Field Marshal Montgomery – “Football Manager!”


By John Cartwright

 Many years ago I became interested in reading about the Second World War. I piled through numerous books and watched countless films, videos and TV documentaries on the period and began to concentrate on the people who controlled armies during this time, the Generals.  Allenbrooke; Marshall; Eisenhower; Alexander: Bradley; Patton; Rommel; Kesselring; Zhukov etc. and Montgomery. Each had his own style of leadership. Each displayed strengths and weaknesses both in personal characteristics and military expertise. The General who took my attention most was Montgomery. Here was a General who had tremendous self-confidence, was passionate about soldiering and had a deep affection for the troops under his command.  He had experienced the disasters on the front line during the first World War and was dismayed at the lack of professionalism in all branches of our armed forces leading up to the Second World War and the antiquated military dogma that still existed. Throughout the 1930’s he sought better ways to train officers and soldiers to fight battles and win without the high casualties that had occurred in the trenches in WW1. As I read more about Montgomery, I began to recognize a distinct resemblance between the management of an army and the management of a football club. Although the two situations are miles apart in terms of size, the same operating features exist between them. Association Football, is a game based on military principles. The obvious difference between an army at war and a team in competition is casualties. In the game, it is not expected players will be killed, although injuries are common. All other aspects of military structure and the way in which it functions are closely reflected in the game of football; the administrative organization of clubs from Directors downwards, the training and preparation of players, the tactical elements within the game and the importance of the final result.

Montgomery, saw a deep need for new ideas to be introduced into the British army and he sought every opportunity to develop his ideas over many frustrating years. Against a background of lethargy from the ‘old school’ of  military personnel, he created a reputation as a fine teacher who was prepared to challenge old habits with new and controversial methods. His experiences in the First World War made him painfully aware that unless changes to established military doctrine were made the British army would not be ready to fight successfully in future wars. To this end he set about re-structuring both the administrative and fighting elements of those sections of the army to which he was posted. His influence over military methodology increased with his postings, first as lecturer in India in the mid 1930’s and later, when in command of the south-east army in England after the retreat from Dunkirk.

Over the years, as a fighting soldier and a student of military practice, Montgomery evolved general principles of command and leadership which he would draw upon throughout the coming battles in which he was involved.

              No leader, no matter how great, can continue unless he wins battles. The battle decides all.

                                 How does one achieve success in battle/football?

Football battlefield

Army battlefield

  • No two battles are the same. Each must be tackled as a completely new problem to which there will be a completely new answer. So the coach must understand that no 2 games are the same. Each opponent must be watched and analysed – strategies must be put in place to combat them and defeat them.
  • An army is not just soldiers, tanks, guns etc. The total strength of an army is the strength of its troops and equipment plus the morale, fighting spirit, a combined confidence between all ranks, the quality of comradeship and many other intangible spiritual qualities.  In football the morale of the team and the club as a whole is so important.  Much can be achieved with players who understand their roles, are motivated are resourceful and have the belief in the system to compete through to the end of every match.
  • The raw material with which a leader has to work is men and women.  The coach must know his players – their strengths and the weakness.
  • An army must be honed until it is as hard as steel. But it must be understood that an army is made up with men and women who must be handled with care and consideration. If the approach to the human factor is cold and impersonal, nothing substantial will be achieved. However, if the troops have trust and confidence in the leader, he will have gained a priceless asset with which great achievements become possible.   The coach must gain the trust of his players and staff. Each individual person under his command must be made to feel that their role important to the success of the club.
  • Morale of the soldier is the greatest single factor in war and winning battles raises morale more than anything else.  The result stands supreme if confidence in the coach is to be achieved and retained.
  • The good General is the one who wins his battles with the fewest casualties.  The coach needs to have a game-style that produces a method of play that lessons the need for individual confrontational “battles”.
  • If success is wanted it can only be forthcoming through hard work. Earn the rewards. Before the glory comes the slog!  A match is often won on the training ground. Even the best teams have to earn the right to play!
  • All men and women are different. Choose the appropriate soldier’s best suited to fight in the conditions most preferable to them.  The coach must visualize his game plan and select his players accordingly.
  • The selection of those for positions of subordinate leadership is of vital importance – select those best suited for the job in hand.  Every person has a ‘ceiling of ability’, the leader must recognize the levels his subordinates can attain.  Select the right person for the right job.   It is vital in the selection and positioning of the staff surrounding the coach as well as of the players selected to play.
  • The Commander’s own morale must be firm under pressure. When the going gets tough the tough stay strong.  The coach must have confidence in his plans and when under pressure, be able to suitably adapt them to deal with any situation as it arises.
  • A Commander should not become immersed in details. Distraction from issues of major importance reduces his control over the main battle situation. Details are the business of subordinate staff to attend to.  The coach must not be distracted with issues that should be the reasonability of his staff.
  • The master operational plan for the imminent battle must also provide for operations to follow, so that success in the first can act as a springboard for the next.  The coach must have a settled method of preparation that can be adjusted as required from one game to another, in both on and off the field situations.
  • The Commander must learn about his opposing adversary and to be ready to prevent any interference with his objectives by the enemy.  The coach should know the preferences in the playing style of the opposing coach and prepare accordingly to grasp the initiative in the game at the earliest opportunity.
  • The commander must be a clear thinker and be able to sort out essentials from more minor factors during the battle.  The coach must not allow minor distractions to interfere with his overall control of the game.  He/she must remain focused. The good coach always must see the “wood for trees!”
  • The Commander should be physically fit to be able to respond to any situation with speed of action and alertness of mind.  A coach with a weak body and dull mind is unlikely to achieve successful results.


