring medium for a gamble.


With crowds in excess of 260,000 over the four days and so much money in circulation, the on-course betting market is the strongest of the year. This favours knowledgeable punters who can get on much bigger bets at favourable odds than at less well attended run-of-the-mill meetings. It also suits what I call proper bookmakers. Not the big high street betting shop chains but the real independent bookies who are prepared to pit their judgement against the punters and stand a serious wager. It would have seemed like paradise to Patrice des Moutis, constrained as he was by France’s rigid gambling laws which prohibited all forms of fixed odds betting and insisted that all bets had to be struck with the rigidly bureaucratic state run Tote or PMU. Instead of being deemed a renegade and outlaw, Monsieur X would have found himself in the company of like-minded mavericks and over-reachers, many of whom I have seen and known first hand over the last forty years.

Irish racegoers, proud of their country’s fabulous rapport with horses, love Cheltenham with a passion few can match. And the most consistently successful Cheltenham gambler of the modern era has been the legendary JP McManus, nicknamed (long ago by Hugh McIlvanney) the Sundance Kid. The softly spoken JP started out as a racecourse bookmaker in Limerick and first rocked the ring at Cheltenham in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By no means all those early plunges were successful but gradually the winners started to flow and JP began owning horses, most memorably the peerless Istabraq who made the hair stand up on the back of my neck when he won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham three years running between 1998 and 2000.

One bookmaker who was not afraid to take JP’s business was the Scotsman Freddie Williams, a miner’s son and self-made millionaire from Ayrshire who never flinched when the big money was down. In March 1998 McManus staked £100,000 each way with Williams on his horse Shannon Gale in Cheltenham’s Pertemps Hurdle Final, a valuable and extremely competitive handicap. If Shannon Gale had won Williams would have been looking at a pay-out of nearly £1million. As it was the gamble finished fourth which meant Freddie Williams only had to pay out £175,000 on the place part of the bet. As he said afterwards, he had ‘looked down both barrels of the gun’ and survived.


Freddie Williams died of a heart attack in his sleep after a day’s racing and bookmaking in 2008. He was succeeded by his daughter Julie who will be laying bets as usual from the family pitch at Cheltenham this week. JP McManus has long become a billionaire businessman with homes in Ireland, Switzerland and Barbados. But he will be at Cheltenham as always this week too, hoping to see his horse Buveur d’Air win Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle for the second time and no doubt contemplating more audacious coups in the big handicaps.

9781472942296.jpgThere is one thing above all other that Patrice des Moutis had in common with JP McManus and Freddie Williams. Like them Monsieur X was a gambler playing for the highest stakes and of course he wanted his bets to win and he wanted to enjoy the fruits of his success. But underpinning his wagers, and those of Cheltenham’s Irish punter and Scottish bookie, was a sang-froid and attitude to life summed up by Steve McQueen’s bank robber hero in the 1969 version of the film The Thomas Crown Affair. ‘It’s not about the money,’ he explains to his insurance investigator lover played by Faye Dunaway. ‘It’s about me… me against the system.’”

Jamie Reid is a William Hill Sports Book of the Year award winning author. His book Monsieur X is available from Bloomsbury.


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The Psychology of Racing

When it comes to the day of the big event, there is nothing more you can do to improve your physical ability. Your level of fitness and physical potential is what it is. Your equipment and build-up to the event is in place. The only thing you can change now is how you think. How you think and how well prepared you are mentally will affect how you act and react to the environment and people around you between arriving at the event and crossing the finish line. The focus of your mind is actually the only variable. Barring bad luck, how you think and act will determine whether you reach your personal potential or fall short.

The Corinthian spirit, or the ideology that just taking part is the foremost important factor, is common among amateur sportspeople. This is a resolve-sapping malaise that primes the mind for under-performance, not just the thinking self but the subconscious mind that does not normally hold sporting success high up in the hierarchy of need. By that I mean food, shelter, social standing, sex, etc. The idea that it is OK not to reach your full potential is not a good thought to have when you are doing the ride and reaching within yourself for extra effort.

This ideology is not just an influence from others that passes viral-like from person to person. This spirit is part of us, as in most non-sporting activities, whether it be decorating, cleaning or whatever, even work-related things – we reach a point where we think the outcome is good enough and move on. What we don’t tend to do is openly question in our thinking minds whether it is the best we can do. When it is good enough we just move on to something else. This is normal and indeed healthy for general life in society. The alternative would be obsessive-compulsive disorder or something similar. This is our behavioural pattern, our lifestyle habit.

Clearly, then, the competitive event is an environment where we have to set aside our natural way in order to make the most of our potential. We need to be able to set aside the philosophy that serves us well in general life for the time that we are being competitive. We can train our ability to block out negative thought processes by the way we allow ourselves to think when we are in the sporting environment and when we are in the company of others. There is the matter of blocking out any negative or capitulatory ideology but also the need to build up an attitude that compels us to proactively make our best performance happen.

