By Platinum One General Manager, Andrew Douglas…
This post comes minutes after the sad news of Don Howe’s passing. I felt compelled to write some words to honour and respect a man who was not only a true gentleman, but also in my eyes a footballing visionary who was tactically and psychologically ahead of most.
I was fortunate enough to be coached by Don Howe when I was in the Arsenal youth team in 1996 and 1997. Even though he was then in his 60s, he brought an energy and vibrancy to every training session he put on and created an environment where not only did you need to be technically and physically proficient, but you also needed to be mentally astute, because if you lacked in intelligence you would quickly find yourself confused and struggling to get to grips with the session. If this was ever the case though, Don would not yell at you or rebuke you, but he would ask you what you thought was the purpose of the session and why it was being done the way it was, effectively getting you to deconstruct and analyse it for yourself – or with the help of your team mates, so that you understood the whole learning process and could incorporate it into your own training and development. He would save his scorn for any time that you fell below his high standards in football and in life. His standards quickly became your own and you wanted to impress him because you took pride in aspiring to be the best you could be.
He would delight in high quality training matches and would audibly yell out in joy and excitement during times when there was a great piece of individual skill or exceptional piece of team play.
Whether you were Ken Friar OBE or Arsene Wenger, Dennis Bergkamp or Ian Wright, Andrew Douglas or Graham Barrett or even one of the Groundsmen, kitchen ladies or car washers, he would greet everybody in the same polite and courteous way with no heirs or graces. A true man of a bygone era where men would pull a chair out for a lady to sit, remove their hat upon entering a room and afford everyone with the respect and dignity they would like to be treated with. He maintained old fashioned values, but was futuristic when it came to football and things that players thought were crazy back then are at the forefront of football today.
‘Up, back and through!’ Was his simplified of third man running, up to the front man, back to the midfielder and through to the deeper lying, forward running wide man, which was harder to contain than a straightforward one-two or wall pass.
‘Out and around’ was his way of changing the direction of forward play. For example If you were attacking down the left side and the opposition were in good defensive positions, he would animatedly encourage you to move the flow of play quickly through midfield from left to right and expose the gaps on the other side before the defence had time to move across and shut the spaces, opening up new avenues of attack that would be instantly easier to exploit.
His enthusiasm was infectious, his knowledge limitless and his principles honourable.
I only worked with him for the briefest moment in his life, something which I doubt he would even remember, but the life lessons learned and football knowledge gained have stayed with me for almost 20 years and will do until my last day.
Thank you Don.
Rest in peace.