In the quiet carriage of the 14.58 to Sheffield, where this column is being written, isolated from the rest of a 45-man stag party, all long past half-cut and one dressed, predictably enough, as a young Edward VII, the full genius of Stuart Lancaster becomes apparent.
How do you instantly stop a large group of men from canoodling with barmaids in front of the CCTV cameras, dive-bombing off the top of passenger ferries and chucking dwarfs about? Simple. Invite the wives.
With still almost a year to go before the home World Cup, England’s highly impressive rugby union coach has held a special meeting with what we must reluctantly term the WAGs, explaining the demands that will be made and the standards that will be expected of them all when the tournament kicks off at Twickenham next September.
They are, in his own words apparently, “all in this together”. Evidently, in a sport not exactly characterised by its zero-tolerance approach to mischief-making, these diminutive, designer dressed-up disciplinarians have a crucial role to play.
England’s rejuvenated football team is yet to pull off a marquee signing on the celebrity girlfriend front and – if anything – is being comprehensively outplayed by its egg-shaped counterparts.
There’s Una from The Saturdays, Camilla Kerslake (“Who?” I hear you ask. God-fearing warbler. Sometimes sings the anthems at Twickers. Loves Chris Robshaw)... and still plenty of time for the perennially in-then-out-again Kelly Brook to secure a more lasting berth in the squad.
It’s a noble endeavour, this broadening of the church, but dangers lurk. Australia – so often the enlightened vanguard for social change – beat England to the feminist punch, when their coach, Ewen McKenzie, made Di Patston the team’s business manager. Now he routinely spends the first 25 minutes of his press conferences discussing whether or not his relationship with her might possibly be “more than professional”.
England’s dismal showing three years ago in New Zealand was made all the worse for the obnoxious behaviour that accompanied it. As Freddie Flintoff’s career proved from every available angle, a drunk is only a hero when he’s winning.
Lancaster’s men will surely perform better on the pitch this time. Off the pitch, ladies, your mission is clear.
Of course, we will only know for certain quite what did and didn’t go on with those aerobatic Kiwi dwarfs once someone who was actually there suddenly finds themselves with an axe to grind or a bill to pay.
Revenge, as the saying goes, is a dish best served in hardback, paperback and on Kindle, with the help of an illustrious ghostwriter and a big-money serialisation.
The furious arguments and divided dressing rooms described by the sporting laureates of the moment, Roy Keane and Kevin Pietersen, should hardly shock anyone. If the picture they paint is true, most sports stars must spend their time hiding behind the team bath urgently making notes, getting the quotes down while they’re fresh in the memory, so that five to 10 years later nothing should be misremembered, overstated or otherwise made to look in some way impartial.
This column has spent a reasonable amount of its life with a dictaphone shoved under the nose of some desperately reluctant sportsman, sighing as he contorts himself into the ever more complicated positions required of a man who must move his lips and emit sound without actually saying anything at all.
As such we can only marvel at the annual coincidence that “the opportunity to set the record straight” – of which no sportsman has ever been deprived for a second – always seems to come just in time for the Christmas rush.
Together for ever? Fifa and Coke are made for each other
Not all sport is mired in division, of course, as was generously shown by the happy partnership of Fifa and Coca-Cola, who sat suitably doe-eyed next to one another on stage at a sports conference at Stamford Bridge earlier this week.
As Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius have shown, when sports stars go bad the sponsors cannot run away fast enough. But don’t expect the corporations to do the same with Fifa, however toxic it becomes, which is a pity really, as they are the only people who could.
Sitting next to Fifa’s marketing chief, Thierry Weil, the excellently named Amber Steele, Coca-Cola’s head of sponsorship, kept an impeccably straight face as she said “she was confident Fifa would be transparent” over possible corruption in the Qatar 2022 bid, while Fifa’s leader continues with the necessary machinations to prevent the report into just that matter from ever becoming public.
“It was amazing to be in Brazil and see the passion for football that country has,” she said. She was almost right, in that she said “see” when what she meant was “exploit”, but one imagines those words aren’t listed too far apart in the Coke thesaurus.
She was right, too, at least in the sense that most of the passion survived her company’s obnoxious presence, as it seemed to lock down half of Copacabana to anyone who fancied an unofficial beverage, or sought to shut down decades-old, authentic football street parties.
The world’s passion for football is what keeps Coke and Fifa together, with Fifa the pimp and the World Cup the battered but still beautiful prostitute. Long may it continue.