Esperanto? We’ve got football

I’m a business coach. I’m constantly talking to clients, former colleagues and friends. The G20 summit has been on; we’ve just had George Osborne’s first budget; the banking system’s going to be reformed – so are pensions…

That’s why all my conversations have been about football.

Flashback fifteen or so years. I was flying back from Spain. The airline had managed to screw up the seating and my then girlfriend (the one I married!) was twenty rows away. I waved goodbye to her – at least until Manchester – and turned to the guy on my right. “Bloody airlines…” I started. But there was no point. He was Italian.

Other than ‘ciao’ I spoke no Italian. He hardly spoke English. But for two hours we chatted happily. By the time we reached baggage reclaim we were good friends. What did we talk about? Football. And the language we spoke – or didn’t speak – was unimportant.

Alessandro supported Juventus. In England he supported “Manchester”. (Those were the days when City’s chequebook wasn’t on the radar.)

“Newcastle,” I said, pointing upwards to indicate the Magpies’ certain future dominance of Europe. “Black and white.”

’Sandro didn’t understand. What was the Spanish? “Stripes,” I said. “Negro y blanco.”

His face lit up. “Come Juve!” he beamed. Had my girlfriend turned round at that moment she’d have seen us trying to embrace, just because our teams wore the same strip. These days we’d have swapped shirts in the aisle.

I’m writing this blog on the morning of England’s clash with Germany. And here comes the serious bit. The last 16 in the World Cup contains teams from the Far East, Europe, South America, Central and North America and Africa. Truly a world game. And wherever in the world business takes you, truly something you can talk about.

People deal with people. They always have and they always will. And they deal with people they like. Knowing a little bit about football is a short-cut to being liked. It’s a great ice-breaker. And these days there’s no excuse for not doing your preparation – it took me three clicks and one query to get the Japanese J-league table. But be warned. If you’re going to Kyoto on business, tread carefully – they’re second bottom.

Now then, where was I? Ah yes…serious business coach…G20 summit. Blimey, David Cameron will be talking to Naoto Kan, the Japanese PM. Maybe I should send him the link to the J-league…


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