Inspirational Leaders: Bryan Richards

Goodbye, Mr Chips is a 1939 film about an inspirational teacher. Few of us had a Mr Chips in our lives but I was one of the lucky ones. Bryan Richards was my Mr Chips.

Bryan arrived at Dulwich College from a stellar rugby career and a degree from Cambridge. Even though he only won only one cap for Wales, he was recognised as a wizard of the playing fields. In any other era, he would have won many more caps, but then Wales had a factory turning out Number 10s and his path was blocked by one of the greatest of all times – Cliff Morgan.

Bryan arrived at Dulwich while I was in the junior teams and he quickly established us to have one of the best teams in the country. I was privileged to play for the first team for 3 years, the last as captain. During this period, we lost only 2 games.

He was an innovator with a deep understanding of the game. What is now commonplace he had thought through 20 years earlier.

He was also deeply competitive and we toured the country to beat all comers including a dark and wet afternoon in Wales when we beat Carwyn James’ then all-conquering Welsh team of Llandovery College.

To understand the importance of that for Bryan, a year later Carwyn coached the 1971 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, the only Lions side ever to win a series against the All Blacks. He was known as a visionary who proved adventurous, free-flowing rugby could be winning rugby. I still imagine the two of them sitting down after our game to plot the Blacks downfall.

My thoughts turned to Bryan last night as I read Gareth Southgate’s assessment of England’s football team’s performance at the World Cup. He is the English manager and his team had just beaten Panama 6-1. You would think he would be cock-a-hoop but all he said was that he didn’t particularly like his side’s performance.

After each weekend’s rugby game, we would meet at lunchtime in a classroom for an assessment of our performance. We had always won yet Bryan was never happy. He went from player to player with a short compliment and then a list of all the things we could have done better. Pleasing Bryan became as much a motivation as winning but it was not until the end of the season did he bestow any real or heartfelt compliments on us.

When you have just won a game as easily as England have the temptation is to believe all the hype and believe that all you have to do is turn up to win.

However unlikely it may be, England are in Russia to win the World Cup and one victory, even a 6-1 victory is just a milestone. It isn’t job done. Laugh, smile, sleep well, share an orange juice, joke with your teammates are natural reactions but Gareth has just delivered his Monday lunchtime message. Good result, six goals but you haven’t won anything yet.  I didn’t particularly like the side’s performance

Winning is never that easy. Winning consistently demands a continuing focus on hard work and hard miles. It means keeping focus.

It is a lesson taught to me by Bryan and one that has stayed forever. After every minor win, I always have my own Monday lunchtime meeting to remind myself that one victory is just another step to an unbeaten season.

Bryan lost his sight in 2000 but not his passion for competitive sport. For a proud Welshman came the unthinkable and he captained the English Blind Golf team against the Scots. Until his death a year or two ago he was still playing and scoring lower than his age.