Sport on TV: Harsh lessons at Bath's school of hard knocks
Sunday 29 June 2008
They say you should never go back. Not least because you might not recognise anyone. This is especially so at top-flight sports clubs. 'What Happened Next: The Rugby Club' (BBC4, Tuesday) looked back at David Stafford's series about Bath's first season as a professional outfit. Few if any of the original protagonists are still there. After the decision to go pro, most of them found themselves heading for an early bath.
The new era did not start well. As John Mallett said in a team crisis meeting: "It's taken 10 to 12 years to gain togetherness, and three games to lose it." Brian Ashton resigned as coach, John Hall was sacked as director of rugby and they let the England winger John Sleightholme go, too.
He now helps players find a second career for their retirement days. He, Ashton and Andy Robinson had all been teachers before going pro, but now young players go straight into academies without developing any other grounding in life.
As Sleightholme said: "I was earning 10 times what I earned as a teacher." In 1997 he turned into Alan Partridge, cruising around town in his Rover – all he needed was some crochet and suede driving gloves and a service station – and making records at Peter Gabriel's studio with the former Tears for Fears drummer Manny Elias (the team sounded like Ivor the Engine: "...pushing back, pushing back..."). "We were trying to do cerebral things," Sleightholme claims, in retrospect. As a former teacher, he should know better than that. They were mixing hubris with bad taste, like footballers do, and Hall revealed as much when he said at the outset: "We want to create a Man Utd or a Liverpool."
Hall's father and grandfather both played for Bath. As Phil de Glanville said: "It was the break-up of the Bath family." In that first foray into the Premiership, the club threw out all their babies with the bathwater. But given the sudden dearth of teachers in the area, it would have been a brutish place to grow up.
So John Motson has commentated on his last major tournament. It's a good job, because Mark Lawrenson has virtually given up as his sidekick. At times it seemed that the only thing which would wake Lawro up was to start screaming in a deranged fashion. This, Motty kept doing: "AND IT'S A THROW-IN TO FRANCE!" It needed a satellite to go down just to shut him up.
The best pundit has been David Pleat, despite his endless references to Spurs. Talking about Guus Hiddink, the Russia coach, he said: "He almost came to Tottenham. He sat down with myself and Sir Alan Sugar. But he went to South Korea instead. I think it was the noodles." No, David, it was probably Sir Alan's charming interview technique. Even North Korea would seem like a better career move.
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