Darryl Eales's notes in the Swansea City match programme
Oxford United Executive Chairman writes in the Emirates FA Cup third round programme against Swansea City:
Happy New Year to one and all as we keenly anticipate our first home game of 2016, a third round FA Cup tie against Premier League Swansea City in front of a full house and the TV cameras!
I would like to specially welcome Huw Jenkins and all Swansea fans, players and officials. The Swansea story is now legendary - a fairy tale success story which gives hope to every aspiring football club that dreams really can come true!
It is less than 13 years since Swansea narrowly avoided relegation to the Conference! Now, they are enjoying their fifth consecutive season in the Premier League and on the way, in 2013, won the League Cup in fine style against Bradford City! A truly amazing story.
Swansea also shines a light in terms of fan engagement and direct involvement. The Swansea City Supporters Society owns around 20 per cent of the club and there is a fan representative on the board. This is something I would like to explore for Oxford United, especially a fan board position, and is something I plan to discuss with supporter groups, particularly OxVox.
Today's game has captured the imagination of all of us and presages a huge January for the club. Next Thursday we play Millwall in the area final of the JPT and then have three mouth-watering League games against Bristol Rovers, Portsmouth and Northampton - except, of course if we or, indeed, Northampton are in the 4th round!
Our last three games, over the festive period, have shown what an exciting side we can be and what fantastic support we have. Exeter on Boxing Day was a wonderful Christmas present, especially the magnificent second half performance. A crowd of just under 10,000 saw a great advertisement for League 2 football and our task is to make sure that crowds of this size become the norm.
We followed up with another strong performance at Huish Park where, despite 21 shots, we couldn't find the breakthrough against a Yeovil team that exemplified true fighting spirit. We left disappointed but far from downhearted and we bettered our shots total with a remarkable 31 attempts against Notts County. The resilience to come back from 2-1 down showed real character and the decibels created by our 1,350 travelling fans without doubt played its part in coming away with a deserved victory.
The second half of the season promises to be exciting, nerve-wracking and great fun! Being there or thereabouts is the essence of sport and there is much to look forward to. We have 21 league games plus at least three cup games to go.
My most important message is the need to focus on and sustain our performance levels, underpinned by a belief that if we do – players, staff and fans alike – we will prevail come May. We will all have to deal with the twin pillars of growing expectation and increased pressure, both essential aspects of any successful team.
To be successful, preparation is the foundation. In my experience, many have a will to win but far fewer have the will to prepare to win. This latter approach is embedded across the club and none more so than in our approach to Sports Science, medical and the psychological welfare of players. The team of Andrew Proctor, Scott Daly, John 'Spike' Elliot and Liam McWhirter, supported by Chris Gooder from Chimp
Management, do a superb job in ensuring players’ training, conditioning and overall preparation is optimised and our prehab and rehab ensures squad availability is maximised. This ensures we remain mentally and physically engaged for every minute of every game and, over a long season, this really does make a huge difference, and potentially, the difference!
Looking at my own career, and the successful people I have had the privilege to meet and learn from, the role of high expectations ranks high amongst the most significant influences on success. Personally, and it's not always easy, fear of failure and feedback should be embraced and harnessed as motivating factors which we turn to positive effect.
Success breeds expectation - and so it should! Set high expectations and set out to beat them - but always with humility and never get ahead of yourself. Our target this season was play-offs with automatic promotion a bonus. Half way through the season this is still the case and we have put ourselves in a strong position to deliver.
Longer term, where should we aim? Can we do a 'Swansea?' Why not - at least let’s give it a go!
To quote Jack Welsh, "aim high, pick a general direction and implement like hell"
I have no idea what we can achieve together but I do know we have a mentality which aspires to be the best and wants to achieve the most we can - together. And as soon as possible! This is the dream; we will have set backs but we will dust ourselves down and go again until we make it!
Closely linked with expectation is the 'P' word - pressure. We all experience this in our daily lives and we experience it in roughly similar ways. Under pressure, there is a tendency for our thinking to shut down and we are overtaken by emotion and instinct. In this state, our brains tend to no longer pick up the cues that lead to good decisions.
The Notts County game was a case in point. The disappointment of going 2-1 down caused me to become negative initially, focussing too much on the outcome and how unfair losing would be. Fortunately, the players did not think like this and dealt with this pressure superbly, focussing on the task and their performance and not panicking (unlike me!) about the outcome. This ability to deal with pressure was rewarded with a stunning fight back. Similarly, our fans didn't panic either - they supported the team even more passionately and, without doubt, contributed to a great result.
Pressure and expectation is a privilege. It will require mental toughness from all of us as we embark on the second half of the campaign. Players and coaching staff will focus on preparation and performance and will, no doubt, think correctly under pressure. As fans, we need to do the same - as we have done all season. Give the team massive support, even through adversity and disappointment, and don't worry about the outcome (at least, not too much!) until May.
Back to today - this is the first full house since I have been at the club and hopefully there will be many more to come. Thank you to everyone who is here today - and, whatever the result, enjoy the football we play and please come back for our final 11 home games in the League. The bond between players and fans is exceptional and a full stadium really does make a difference.
Let's dream about the romance of the cup and hope that after today's game we can still sing, 'we're gonna win all three!'
Best wishes and COYY!