Picture this: Oscar Wilde and Andy Johnson of Crystal Palace in the same room. I've no idea what Andy would say to Oscar, but I've got a good idea what Oscar would say to Andy: "Good on you son, you done good." Or words to that effect.
Johnson is living, scoring proof of the truth of Wilde's maxim that the secret of success is the ability to withstand failure. In February 2002 he - Andy, that is, not Oscar - terrorised Liverpool's defence in the final of the League Cup, but missed the crucial penalty in the shoot-out. His manager Trevor Francis, obviously emotional, embraced him. Fifteen months later Birmingham, by now under Steve Bruce, were promoted but Johnson, who'd been with the club man and boy, was surplus to requirements. He was too small and his finishing wasn't good enough. He had just turned 21. In what has turned out to be one of Bruce's least successful bits of business Johnson and £3.5m were exchanged with Crystal Palace for Clinton Morrison.
This season only Thierry Henry has scored more Premiership goals and Johnson has scored more than all Birmingham's current players have managed between them.
I commend him for sticking at it. I am nearly 38-years-old and have a good decade's broadcasting behind me. But if someone senior at the BBC called me in when my contract was up and told me I was no longer good enough, I would find it very hard not to believe them. I doubt I would ever broadcast again. Similarly, if I had been Johnson, released from the only club I had known just as they moved into the big league, I would have concluded I wasn't good enough, I had found my level, and that would have been that.
I find more to admire in sportsmen like Johnson than in the stars of the game who seem - and I use that word advisedly - always to have things their own way. Michael Owen for example. Yes, like all footballers he's had to play through spells of poor form, but there has been no real kick in the reproductive organs for him; no spell in the reserves followed by a make-weight part in a transfer deal to a club a division below.
In tennis, Pete Sampras was a genius. But he was always a genius, no one ever said he had peaked until he was the best in the world. How much more beguiling is the story of Andre Agassi, with all of three digits in his worst ranking? Or Goran Ivanisevic, so much the nearly man that he even had to make a morose appearance at Wimbledon's parade of champions as the man who ought to have been a champion but by then never would be. Except, thrillingly, he soon was.
The Olympics throw up many examples, none better then Kelly Holmes. But the Olympics also had me thinking that the reverse of Wilde's maxim also applies: yes, to succeed you need to withstand failure. But to succeed you also need to withstand success. With Paula Radcliffe you can argue it both ways. She had put previous Olympic disappointments behind her to run the legs off everyone in the build-up to Athens. In London, New York, Munich, wherever, she was untouchable. It's possible, but unlikely, that she had become complacent. What is certain is that she had simply forgotten how to lose. And until a couple of hours into the New York marathon tomorrow we won't know if she will ever recover from the shock.
It all reminds me of those couples who squeeze each other's hands on the sofa and tell you how they "never argue". I pity them, because when they do eventually have an argument it will feel like the end of the world. Argue a little every day, that's my advice for a happy marriage. And to Arsenal my advice is on the same lines: try to avoid these long winning runs because you obviously lose the plot completely when you eventually lose. Even the great Arsène Wenger has used the word "crisis" and shuddered at the thought of how it would have felt if they had not scraped that draw against Southampton.
It's as well not to have it all, all the time. Off the top of your head, try to name athletes stricken by success and athletes stricken by failure. Your first list will be longer than the second. Gazza - or "G8", God save him - Best, Maradona, Merson, Adams, Cronje etc etc. Yes, success is a danger. Ask David Moyes. Actually don't ask David Moyes because he'll tell you, like he told me, that you're talking rubbish. But look at the evidence: he saved Everton from relegation, then took them to the edge of Europe. The Mersey ran blue with expectation for the following season and they had a stinker. And then they sold their best player. And now they're third.
"You're making a rod for your own back, aren't you David?" I said. "You'll have a nightmare next season if you carry on like this." He looked at me like my wife often looks at me - the words "withering" and "contemptuous" come to mind. "We'll deal with that when the time comes," he said.
One other thing. When I was a kid I always used to find it rather patronising when a pundit - Bob Wilson comes to mind - used to point out a bit of skill and say something like "a good example for any youngsters watching". Well, I'm going to do it now. If there are any young journalists out there who might want a column one day (and you're welcome to ghost this one for me), here's a little tip.
If you build a column around a famous quote, then first check it exists. For years I've been quoting that Oscar Wilde maxim and upon actually troubling to look it up, it turns out, as far as I can see, that he said no such thing. So we'll have to just pretend, I'm afraid. Some good has come out of this shameful episode, though: I found something from Winston Churchill which really ought to be written in indelible ink on the inside of every football supporter's eyelids "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."Reuse content