Book of the Week: Fascinating load of Leicester laundry

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The Independent Online
A Season in Stripes - Life with the Leicester Tigers

By Michael Tanner

(Mainstream, hardback, pounds 15.99)

FIRST THERE was Bath with their now infamous fly-on-the-wall television documentary; now it is the turn of Leicester Tigers. You would think they would have learned something from the West Country side's largely unpleasant experiences. Fly-in-the-ointment would be a better description. That may be the view Leicester will have of Michael Tanner after he was allowed apparently near-unlimited access to all things Tigerish last year.

The dirty laundry (not that there is a lot of it) is not so much aired as left neatly ironed and folded, stacked up in an account for all to see. A strand that runs through this admirably written and well documented work is the irresistible force of new age professionalism and the (virtually) immovable objections to it of old-fashioned amateurism.

The symbols for these two protagonists are the Oval Park training ground at Oadby, where the pro players work out, honing skills and drills during the day, and the Welford Road ground. There the committee men turn up on a Saturday to watch the gladiators strut their stuff on the pitch and hold meetings on weekday evenings (their real jobs finished for the day) to decide on everyone's future.

One of those whose future was decided, on a Monday evening last February, was Leicester's director of rugby, Bob Dwyer. Coverage of his dismissal is surprisingly revealing and detailed and there are times when you feel you are being presented with a year in the life of the lion-like Dwyer rather than the big cats of the rugby jungle.

The craggy Australian is depicted in a favourable light, although his disillusion with the team the further they got into season and the more they disappointed with unfulfilling and often inept performances is faithfully recorded. "I've run out of ideas," growled Dwyer after the defeat last season at Gloucester.

It could almost be said that Dwyer, who had coached Australia to the 1991 World Cup, had talked himself out of the job. An attitude, a philosophy even, reflected when he says to Tanner: "I don't try to protect myself. I'm not interested in protecting my job for the future."

But if Dwyer is the flawed hero, the Lear-like figure more sinned against than sinning, Tanner leaves few people in any doubt as to who the villains of the piece are, England's Austin Healey and Will Greenwood. As matters come to a head over Dwyer, Tanner writes: "The two players identified as the principal prima donnas... were [Greenwood and Healey]. Greenwood's England caps, according to the Oval Park grapevine were being won in progressively larger sizes. Oz [Healey]... was apt to run off at the mouth any time, any place, anywhere."

The training ground bust-up between Healey and the "Fuhrer", as the England wing dubbed Dwyer, is set out for all to see. So is much else and it is not all bitching. Altogether a fascinating load of laundry, perhaps not all dazzling white, but colourful, and very few grey areas. Tanner is to be congratulated.

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