Les Napsack is a former professional footballer who played as a left-back for a string of mid-table clubs throughout the 80s and 90s. He represented England 12 times, mainly as a substitute. After retiring in 1996, he moved to Spain to open an Irish bar and now spends his days curating karaoke competitions and concentrating on his art projects (which have variously been described as “inspired”, “courageous” and “baffling”). He has kindly given permission for some passages from his autobiography to be reprinted here.
This week, Les gives his thoughts on managers and motivation.
Without a doubt, motivating players is one of the most difficult skills for any manager to master. A good motivator can make the lads want to put in 110% every week, whilst a bad one can quickly find himself on the end of a full-scale mutiny. When I was at Oxford in the mid-80s, our gaffer, Frank Green, used to throw empty beer cans at us before a match in the misguided hope that it would somehow spur us on to victory. It didn’t. It was only when he started sharing his pre-game ale with the rest of the players that things started to pick up. This is a good example of how, in football, the carrot is often a better motivator than the stick (and booze is more effective than both).
I’ll never forget the team talk Frank gave us before an important FA Cup tie against Leeds in January 1984. We were heavy underdogs that day, and his inspiring words helped us to a famous 0-0 draw and a replay back at their place. I still remember his speech like it was yesterday.
“Right lads, this is it. They’re coming in here to take what’s ours, but we’re not going to let them! I want every player on that pitch to give it their all. Those bastards are coming to attack us, like thieves in the night. Get in front of that goal and kick anything that moves. Every time they get into our box, we’re under threat. Each of you has a responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sod backs to the wall; I want your backs through the wall and out the other side! Do it for the fans, do it for the club but most importantly: do it for the groundsman!”
The last line had us all puzzled until it was discovered a few weeks later that Frank was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s and mistakenly believed the Leeds players were coming to steal our goalposts. This only came to light after one of the ground staff found him camped out in a goalmouth early one morning, armed with a bent tennis racquet and a flip-flop.
Still, those same posts are still in place to this day, so maybe he knew something we didn’t.
Nice one, Frank.
‘Call Me Les’ is out now in all good bookshops, with a foreword by Andy Townsend.