Our thinking Quick reads World Cup wisdom: Three lessons from Three Lions
Fundraising, investor relations and marketing
July 2018
6 min read

World Cup wisdom: Three lessons from Three Lions

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Swept up in the unexpected euphoria of a not-that-embarrassing World Cup for England, Matthew Craig-Greene tries his best to justify writing about it. But are there really any parallels? He insists that there are:

Privyet and also, sadly, dosvidaniya!: the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup has come and gone. For the past four weeks, opinionated individuals (maybe you, dear reader; certainly me) have been shaking their fists and shouting at multi-millionaires in short shorts and England shirts to “pass!”, “shoot!” and “wake up!”. “Bring on the big fella!”, we advised; “can we not knock it?”, we implored, “he’s going to the keeper’s right”, we declared with confidence (he went to the left, of course). We have so much advice to give – how very generous!

But, dear reader, is there any advice we can take from England’s presence at the World Cup in return? And before you start complaining that the two fields of football and private equity have nothing in common, let us not forget that, in IRR and VAR (Video Assistant Referee), both host three-letter terms that have proven to be considerably less consistently applied than one would hope.


The campaign to bring football home may not have achieved its ultimate ambition, but England’s World Cup challenge was a masterpiece of planning, strategy and, frankly, over-achievement. Dear reader, the next time you go out on the road looking for re-ups and new investors, there are a number of pages you can take from the playbook of Gareth Southgate and the English Football Association.

1. Picking the easy half of the draw

In its final game in Group G, an England team that had already qualified for the next round took on Belgium (likewise already guaranteed to progress to the knockout stages of the competition). Results in other matches meant that the winner of the game between England and Belgium would likely have to play much more challenging opponents. Analysts were in two minds: should England try to win the game, to maintain “momentum” and face a tougher route through the competition, or should the Three Lions play within themselves and let Belgium win the game?

Of course, even when definitely trying to beat Belgium (in the 3rd/4th place playoff), the England team didn’t manage it, so whether or not they did try in this match is rather academic. In any case, there is a lesson to learn:

The lesson

Take time to identify and target the LPs that are most likely to fall for the charms of your team and your investment strategy and focus on them. It might be tempting to spend resources trying to crowbar Calpers or AP6 into your fund, but if you have an easier route to your target, take it! Once you have secured the commitments you need from the lower hanging fruit, then you can hunt for trophies.

2. Set pieces

In a World Cup dominated by goals from corners, free kicks and penalties, England nevertheless stood out as the masters of the dead ball training ground routine. Whether a Kieran Trippier free kick, a Harry Kane penalty or a “love train” header from a corner, England scored 9 of its twelve goals in Russia from set pieces. The team may have scored only a few goals from open play (only one of which was probably “highlight reel-worthy”), but every goal counts the same.

Whilst it is true that the implementation of the VAR system led to defending teams giving their opposition more space closer to goal, it was England who took fullest advantage. Gareth Southgate’s team perfectly executed complex routines that confused defenders and provided clear goal-scoring opportunities, which England was delighted to take. All those hours on the training ground paid off…

The lesson

Fear not – I am not about to suggest that you start each investor meeting with a series of tightly choreographed runs towards opposite ends of the boardroom table.

But I will suggest that you do two things to help you execute perfectly and land that big fish: plan and practice.

It’s sometimes the case that an investor meeting will be an informal affair – and these are often the best meetings – but you can maintain consistency and quality standards by making sure that the documents you bring with you are well structured and that you know before you enter the room who is going to answer which questions. Planning this out well in advance won’t always pay dividends, but it VERY often will.

And once you have the materials and everything else planned out, PRACTICE. There is no substitute for repetition. The material will not get “stale” – you will just get more and more comfortable delivering your pitch, leaving you freer to deviate and improvise when necessary.

3. Learning from your mistakes

England didn’t win the 2018 World Cup, and you might not hit your hard cap in two months, but that doesn’t mean that the right approach can’t bring you success. Penalties have been the perennial stumbling block for England in tournaments and the team had lost every single one since beating Spain in Euro 96 on home soil. Students of the game will know that England then played Germany in the next round and lost (you’ve guessed it) on penalties. The only England player to fail to score with his penalty in that semi-final against Germany was current England manager, Gareth Southgate. In 2004, in a shootout against Portugal, David Beckham skied his penalty over the crossbar, using unstable ground around the penalty spot as an excuse.

Rather than ignoring the poor results of previous penalty shootouts, Southgate and the English FA decided to learn from their mistakes and made some real changes to how they prepared for penalty kicks. Analysing penalty takers from opposing teams and spending significant amounts of time in training honing their technique and improving their mental approach paid dividends for the England team, as they defeated Columbia on penalties to set up a run of games that saw them reach the World Cup semi-final for the first time since 1990, and only the third time ever.

The lesson

Ideally, one would always come to market with a spotless track record, but often there will be a blemish or two. Blaming a poor outcome on the market, the regulator or anything else environmental looks weak, defensive and creates an atmosphere of mistrust. Own your mistakes – recognise them and DO something about it. LPs know that things can go wrong: show them that you know what to do if this does happen and put into action a plan to make sure it never happens again. It’s the only way to prepare adequately for the inevitable LP questions and it will improve your performance, too.

So – there you have it: three important lessons for fundraisers, courtesy of plucky England’s World Cup adventure.

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