Unbelievable, Jeff!: Arsenal, Arguments, and Academia.

Submitted by George Collins on Fri, 04/22/2022 - 15:19

A few hours after I was born – six weeks early and weighing in at a tiny 4 pounds 2 ounces – my dad was told that I would need to wear something from the hospital cupboard, as none of the clothes that my parents had brought with them were small enough for me. My dad replied that if whatever she brought back wasn’t red and white then I wasn’t going to be wearing it, such was the lack of choice that I had in choosing a football team to spend the rest of my life supporting (/being tortured by). To announce her first pregnancy, my girlfriend surprised me with an Arsenal onesie and I choked back proud tears at the thought of another generation of Gooners in our family. If my child turns out to be passionate about, I don’t know, Soundcloud Rap and Fishing, then that will of course be fine, but I love the idea of the same red-and-white thread weaving its way through my family tree. What has this got to do with academia I hear you ask? Well after 28 years of watching more of the beautiful game than you’ve had hot dinners, I think there are some lessons we can all learn from the world of football.  


Practise makes perfect 

We all know it, we’ve all heard the cliché a thousand times, but practise really can make perfect. There is a famous saying (joke?) that in order to eat an elephant, one must just go one bite at a time. By practicing the fundamentals and making small tweaks to their game/tactics, players and managers can improve slowly, day by day, and can start to stand out from the competition. We can do the same! Reading an article one day, a book chapter the next day, perhaps a conference paper after the final whistle on Saturday; these alone will not turn us into subject experts. But by making small improvements over time, we can move mountains! David Beckham famously used to practise his free kicks for hours and hours and hours. Those of us who remember watching England struggle against Greece in the dying moments of the 2001 World Cup Qualifiers – or perhaps remember being unable to watch it through our fingers – will always be grateful for the hours he spent perfecting The Whip and The Dip.


Stand on those giants’ shoulders 

Occasionally students ask me how to get their similarity score on Turnitin down to 0%, or define plagiarism as ‘when you copy someone else’s work’. It is important to remember that as academics we are learning about a subject that many, many others have already studied and researched and written about. It would be foolish for a football player to ignore their coaches, advice from former players, pundits, teammates, etc., just as it would be ill-advised (or even just downright poor academic writing practice) for a student to ignore the work of others and to attempt to do everything themselves. Make use of your support network, paraphrase and quote away, book yourself into an academic skills workshop – above all, make sure you make use of all the help offered to you and that you are maximise your chances of success.  


Don’t hate, innovate 

When we allow ourselves to accept help from others and when we practise the fundamentals, we put ourselves in the best possible position to express ourselves. The truly wonderful footballers to watch (Ronaldinho, Özil, Bergkamp, Messi, Maradona*) play the game their own way, injecting their personality into their work and thriving on the passion they have for the game. Developing your own academic voice is something that we encourage, and something that happens over time. In fact, your academic voice is something that is never truly complete. We want to hear your express your own critical perspectives in your work, and we never want you to automatically accept everything you hear or read as accurate and true. Try not to lose sight of the bigger picture reasons that you are studying your degree and keep up your passion for your subject with reading, discussion, critical thinking, patience and enough breaks to stop yourself from burning out. Beckham used to help collect the balls and cones after training sessions, so don’t feel bad about going back to the basics once in a while.


Post match analysis 

There is no such thing as a perfect footballer, nor a perfect tactic, a perfect team, a perfect manager or a perfect goal. There is also no such thing as the perfect student.  Life, like football, is not always fair and all we can do at the end of the day (had to get at least one football cliché in there!) is our best. But whether it’s injuries and own goals or referencing and academic writing, always remember that it’s a team game.  


*Editor’s Note: The fact that Gerrard is not on this list is poor academic practice

Academic Writing