Friday 16 November 2018

Pink dressing room straight from Beck's dark arts handbook

 

'The grass was grown longer in the corners to hold the ball up, while practice five-a-side matches in the centre circle churned up the midfield area.' (stock picture)
'The grass was grown longer in the corners to hold the ball up, while practice five-a-side matches in the centre circle churned up the midfield area.' (stock picture)

Daniel Schofield

It is unfortunate that John Beck's name is seldom mentioned these days apart from in association with nefarious schemes to deter opposition teams.

The latest example came with the revelation that Norwich City have painted the away dressing room at Carrow Road a shade of 'deep pink'.

In theory, the colour is supposed to lower testosterone levels and have a calming effect on players.

The ploy is straight out of the Beck playbook from his days as manager of Cambridge United in the early 1990s, when the colour of the dressing-room walls was the least of any visiting team's concern.

On any given Saturday, the away changing room at the Abbey Stadium could be recovering from an unexpected 'flood' or have the radiators turned up to full blast with the temperature dials disabled and windows sealed shut. Tea urns were filled to the brim with sugar, while the balls provided for the warm-up were curiously under-inflated.

"Every single thing you've heard from that time was true," Dion Dublin, the star striker of the team, once told 'Cambridge News'. "We were a horrible team to play against."

There are so many stories it is impossible to tell which are apocryphal, but there is certainly enough truth to enough of the allegations that, together with his uncompromising style of play, Beck's reputation has been sealed as a lower-league Voldemort.

This is a shame, because his managerial achievements in taking Cambridge from Division Four to the brink of a place in the inaugural Premier League, as well as reaching a pair of FA Cup quarter-finals, should rank among the finest in the game.

There is no denying that Beck's methods were eccentric. His players had it just as tough as the opposition, being forced to take ice-cold showers before kick-off to increase their alertness. Steve Claridge compared playing for Beck with being part of a cult.

Yet there was method in the madness. Long before expected goals became fashionable, Beck was a disciple of statistics and concluded that the more times you get the ball in the box, the more times you are likely to score.

That meant a direct style was adopted, but it was never aimless. Balls were played over the top towards what he called 'Quality Street' for wingers Lee Philpott and Michael Cheetham to chase.

They were told to cross the ball as early as possible for Dublin and John Taylor to attack.

The grass was grown longer in the corners to hold the ball up, while practice five-a-side matches in the centre circle churned up the midfield area. It was not always pretty, but it was mightily effective, as tiny Cambridge so nearly gate-crashed the elite, falling short in the play-offs after being second in April.

In so many ways Beck was ahead of his time. He stressed the importance of fitness, introducing warm-downs and monitoring players' diets long before that became standard practice. He dabbled with psychology and philosophy and employed statistics to identify potential weaknesses in opponents.

These things, which we now call marginal gains, were ridiculed when Beck tried them.

When the FA appointed him as a coach educator in 2013, there was an outcry as if they had let a fox into the hen coop. That is snobbery.

A few years after Beck left Cambridge, Billy Beane took over at Oakland Athletics and, employing an unfashionable statistical approach, consistently led the A's to the Major League Baseball play-offs.

He is now regarded as the genius founder of Moneyball; Beck, unfortunately, is the man who put too much sugar in the opposition's tea.

© Daily Telegraph, London

Telegraph.co.uk

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