It’s midway through the second half of the Preston North End-Portsmouth fifth round FA Cup tie. The Championship side have won a penalty that could give them the lead. It’s Simon Whalley stepping up to take the kick. Facing him is David James.
The odds, as always in a penalty, should be in Simon Whalley’s favour. But, not on this occasion. As Whalley is walking back to take the kick, James is standing in the middle of his goal. But he is doing more than that. Mentally he is filling out his goal. That is, he is imagining himself covering the whole of his goal. In his mind. That’s why Andy Gray, commentating, says that David James looks like a giant.
Then James puts his focus on the ball. Almost staring at it. He appears magnetised to the ball. As if connected to it with a piece of string. At this point in the process. Whalley had better be mentally prepared. For David James is loading the mental stakes.
Simon Whalley then takes his penalty and hits it weakly to James’ right. Almost as if Whalley has become magnetised by David James. That he can’t not hit the ball at James. The ball goes to David James, as if by his will, he has demanded it be so.
David James has won the mental battle hands-down. Simon Whalley has come up against a master.