  • The plan of operation must be the Commander’s plan. It must not be forced on him by his staff, by circumstances, or by the enemy. He must relate to what is strategically desirable with that which is tactically possible with the troops at his disposal. If this is not done, victory is unlikely.  The coach must know the quality of their players and within the concepts of their game-style requirements, set out to gain and retain the playing initiative in the game.
  • It is vital that an efficient, ‘second in command’ is appointed to oversee the detail and to keep the Commander away from the less important issues related to a forthcoming battle.  The coach needs to be focused on essentials to ensure a clear understanding of the main issues involved with the playing and winning of the game.
  • The Commander must decide how and where he wants the battle to begin and proceed to, all the time forcing the conflict to be fought on ground of his choice and not of that of his opponent.  He must make the enemy ‘dance to his tune’ from the beginning of the conflict and not vice versa.   The coach must have a game plan that requires the initiative in the game to be gained at the earliest opportunity and retained. Should the initiative begin to falter, the game plan must be able to regain the initiative quickly.
  • The Commander must be astute with regards to the placement of his forces so that they are always ‘balanced’ to provide continuity for his battle plan. He must also make sure that his formations are tactically arranged before and during the action to allow for changes in the battle.  The coach must provide within his game plan, “half positions” from which players can link to support attacking opportunities or cover defensive weakness.
  • The Commander should bring all senior staff together before a battle and ensure that everyone is fully aware of their role and the role of others in the forthcoming battle. The senior staff must then communicate down to the lowest ranks on the plan of action and the importance of everyone’s role in the battle ahead.  The coach must ensure that everyone has a full understanding of their own role as well as the roles of others in the team.
  • All troops must be brought to a point of wild enthusiasm for the coming conflict. They must have offensive eagerness and infectious optimism for the battle. ‘They must enter the fight with the light of battle in their eyes’.  The coach must enthuse and motivate all his staff and players to have a positive outlook.
  • The spoken word is worth a thousand letters when delivered with honesty and passion.   The coach must be able to motivate those under their control and bring them to a point of total acceptance of the methods to be used in the coming game.
  • Subordinate staff must be trained to accept verbal orders whenever possible. Orders should be clear and concise in order that action can be taken immediately and information given and received quickly.  The coach must be able to construct a simple and reliable method of issuing orders that take immediate effect on staff and players alike.


  • The soldier wants to know about the situation in which he is serving and fighting and must be kept fully aware at all times.  The coach must be prepared to produce a game plan, to adapt if necessary, and keep all under their control fully informed of any changes.
  • The successful Commander must have and display a religious truth. For all leadership is based on spiritual quality; the power to inspire others to follow towards a better and successful future.   The coach must be honest with their staff and players. Dishonesty and selfishness in the part of the coach will affect team spirit and destroy any chance of success.

 These were the basic, and as he himself states in his memoirs, a somewhat dogmatic explanation of his beliefs on leadership. He eventually was posted to become Commander of the Eighth Army in the Middle East in 1942 . His success there provided the allies with their first major victories over German and Italian forces and brought a famous comment from Winston Churchill: “ this victory At El Alamein, is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.”

 Here was a framework of management that I believed I could hang my experience as a player and coach on to. I have used Montgomery’s methods over many years and have found them both inspiring and successful to use. I hope they may do the same for you.

One thought on “Field Marshal Montgomery – “Football Manager!”

  1. Football is a ‘military game’. The qualities necessary to become a top football coach are close to those who earn their money in command of armies. The preparations, tactics, control, decisions and follow-up for military battles can offer the coach an important insight into the organization and coaching of players and teams. Battle tactics and how to win with style should be of interest to all prospective coaches. Montgomery, in my opinion has much to offer. A read of his book, ‘THE MEMOIRS OF FIELD MARSHAL MONTGOMERY’ is time well spent. The chapter on his’ DOCTRINE OF COMMAND’ is especilly interesting for anyone involved with leading others in a competitive situation.

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