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Play To The Final Whistle (And Other Ways To Win Your GCSE Cup Final)

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Richard Hytner compares FA Cup Final 2019 to...that's right, exams!

Medical School application tips

You may think that watching today’s FA Cup Final has no part to play in your GCSE or A Level revision plans. Alternatively, you are desperate to watch it but others whose approval you may need are wholly unconvinced by football’s educational value.

Taking an exam is, after all, nothing like a football match. You haven’t got Pep Guardiola yelling instructions at you – “don’t dwell on the question, pass it to someone else as soon as you get it”; you won’t get Fergie time or any extra time; and the examiner, unlike the ref, isn’t even in the room with you. So you can’t hurl abuse at him (at least not directly), nor can you attempt to influence him to change his mind – “but, ref, I was provoked, the question insulted me” won’t change your final grade. Unless you want an early bath, it would be unwise to do this to the invigilator.

There are, however, some compelling arguments for switching on the TV at 17.00 to absorb the drama of a cup final and to note what it can do to improve your grades:

1. “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”

An example of the Latin technique of chiasmus, and often credited to the most successful British football manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, the idea was actually the saying of Benjamin Franklin. He didn’t manage a football club, but he was an American polymath and (as the Historians amongst you will know) one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. So he knew a thing or two about long term goals – how to set them rather than score them.

Prepare for your exams with short term, not just long term goals and you will be ready on the day to be the best you can be. Great preparation goes beyond practice matches. You need to get fit for the big day or days (each paper is a cup final). Train, rest, sleep, hydrate, and eat well.

2. Read the game

How have the examiners set up to challenge you? What is the question on their minds, not the one you came into the room hoping to answer? How do you need to adapt on the day to beat them at their own game? (In truth, the examiner is not your opponent trying to catch you out but, by showing respect for the exact questions being asked, you will be awarded more marks.

3. Manage the game

You have your allotted time, no more, no less. Use it wisely. Do not use up all your energy on the first question, you’ll need to draw on more of it as you near the final whistle.

If you feel deflated by some of your early answers, remember that the exam, like a Final, is a game of two halves. Famous comebacks have fuelled the romance of this competition throughout its history, notably when Stanley Matthews helped Blackpool recover from 3-1 down to beat Bolton 4-3 in the 1953 FA Cup final. In 1992, one of the FA Cup’s greatest comebacks (albeit in the fourth round of the competition, not the final) was also one of its biggest upsets.

Wrexham should have crumbled when reigning top-flight champions Arsenal took the lead through Alan Smith shortly before half-time, but goals from Mickey Thomas and Steve Watkin in the final 10 minutes resulted in a pitch invasion by jubilant home fans at the Racecourse Ground. You don’t want people invading the examination room. But you can use the memory of famous comebacks to stir your spirits and win despite the odds.

4. Keep it simple

Manchester City are a team of highly paid, individually gifted players. They have already won the Premier League title and League Cup this season. Win today and they will become the first team to win the domestic treble in England. Their undoing, if it happens, will be their desire to dazzle with their brilliance. For Watford to become first-time winners of the FA Cup (for only the second time in the last 31 years), they will need to minimise unforced errors and to keep their game simple. Otherwise they will be punished.

5. Play for the pride of the shirt...

...your own. Play for every point, leave everything in the examination hall (except your valuables), and listen in your head to the roar of the crowd of family and friends cheering you on, particularly when the subject you are tackling is not your strongest. They are your 12th man.

There is much more to speak in favour of football’s ability to win you GCSE or A Level games, but there are only so many clichés one blog can take. Just remember that goals win games. So, come the time, stick some in the back of the net. Come on you Hornets…

Blog Post Crafted by Richard

Richard Hytner is the former Deputy Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and founder of creative management consultancy beta baboon.

Richard is also Adjunct Professor of Marketing at London Business School.

In his spare time, he loves to watch a good game of footie.


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