Fishing Lines: United sign up soiled worms

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The Independent Online
ANY COMPANY willing to pay pounds 12m for an employee who works only about three hours a week clearly has more money than sense. So I had a quiet chuckle when I heard that Manchester United had forked out pounds 325 for 5,000 worms. Outrageous. Fancy paying 15p for a worm. Alex Ferguson might be a whizz on the transfer market, but he has paid way over the odds for his latest signings.

It's true that their role is slightly less glamorous than that of Beckham, Yorke or Giggs. They don't for example, get the chance to go out with a Spice Girl. But it is, nonetheless, a vital position. The worms (of the type called reds, you will not be surprised to hear) have been recruited to put some backbone into the club's pitch at Old Trafford. Joining the ground staff, you might say.

According to a story in the Angler's Mail, the worms were called in by the head groundsman, Keith Kent, who said: "We have a root zone that is 92 per cent sand, so we can pass water through it quickly." He could probably have phrased it better, but you know what he meant. Very important, drainage, especially if you live in Manchester. Kent spotted the worms at a local pet shop, liked their style and was soon talking terms with the owner.

The worms are now happily burrowing in the hallowed turf, enjoying an existence that others of their kind can only dream about. The pitch is 116 yards by 76 yards, which gives each worm ... er, well, I won't bother you with the maths.

It seems a mite churlish to point out that Kent could have bought 32,500 worms for the same price, if he had approached any one of the several bait farms that specialise in worm-breeding to supply anglers. It's infra dig to shovel earth in your garden these days. All you need to do is pop along to a fishing shop and buy a tub-full. It's much less effort, more hygienic and certainly safer. My brother still bears scars on his foot where he plunged a fork into the ground, and instead impaled his foot.

Worms have suddenly become big business. For years, they were dismissed as a bait used only by kids. Now they are back in favour with fishers and fish. In these days of high-tech baits, made with just the correct balance of amino acids, essential oils and sweeteners, it's refreshing to discover that you don't need a chemistry degree to catch fish.

The great thing about worms is that they will catch pretty well anything that swims, from sticklebacks to salmon. It's all a matter of being adaptable. There's probably even a book on it: 101 Things To Do With a Jar of Worms. Let me give you an example. One ruse involves taking a syringe and injecting the worm with air. This makes it float. When fishing in weedy lakes, a pumped-up worm wriggles above vegetation rather than hiding among it. The fish can see it, and your hook doesn't get tangled. Clever, huh?

Even more fiendish is a trick to catch eels. (Those with a delicate disposition should skip this paragraph.) First, take a bundle of worms and stick them in a liquidiser, preferably when your wife is out of the house. While you're at it, borrow one of her sanitary towels. Head for a likely eel spot and tie the sanitary towel on your line, after soaking in worm juice. Tie on a hook (baited with a worm, of course), and cast it out. I am assured that it attracts eels from miles away.

Very versatile, the worm. However, being adopted by fishermen has a definite downside: you get eaten by fish, one way or another. A job with Manchester United seems an infinitely better bet. Kent revealed that his transfer deal almost didn't go through because the new boys were not clean enough (rather like the Brian Clough days at Nottingham Forest, when every player had to have a short back and sides). Kent said: "They came in the worst black soil I've seen. We had two lads with buckets washing every one before we put them on the pitch." That's what I call luxury - a club where even the stadium's worms have their own bath attendants. Beats being impaled on a hook, doesn't it?