David Flatman: If Carlsberg made training grounds...

All the Bath boys are big kids again as ideal owner introduces us to our fantasyland of a new home
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The Independent Online

If we, the Bath Rugby players, could design the ideal owner for our beloved club, he would be a West Country boy, a Bath fan, a rugby fanatic and, of course, in possession of a few quid that he did not mind throwing at the badge. He would enjoy daydreaming about what this club could be, and would do whatever it took to make his visions come to life. I am not sure if one of the team secretly wrote in to Jim'll Fix It, but it turns out not only does this bloke exist, he happens to have turned up and bought the lot.

The whole mystery tour began at the Rec early on Wednesday morning when we were ushered on to our team coaches with no clue as to our destination. Rumours were flying up and down the aisle (I convinced the Academy players that we were on our way to a cider factory for a bonding session) but, upon arrival, we realised that however sure we were that our information was accurate, we had been wrong.

We pulled into Farleigh House in silence; the place is like something from a Jane Austen novel. The hush was quickly replaced by gasps and, inevitably, more "definite" rumours from under the breath of David Barnes. We did wonder if it was just a day trip to Luke Watson's new country pile but we were swiftly corrected. Before I could even pour a coffee or raid the exceptionally well-furnished biscuit tray, I, along with other senior players, was ushered into a room containing two men: Nick Blofeld, our CEO, and an infinitely better coiffured individual. Bruce Craig introduced himself as our new owner and told us that this place, with a bit of digging here and there, was now the home of Bath Rugby. The schoolyard levels of exuberance and sheer volume were a memory and the reaction was, unusually, complete silence. I do hope Bruce was not perturbed by this response to his newsflash; we were all, to a man, stunned.

Then we were shown the plans to develop this vast country estate into an elite training facility and assured that whatever we needed would be provided. Predictably, Matt Banahan – one of the world's more literal human beings – was the first to ask what many of us were thinking but felt too embarrassed to ask: "Can we bring the dogs?" We grown-ups all scoffed in harmony but waited intently for the answer. "If you need the existing kennels extending," the besuited architect replied, "we can arrange that." If Carlsberg made training grounds...

Present during the day was our departing owner, Andrew Brownsword. He has, over the years, copped flack from a lot of angles but, undeniably, he has been a rock for this club. When one reads of rival teams signing superstars, it is easy to forget that this man is, in effect, by paying my wages, buying the newspaper I am reading (i.e. this one). Never once in my seven years at Bath have I worried about my pay packet or questioned the support of my employer. And that is saying something. It was time to hand the place over and Andrew went to great lengths to ensure the right person got the gig.

During a particularly long, painful lay-off with injury, I once called Andrew on his mobile just to reassure him that I was doing my best to play again and not just sipping cappuccinos between visits to the Sky studios. "David," he said quietly, "we all have times like these and you will come through it. When you do, it will be a great day and you will be wearing the greatest shirt of all." Now I, of course, realise that not all rugby fans regard Bath as the greatest of anything, but the sentiment served not only to abate my guilt but also to inspire me to work ever harder. I did come through it and he was there, in the changing rooms after the match, ready to shake my hand. I hugged him and it was inappropriate, but I felt he had earned it.

So it is to the future we look. If my economics teacher was right and we are indeed products of our environment, then we now have something to live up to. All will be provided and it is our job to thrive, not to let it spoil us. This fantasyland will become the real world to us very soon and our rivals will not care a hang; it will be the players' turn to pay back the men in suits. We must now make the shift from world heritage to world class – once we've walked the dogs, of course.

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