Are others more encouraging than us?


It's been an interesting time to be a Welshman given the coverage of Gareth Bale's recent transfer to Real Madrid. The 24-year-old winger from Cardiff completed his transfer for a fee that has clearly broken the former world record of £80 million set when they signed Ronaldo in 2009. I guess very few of us would give up the chance of earning a reported £30 a minute despite the pressures that will inevitably come with it.

In fact those pressures have already started to grow with newspapers reporting that the subsequent sale of Mesut Özil to Arsenal has sparked an angry reaction from the Spanish club's most senior players.

But much as I admire Bale's success, he has a long way to go if he is ever to be compared to one of my sporting icons, the great Cliff Morgan who died just over a week ago.

Morgan has been rightly described as "a Welsh sporting legend" and "an icon of the game" but, as people have queued up to pay tributes to him, it has become clear that he will be remembered as much for his influence off the pitch as for all he achieved on it.

Morgan did not enjoy the fruits of professional rugby. In fact one friend has recalled the time that he was so poor that he had to sell his wife's engagement ring to pay the essential bills. And Morgan did not enjoy perfect health either, suffering a stroke at the age of 41. And yet, in spite of this he was still able to carve out a remarkable career for himself at the BBC.

It was a career that included appearances on Question of Sport and in 1974 he became head of BBC Radio outside broadcasts. From 1976 to 1987 he was head of sport and outside broadcasts for BBC Television, supervising coverage of events including football World Cups, Commonwealth and Olympic Games, royal weddings and other national ceremonial occasions

But it's Morgan the gentleman that seems to have been remembered the most, and his lifestyle presents every Christian with a challenge. He was clearly an appreciative man. Dennis Gethin, President of the Welsh Rugby Union, highlighted this when he recalled the day he received a long hand written letter of thanks for a tribute he had delivered in his honour. "That just about summed him up," he said. "Not only had he sat down on the day he was honoured, to write the letter, but he had posted it too, to make sure it arrived the very next day. He was something special as a player and a man."

I wonder if we are remembered for being a thankful people?

Cliff Morgan was also a great encourager. I learned this while listening to Radio Four's "The World at One" when a friend stated that he took as much delight in other people's success as he did in his own.

I've thought about that a lot over the past few days. I get the feeling that many of us feel very insecure, even threatened when others do well, and as a result we don't find it easy to praise their achievements. Even worse jealousy is a very unattractive but all too common human failing. I have no idea if Cliff Morgan was a believer but clearly he seems to have stood out in this regard and there's a lesson for all of us there, not least for those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. We should be known as encouragers. Indeed the New Testament Bible tells us that it's one of the reasons why we should get together regularly.

Writing at a time when it was proving ever more dangerous to be a Christian, one early believer said: "Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps His word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching."

I wonder how many of our worship services have that kind of impact on those who attend them?

"Encouragement," said George Adams, "is oxygen to the soul." Cliff Morgan clearly understood this and in so doing has left a legacy for us to ponder. Few if any of us could ever match his rugby or his broadcasting skills just as few if any of us will ever earn £300,000 a week like Gareth Bale. But we can all be encouragers. So let's be "doers of the word" rather than parrots who can repeat it without error.

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