Some people just shouldn't be on television: Anyone who thinks it is a good idea to appear on Homes Under the Hammer, for example; Philandering husbands with an aversion to lie detectors, too. And to that list we can add non-league football club groundsmen.
For an American channel covering a knockout competition sponsored by an American beer, ESPN's FA Cup coverage is commendable. Their pitchside table works especially well in tiny non-league stadiums and the presenters' opening gambits did a good job of making Alfreton Town v Leyton Orient feel like proper football. You know the type, with tea slightly cooler than the surface of the sun and pies which smell divine but taste of indiscriminate bovine apparatus.
They had the obligatory, nervously smiling big-club players – in this case Orient, in case you were wondering – getting off the coach. And they had some alluring shots of a small yet well-maintained stadium surrounding a pitch that looked like a billiard table.
And only 10 minutes into the programme, they had an interview with the chairman, Wayne Bradley – in the stands, natch – in which he made all the right noises about "doing ourselves proud" and "making progress at the right rate".
The chairman also gave a down-home feel to the proceedings, given that he looked like the quintessential lower-tier football club owner. That ruddy-cheeked, well-fed look, coupled with a freshly cut head of hair and a readily arching eyebrow that seemed to say: "I am the law."
So far, so rootsy. But then Ray Stubbs, the presenter, brought Rob Brooks over to ESPN's pitchside table for an interview. Who is Rob Brooks, you ask? Why, the man with a woolly hat pulled down beyond his eyebrows, who stood like a slouching trainspotter to the left of the pundits Gary Mills and Craig Burley, was none other than the 2012 Conference National Groundskeeper of the Year. Stubbs turned from the pitch – still green and glinting in the winter sun – and said to Brooks: "That must take a lot of work."
"It does ... 40, 60..." "Hours a week?" Stubbs asked, quite justifiably. Brooks just nodded. And then he completely ruined all of ESPN's efforts to make Alfreton Town seem like a plucky underdog up against the might of Barry Hearn's wedge.
Brooks paused. Mills and Burley leaned in. Brooks spoke. "A lot of hours ... and a lot of the chairman's money." The groundsman smiled. Stubbs looked uncomfortable. Or he could have merely been hiding his anger at Brooks letting the cat out of the bag – Alfreton Town have cash! The presenter then caught himself and grabbed Brooks' gardening fork, which he waved around over the table, screaming: "You bastard! We tried everything to eradicate all the razzmatazz and gluttony associated with the game and you go and f*** it up with your talk about cash!"
Actually he didn't. He deflected all his rage on to poor Burley, waving the fork in front of his face while muttering: "I might need this when I am in your company."
The rest of the pre-match build-up tried manfully to resurrect the homely atmosphere with, among other things, a toe-curling secret Santa involving "banter" between the Alfreton squad members. But it was too late. The damage had been done. Cheers, Rob.
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