It was ‘standing room only’ when two high-profile figures from the world of international and Premier League football visited the School.
Boys and staff alike turned out in force to hear from David Dein, a respected entrepreneur and businessman who was Vice-Chairman of Arsenal from 1983 to 2007 and is also a former Vice-Chairman of the FA, and Gary Mabbutt, a former professional footballer for Spurs and England.
Mr Dein spoke predominantly about the business side of the Premier League, describing its establishment in 1992 and charting its growth. He also touched on his role at Arsenal, where he was instrumental in appointing the then little-known manager, Arsene Wenger, and in the signing of legendary players like Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas. Under Wenger, the club has won the Premier League title three times and the FA Cup seven times.
Mr Dein brought former FA Cup-winning Spurs captain, Gary Mabbutt, with him as a special guest. Mr Mabbutt, who made more than 750 professional appearances for club and country, spoke largely about the role of the Professional Footballers’ Association and the way it supports players both during their playing careers and afterwards.
Headmaster Neil Enright said: “The boys, my colleagues and I all appreciated the opportunity to hear David’s first-hand account of the birth of the Premier League and enjoyed his insight into many aspects of the modern game. I know that the boys will have been able to take away a good deal of advice relevant to business and their careers, beyond simply the remit of football.”
“They always value being able to put their questions to those pre-eminent in their respective fields and particularly relished this opportunity. Despite our being a rugby-playing School, football is, of course, one of their favourite topics for discussion.”
Mr Dein, who led the unsuccessful England bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, talked about the importance of teamwork, demonstrating this by inviting a boy to snap a single pencil and then to try again when 11 pencils were banded together.
He also used a can of the ‘magic paint’ used by referees to mark where a ball should be spotted for a free kick and where the players’ defensive wall should stand, recounting being pitched the product by its inventor when visiting South America. After spraying the School’s Conference Centre floor, he joked: “This is designed to last for about three minutes – oh, that’s on grass. On this floor, it should be gone in about three months!”
He involved the boys in his demonstrations, with his presentation stimulating a lively question-and-answer session. “It’s important to always strive to be your best and to get up each day thinking, ‘how can I be better than yesterday?’” said Mr Dein. He noted that at Arsenal, the last two players to leave the training ground were invariably Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, two of the club’s most talented players.
The visit was organised through the auspices of Performing Artistes – an organisation providing speakers from the worlds of entertainment, media, politics and sports – with Mr Dein inviting Mr Mabbutt along to provide some ‘North London balance’.
Mr Mabbutt has been involved with the PFA for a number of years. It was established in 1907 and is the longest-established sports’ union in the world. Its aims are to protect, improve and negotiate the conditions, rights and status of all professional players. In recent times it has supported its members in disputes with the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association with regard to the PFA’s entitlement to a percentage of television revenue. It is also notable for the work it does to support players and former players who may be struggling with addiction, depression or mental health issues.
“We all learned much about the role of the PFA and the support they give to players both during and beyond their careers. I know that my Spurs-supporting colleagues were especially thrilled to meet Gary,” added Mr Enright.