Sport on TV: When the money men take the plunge, Bath do not come up smelling of roses

Click to follow
The Independent Online
There's a briefly disconcerting moment during The Rugby Club (BBC2 Wednesday), in which it appears that the marketing men are advocating mass murder as a means of raising Bath's profile. "We'll shoot all the players in the bath," one of them says, then it turns out that he means filming the first team in the Roman Baths for an advertisement.

You can tell the club has the right people for the job in the harsh new era of professionalism (this first programme of six is called "Money, Money, Money"). Stephen Hands, the club's marketing director hired from Coca-Cola, looks at the club badge, which says: "Bath Football Club, 1865", and remarks with undeniable accuracy, "two things hit me about that. It says `Bath Football Club' and it says `1865.'" Which as a statement of the bleedin' obvious is beyond parody.

Consultants have been brought in to re-work the image (though why it's necessary to rework an image which, for the past decade or so, has been one of total domination beats me.) One, who apparently looks like the smooth one out of Robson and Jerome, reports that they had toyed with changing the club's name, and he comes up with Bath Wreckers.

He then explores the Roman connection. "They were great warriors, they were clever," he says. "Veni, Vidi, Vicci [sic]," he writes on the board, a propos of nothing much. His big idea is the club slogan. He's pleased with this one, you can tell. "We thought: `Hail, Bath!'"

"As in what?" Hands asks, clearly unimpressed. "As a cry, as a car-sticker." The possibilities are, indeed, endless. The idea that sticks is more sensible, less absurd, but somehow too polite: "A higher class of rugby."

The money for all this high-level brainstorming has come from Andrew Brownsword, the greetings card Croesus, who has put a few million into the club. There is some nice intercutting between a posh do thrown by Brownsword and the last meeting of the old committee, what one member calls "The Last Supper, a celebration of our demise." With an unguarded lack of sentiment, the first-team captain, Phil de Glanville, schmoozing at the party, says: "We've never had faith in the committee." That will make him popular with the old guard.

Later, more pointed editing brutally sets old world against new. As the PLC board meet in Brownsword's pounds 500,000 Grade One listed offices, the "old farts" as the programme calls them (since Will Carling's coinage the phrase seems to have become generic for antediluvian administrators) meet over fags and beer, mostly in straight glasses, naturally.

The PLC boys are still going on about the badge, which has been given a makeover. "But," Hands says, "the big move will be what we call ourselves." So what's it to be? Bath Bears? Bath Brigands? Bath Behemoths? Ah, no. It's to be "Bath Rugby PLC." This is the modern world, when the crucial factor in a club's development is what the suits call themselves.

Meanwhile, the Committee discusses a replacement for a deceased member. "I understand she's competent on a word-processor." Bless them. Back at the board meeting, there is confirmation of the slogan "a higher class of rugby". John Hall, the director of rugby, shifts uncomfortably in his seat. As well he might, given the start his team makes to the season. Despite pounds 1.5m spent on players, Bath are left seriously short-changed on the field by the advent of professionalism. They lose their first home league match and go on to three defeats in their first four outings.

This contrasts tellingly with accounts of how a few of the players are adjusting. So, for example, there is John Sleightholme picking out a disgusting salmon-coloured shirt as part of a deal with a menswear company: "Love this shirt. Top colour. Are we wearing shirts in or out at the moment?" he says as he twirls in the mirror (if you have to ask, John...)

We also see De Glanville off to image svengalis James Grant in London, run by a former disc jockey Peter Powell, with a rosta of clients which boasts the likes of Philip Schofield and Anthea Turner. Phil, Phil, Phil, the thought arises, what the hell are you doing? Have you no pride?

As this first programme amply demonstrates, going pro is more than just enlisting a sugar-daddy, revamping the badge and kitting out the players in smart threads. Stuart Barnes, the former Bath behemoth, now commentating for Sky, puts it best. "I don't think they're as professional as when they were amateurs. Professionalism isn't just the size of the wad in your pocket."

And long may it be so.