The first important thing to be dealt with is establishing prime motives. What is it that drives us to be competitive, to take part in events that test our ability and measure it against others? This level of self-analysis is rarely undertaken by the majority of riders, mainly because it is a mental exercise that we rarely undertake in normal life. There is also the deterrent that deep self-analysis is a difficult and sometimes painful task that requires honesty. This can take us out of a comfort zone where we drift along by force of habit and simple repetition of what we always did. We hope to reach into ourselves and ask: why do I ride to try to be better than other people, what is the emotional gain from doing so?


You could disappear into a corner right now and have a Zen moment of total self-understanding, but it is unlikely. Let me help you along the path by asking if you are actually competitive at all? A lot of people take part in competitive events and ‘compete’ because it makes them part of a peer group doing the same. That is not to say that they don’t turn up and ride at their best perceived effort. It just means that one of their major motivations for taking part will be satisfied with a good or average result. This is not wrong, since we are gregarious animals and this is high up in our hierarchy of need for general life. This also does not mean that you cannot be genuinely competitive by digging even deeper into motive and allowing yourself to be more in touch with more proactive driving forces. It also helps to make clear in your mind the points in time before and after the actual doing part of the competition as being a distinct, separate and completely different part of the competitive experience. Being part of the racing community and the social aspect of the competition is a good motive to hold on to, as long as it can be replaced by completely competitive motives at the point of action. The race itself is a time totally separate from the rest of life and needs a different set of motives and values if we are to bring out our best performances.



How you think can and will determine whether you ever get near your true and absolute potential. Real athletic confidence is built on a complicated foundation of training, diet and rest. The actions of the mind determine the winners from the rest.

•   Stay in the present – your performance is about today, not last week or last year
•    Meticulous attention to equipment choice and detail is vital to ensure your confidence is based upon event planning to complement your training programme
•    We all have an options menu; learn to challenge the option that says ‘I have
tried hard enough’ – there is always, regardless how small, some gas left in
the tank
•    Visualisation is of great value, learning how to put your mind in the
situation of a race day scenario

Extracted from The Obree Way: A Training Manual for Cyclists by Graeme Obree, available from Bloomsbury

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Tapping into your mind-body connection

Mindfulness calls you to notice thoughts and emotions and let them float through your mind like passing clouds in the sky, rather than getting hung up on wrestling them into submission or attempting to deny them altogether. We can’t change the weather, so why waste energy compounding the storm?

Understand that turning your attention to your mind to take stock of the content of your cognitions is no easy feat. Even master meditators are susceptible to having their minds wander from the task at hand. And that is precisely the point. Each time you notice that you are distracted, gently bring your attention back to the present, again and again. This practice is akin to running intervals on the track or pumping iron at the gym. Repeatedly redirecting your attention fortifies neural pathways and strengthens the muscle of the mind.

  • Start by noticing and acknowledging the top three thoughts running through your mind.
  • Take stock of the speed of your thoughts. Is your mind racing, are you feeling more lethargic, or are you somewhere in between?
  • Identify whether you’re attaching emotions to the thoughts. Are you worrying about work or stressing about what you have to do after the run?
  • What is the storyline you’re following? Are the thoughts you’re having being fed by a certain identity you’ve created for yourself?
  • Notice whether stress in your everyday life is shaping your attitude toward your run. Are the anxieties stemming from other venues causing you to feel bored, hurried, tired, or uncomfortable?
  • Remember, being mindful is all about noticing the thoughts without judgment. Identify each thought as it pops into your head and let it move along without obsessing over it, trying to push it away, or clinging to it.


Hopefully, by observing your surroundings, physical sensations, thoughts and emotions on the run, you’ve tapped into a wellspring of information.

In Mindful Running, lifelong runner, coach, and fitness journalist Mackenzie L. Havey recounts her personal practice of meditative running and the influence it has had on her life. She taps a wide range of sources – from weekend warriors to Olympic runners, from coaches and sports psychologists to neuroscientists and meditation experts – to examine how training mental fitness through mindfulness can enhance your running practice and lead to a more contented existence.

To find out more about Mindful Running head to the Bloomsbury website.

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Yoga for Easing Anxiety

The New Year is a great time go after goals and launch into new and exciting projects but all these new challenges can leave us feeling anxious and a little overwhelmed. Yoga is a beautiful way to ease anxiety by teaching us to stay in the present moment. By focusing on our breath and how our body feels in each pose, we keep ourselves anchored in the here and now so we can reduce any mental chatter and instead of reacting fearfully to worries and anxious thoughts, we can let them go. This yoga sequence focuses on releasing stress from the muscles that commonly tense up when we are anxious to create a calmness in your body and mind. 

easing anxiety.jpg

If you’re still beginning your journey into yoga practice, a guided meditation from Nicola may boost your confidence:


For more meditation exercises go to Nicola’s website where you can find a range of meditations from self-love to full body.


Whether you long to live with less stress, reduce anxiety, find the confidence to follow your dreams or simply find more happiness and meaning in your everyday life, Thrive Through Yoga will take you on a 21-day journey towards health, strength and freedom, and is available here.

Nicola Jane Hobbs is a yoga teacher, performance and lifestyle coach and Olympic weighlifting champion. She is also the author of Yoga Gym (available here) and Fear-Free Food (pre-order here).

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