The value of loyalty
Is it better to be Steve Bull or Cristiano Ronaldo? A provocative question I know, but bear with me.
Something that caught my eye over the Christmas holidays was the story of Arsene Wenger’s return to the Emirates. There are many aspects to the story that I like: his clear and publicly stated desire not to return to the Emirates stadium in order to make his successor's life easier (contrasting with Alex Ferguson’s regular attendance at Old Trafford); his determination, when he felt the time was right, to slip back in without fanfare so no one would know he was there; the sudden outpouring of affection for him when he was eventually noticed; and finally, the bashful way he received those lavish accolades. Classy. Why is Wenger held in such regard? Yes, he brought Arsenal a great deal of success, but he also showed tremendous loyalty to his club over 22 years, even when other opportunities came knocking, and when times were tough for him personally.
It got me to thinking about a little-known story connected to my club, Watford. Graham Taylor was a legend at the club. However, after his (perceived) failure with England, and some jolly nasty press coverage (including that famous ‘Turnip’ headline), Taylor was at a pretty low ebb. He found employment at Wolves for the 1994-95 season, and where should his second away game of the season be, but at Vicarage Road. No one expected what followed: when the now-opposition coach (GT) walked out on to the pitch, the home supporters began a spontaneous standing ovation. The ovation carried on, much to Taylor's obvious embarrassment, but the crowd would not stop; reports differ on how long the ovation lasted, but my stepbrother, who was there that day, claims that it lasted at least two minutes. This was a tremendous showing of appreciation and loyalty from the Watford fans at a time when Taylor really needed it, and no doubt paved the way for his successful return to the club a couple of seasons later as he led their return to the Premier League.
Back to the question I posed at the top of the article. Cristiano Ronaldo is no doubt a legend of the game; his performances for club and country will see him go down as one of the all-time greats. However, some of his behaviours have, arguably, demonstrated dubious respect for, and a lack of loyalty towards, the clubs he has served. Contrast that with Steve Bull, who famously stayed with Wolverhampton Wanderers throughout his career, even when people said he should move on to better himself. He demonstrated loyalty, and that loyalty was rewarded. Bull has movingly explained why he did it, and why it was the right thing for him. Read more.
Loyalty can be an undervalued quality these days, but it breeds appreciation and mutual love, and we ought not be too quick to dismiss it. As Graham Taylor and Watford found, you can end up doing amazing things together when loyalty guides your actions. In the modern age, it may not be the most glamorous virtue, but I believe it is incredibly important to teach children the value of loyalty. The clearest way to demonstrate this is in their friendships. Remaining loyal, when others might have lost faith, is important - it builds trust, character and the ability to thrive.
So I would ask, is it better to be Cristiano Ronaldo or Steve Bull?