Ken Jones: Pride is beating heart of extraordinary achievements

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The Independent Online

Most of the coaches I come across in this sporting life, certainly those of a younger generation, believe that the only way to get professionals to practise and play at a proper level of intensity is to bang a drum loudly and constantly. But where is the pride in an athlete who needs that sort of stimulation? And the character?

Most of the coaches I come across in this sporting life, certainly those of a younger generation, believe that the only way to get professionals to practise and play at a proper level of intensity is to bang a drum loudly and constantly. But where is the pride in an athlete who needs that sort of stimulation? And the character?

What is this character they are always going on about? Is there a magic elixir that separates the winners from the losers? Can you buy it at the chemist? Do you pour it on cornflakes?

Character, courage and pride are qualities the very best sports performers are born with.

Fifty years ago on Sunday a great Hungarian team thrashed England 7-1 in Budapest less than six months after destroying them 6-3 at Wembley. The inspiration was supplied by Ferenc Puskas, who figures on a personal list of the 10 greatest footballers.

"One of the most important things about Puskas, something we saw in him as a 15-year-old, was pride," Hungary's coach Gustav Sebes would say when lecturing coaches at Lilleshall. "In his age group we had players with more ability but none less likely to let us down. On the worst day of his life, his pride would come through."

Pride, as exemplified by Martin Johnson, saw England through to victory in the rugby World Cup. Pride is central to the influence Roy Keane maintains in the colours of Manchester United. Conversely, lack of it has seen the Galacticos of Real Madrid miserably slide out of contention for La Liga. No pride in performance.

During the time I spent covering football for The Daily Mirror of Hugh Cudlipp, both my eyes were given plenty of practice. As a former professional player whose career had foundered I was drawn to those who appeared to have an uncomplicated appreciation of the good things that had happened to them, and a capacity for honest, unquestioning gratitude. They didn't have a monopoly on pride but it stood out, win or lose, in their performances.

The romance between intellectuals and sports, especially football is, for the most part, one-sided to the point of absurdity. A large percentage of intelligent fans evaluate the men who play in the Premiership as demigods. A large percentage of the players rate intellectuals several notches below referees. They are drawn together by a sort of pride but it remains intangible.

Recently I fell into conversation with a relative newcomer to this trade who took the view that pride was there to be called upon. "Surely everyone in sport has it," he said. "Not necessarily," I replied. "They all have egos but that isn't the same thing."

Last week, for example, it must have been pretty obvious that a number of the Leeds players who turned up at Chelsea - including the local hero Alan Smith - put in only a token effort. Events at Elland Road were not acceptable in mitigation. Norman Hunter thought it disgraceful.

On television some hours later there was vivid confirmation of how fiercely pride burns in Tiger Woods.

All is not well with the world's No 1 golfer. Because of problems with his swing, for the second week running he led a tournament, the Byron Nelson Classic, after two rounds then struggled. In the most disparaging of golfing terms, he was hitting the ball sideways. Woods hung on, producing marvellous recovery shots from parts of the course only hackers normally visit. The putter was hot too. If unquestionably exciting, it was not, in the technical sense, what we have come to expect from Woods and certainly not what he expects from himself.

Where Woods could have fallen well down the field he toughed it out to finish in fourth place, one shot behind Sergio Garcia who defeated Dudley Hart and Robert Damron in a play-off.

The former US Ryder Cup captain Lanny Wadkins, a player of great resolution himself, was lost in admiration. "This week and last, Tiger could have shot 80 in the third round," he said. "That he didn't speaks not only of his great talent but a bottomless well of spirit. I think he's the gutsiest player I've ever seen. No matter how badly things are going he never gives up."

It remains to be seen what Woods can do to correct a swing flaw that caused him to miss 11 of 14 fairways on Sunday. If it wasn't for his pride it would be a crisis.

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