The Barnabas factor: The secret behind England’s 1966 World Cup triumph?

As every football fan knows, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were at the heart of England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup. All three came up through West Ham’s renowned youth system and were nurtured by Ron Greenwood, still West Ham’s greatest manager ever.
When, as a star-struck fan, I met Ron Greenwood back in the 1990s, I asked him what his secret was. To my surprise, he gave me one word: ‘Encouragement. It’s encouragement’. ‘My job’, he explained, ‘was to encourage young players to give the best of their God-given talents. Encouragement is what it’s all about.’

I remembered that recently when I heard of the death – at the age of 99 – of a teacher from my school days, John Scott. Back when I was a rebellious 16-year-old, my school report reflected the frustration of most who taught me. The first entry was ‘He has done no work at all and will certainly fail’, and it got worse after that. Scott was the one teacher who saw past the adolescent angst to give me some hope for the future. ‘In his own way, and in his own time,’ Scott wrote, ‘Elwin will be very successful’. Those words of encouragement were to be important to me in making it through those difficult teenage years and on to life as a reasonably well-balanced adult.

Both Ron Greenwood and John Scott were practitioners of a skill that we see in Barnabas, a character in the book of the Acts of the Apostles in the Bible. ‘Barnabas’ was a nickname that meant ‘son of encouragement’, and the man with that name in the Bible demonstrated encouragement in a number of ways. He was generous with his own resources. He was welcoming and hospitable. And he wasn’t jealous of other people’s abilities, but helped draw out those gifts to everyone’s benefit. You can read about Barnabas in chapters 4-11 of Acts.

Encouragement isn’t a difficult skill. It’s not something that we need to do a three-year course in to be good at. It’s something that every one of us can practise. And it can make the world of difference to the people around us. We can choose to criticise, and to knock each other down at every opportunity, and the result will be failure. But when we choose to be the sort of people who encourage each other, to build each other up, to praise successes and to see beyond setbacks, remarkable things can happen. Encouragement can help all of us to give the very best of our God-given talents, with positive results for everyone. It’s the Barnabas factor.

Ron Greenwood encouraged West Ham’s World Cup heroes to achieve greatness. John Scott encouraged me to make the best of who I am. What could a bit of encouragement do for the people YOU know and love?

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