One of the earliest people to expound on the notion that patience is a virtue was St Augustine, patron saint of asbestos-roofed swimming pools:
“The patience of man, which is right and laudable and worthy of the name of virtue, is understood to be that by which we tolerate evil things with an even mind, that we may not with a mind uneven desert good things, through which we may arrive at better.”
It doesn’t seem to be a natural human trait, though. I’m currently trying and failing to instil it in our six-year-old son, who has great difficulty restricting himself to one advent calendar window per day and who cannot stand at a bus stop for more than a minute without kicking the shelter (or me) and shouting ‘How much longer have we got to wait?’
Mind you, I used to be just as impatient when I was younger. I used to take newly-purchased LPs out of their sleeves and look at them on the bus home. More than one Christmas Day was spent wearing new football boots around the house. And when it came to standing in a queue, I was like… well, like this chap.
It’s especially hard to teach patience in a world where instant gratification has become the norm. The idea of saving up for something seems ridiculously old-fashioned. Advertising campaigns urge us to ‘make the most of now’. (Though again, I have to accept my share of the blame as I worked on that one…)
Fame is something to grab at once rather than work towards. While I’m in the mood for quoting philosophers, here’s what Rylan from the X Factor had to say in his Guardian interview on Monday:
“When I want something I want it as quick as I can, as easy as I can… Because we can now. What’s the point in me working for years…?”
Perhaps patience has to be gradually acquired as we grow older. It’s one of life’s anomalies that the more we sense our time is running out, the more prepared we are to wait for things.
But if we want to find lessons that demonstrate that patience is worthwhile, that it brings greater and more satisfying rewards, where should we look?
Well, wouldn’t you know it, it’s football.
There are many aspects of the game which show this, but let’s start close to home with our manager.
I have to admit that I was getting a bit twitchy after the first few matches of this season – not so much because of the results but because of the team’s new, more cautious approach; the performances of certain new signings; and Chris Hughton’s comments after the Fulham game about trying to contain the quality of the opposition. (FFC, FFS…)
But along with the majority of supporters at Carrow Road (and I do think we’re a pretty patient lot on the whole), I managed to avoid rushing to judgement – and what results we’re reaping from that now.
A similar situation seems to be unfolding at Villa Park, though the name of the manager there escapes me for the moment.
And of course, the all-time classic example of patience in a manager being rewarded is still being played out at Old Trafford. Alex Ferguson became manager of United in November 1986, but didn’t pick up a trophy until they won the FA Cup in 1990 – and it took another three seasons to win the league.
True, there was famously a large banner displayed at Old Trafford in 1989 which read: ‘Three years of excuses and it’s still crap… ta ra Fergie’. But the patience of the directors was greater than that of the fan responsible, and look how it worked out.
You could argue – and I have – that the City board showed too much patience with Nigel Worthington in his last twelve months at the club. But as faults go, it’s not the worst one to have. And by contrast, how poor are they that have not patience. There may be plenty of silverware in the Stamford Bridge trophy room, but is it a happy place? The Chelsea fans I know aren’t.
The value of patience is also evident in City’s new style of play. It might not be as thrilling as the more gung-ho approach favoured by Paul Lambert (ah, that’s the name) towards the end of some matches during his reign, but it’s working wonders at the moment.
It just feels really solid. And while there are still some fans who urge the players to get the ball forward more quickly and groan whenever it’s passed backwards, most of us know the importance of keeping possession and shape. (My elder sister complained after a rare visit to Carrow Road on Saturday about the excessive passing around the edge of the Wigan box instead of getting the ball in there – but then she and her husband have season tickets at Stoke, where the ball is treated as an intercontinental ballistic missile.)
There are particular players whose patience has been rewarded. Simon Lappin was out in the cold for so long – and when you’re from Spain, you really feel it. But he waited and waited, and eventually got his chance to play for City in the Premier League.
And then there’s Wes. Successive managers – including Glenn Roeder, who bought him – have initially been uncertain about playing him. But each time, Wes has waited for his opportunity and then proved himself to be indispensable. His current form is nothing short of sensational; his performance at Southampton was utterly brilliant from start to finish.
Lastly, there’s the broader issue of youth development. In the sepia world of my formative years, kids were thrust into competitive matches on huge pitches at the earliest opportunity and yelled at from the sidelines to get stuck in.
My understanding (not yet supported by personal experience, admittedly) is that they are now allowed to develop their skills, their decision-making and their general understanding of the game without winning matches being the main priority. I hope this is the case; only by showing patience in the early stages will we ever be able to catch up with the leading footballing nations.
So that’s decided. I shall teach our son the virtue of patience by taking him to more football matches.
Oh, hang on though.
“Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet…?”