Part of the unspoken code of the rugby player is to accept any and all freebies, whatever they might be, with gusto. Be it the odd T-shirt, a nice pair of trainers, a tasty meal in town or, for the elite few, a shiny new car. Regardless of what is on offer we feel duty bound to bite the hand off the generous donor. I expect that behind this hunger for the complimentary lays the morbid, never-mentioned fear of finishing rugby, losing one's notoriety and, with it, the provision of gratis goodies. In truth, though, I think we're probably just a bit cheap and greedy.
So, not daring to break the mould, when our commercial director here at Bath offered Olly Barkley and me a VIP trip to Stamford Bridge to watch Chelsea in the Champions' League on Tuesday, I yelped "yes" before he'd even finished his sentence. Midway through my inquiry as to whether my cappuccino and obligatory BLT sandwich at the motorway services would be covered too, I realised my greed had overcome me and tried my best to turn it into a joke. I hope it worked.
All of this was offered, incidentally, by a local gentleman whose personal wealth was, apparently, to be shared with all. He was already cemented as one of my closest friends and I hadn't even met him yet.
While sipping our extortionate coffees on the M4, the said sponsor called and told us to hurry up, Frank Lampard was waiting to see us. And guess what, he couldn't wait to meet Danny Grewcock. Technically, I was in Dan's place but I was more than happy to be this man's anti-climax. After all, we were now friends for life. Then, a junction or two later, more good news! Carlo Ancelotti had asked that we remain in the VIP box post-match, as he was really keen to meet us and have a good old chinwag.
It was at this point that we became a bit suspicious. "Who is this bloke?" asked Olly. The answer, much to our amusement, was alarmingly vague. When I asked if we had any proof that this chap's money was real or indeed any idea of who he was, the answer actually made sense: "Er, not yet, no. But the rewards outweigh the risk." As we continued to blast along, we all reached a morbid agreement: we might be the victims in an absolute stitch-up, courtesy of a first-rate fantasist. Our commercial director, ever the steady head, was convinced this was all too good to be true.
But, just as all hope seemed to be gone, my new best buddy called back to check on our progress. "Call me when you're five minutes away and I'll come down and get you." We all breathed a sigh of relief and felt thoroughly guilty at ever having doubted him. He even asked if we needed Frank – sorry, Lamps – to sort us a couple of rooms at the Chelsea Hotel so that we might step out together that evening. We couldn't, of course, but we were warmed to the cockles by the undiluted kindness of the gesture.
We strode into the VIP reception and offered our names in an appropriately aloof tone. Then, when refused entry, we offered the gentleman's name. Then, embarrassingly, Lampard's. At this point all our posture was gone, along with any self-confidence we might have carried into the building. We had been tucked up, and we couldn't believe it.
After half an hour or so it was clear we had been standing around like groupies for long enough. We decided after 37 phone calls and as many text messages to the now invisible sponsor that it was time to admit defeat and head back to the car. Then, from the shadows, emerged a tall, trendily dressed man in a flat cap. He tapped our commercial director on the shoulder and reintroduced himself.
Now this commercial director is, by his own admission, distinctive to look at but to remember both the name and face of a man you met once, a year ago, suggested this bloke was not as ordinary as he looked. In fact, that was the idea. He turned out to be a bodyguard employed by none other than Roman Abramovic and, after hearing our "hilarious" tale, told us to follow him as he flashed his badge and led us to our very own, swanky corporate box. "Best I could do on such short notice, lads," he said.
This bodyguard had just knocked off for the night so he sat with us for the duration of the game. Every few minutes he would start giggling as he considered our apparent naivety. "Carlo hardly speaks a word of it, mate, and rugby ain't one of the words in his vocabulary. You boys have been had in a big way."
By now we had all seen the funny side. After all, having landed the best seats in the house we had, ultimately, had the last laugh. "See boys," said our head of security and saviour, "no such thing as a free lunch." We considered this point long and hard and had to agree. However, our natural instincts nearly overrode all rational thought moments later when our new friend made us another generous offer: "Give me a mobile number and I'll have his life story on a sheet of paper in 10 minutes flat. Free of charge, of course." "Tell you what, old boy," I said, "I think this is a gift horse we'll gladly look in the mouth."
Back on the road, we couldn't stop laughing. The only thing to do was to stop for a feed and talk it over. It was all good fun until the bill arrived and our greed was laid out before us. "Don't worry, boys", piped Mr Commercial, "we get 20 per cent off here."Reuse content