David Flatman: Olly's home is Bath, but French move is no flight of fancy
Beyond the Front Row: Haskell moved, alone, from country to country, every time as an outsider
Sunday 23 September 2012
So, Olly Barkley is leaving the familiar surrounds of Bath and heading to gay Paree. This decision will no doubt attract an awful lot of attention, and that is fine, but nobody has thought about me in all of this; what am I going to do for green tea and granola bars when the weather turns and I need comforting? And to whom, not that anybody seems to care, will I go for advice on fabrics and limestone tiling?
I jest, of course. The real issue here is that soon he will have one of these French mobile phones and it will cost me a small fortune to call him. Seeing as these clubs across the water are so happy to stump up, perhaps I ought to start demanding some personal terms, too. A phone for Olly's mate and, of course, I will need transport for my visits to the City of Romance. You see, folk rarely consider practicalities in situations such as these.
However, he will go, like so many before him, and soon enough he will be turning out in a different-coloured jersey. This happens all the time, so why does it create such a furore? I think this has to do with cash. Or, more precisely, how we all think that cash ought to be regarded.
Generally, I would suggest people acknowledge that money must never be all that life is about and that the greatest things we ever experience are rarely the result of disposable income.
Something we all also need to acknowledge is that as soon as that 30th birthday strikes, the fear begins for the rugby man. For some, such as Simon Shaw, or, less recently, personal hero and Gloucester legend Andy Deacon, 30 means nothing. But for most it represents the beginning of the end.
Those who have sufficient self-awareness will know how long they have left, and most of them will be praying that they are wrong.
Some will address this inevitability by seeking new experiences and hoping that one of them might lead to something that one day looks like a job. Others will bury their heads in the sand, drift into town for a cappuccino on their afternoon off and pretend it is not happening.
Then, for the fortunate few, the phone rings and a nice man – often with a French accent – offers to change your life forever. When I say forever, I do not mean on a level similar to football, I mean on a level that might – might – make those first couple of years out of the game a little less terrifying.
Olly got that call, and all he knew and expected flipped on to its back. These are difficult times for the professional player, made easier if he does not particularly enjoy his current environment, but Olly does; he loves it, and it loves him. He is a fans' favourite, a legend at a big club and a face in the city, so why would he go?
When these offers arrive, the first thing discussed is the remuneration. Then follows the stark seconds of realisation that, although you have achieved an awful lot, you have only ever done it in one place. This is why, when James Haskell made clear his plans to travel the world through rugby, I thought it a brilliant and incredibly brave plan.
If you think he did it solely for the wedge, I disagree totally. He moved, alone, from country to country and arrived every time as an outsider, working to integrate himself into established cultures. It was hugely brave. Of course, he got paid, and good on him, but there are many players who could do the same yet do not. He was as bold as we know him to be and he took the step, and he has come back a bigger person.
My thinking on salaries has always been that it has to be right or disillusionment and resentment will follow. But if it is right from the start, then you will almost forget about it; it will just become what you earn. This is what allows a player – or indeed a person – to concentrate on contributing to his environment and, ultimately, creating wonderful experiences.
Olly Barkley's home is in Bath, he is wholly comfortable here and nobody really wants him to go. "Imagine though, mate," he said to me over what turned out to be a seminal cuppa on Wednesday, "if I come home having lived in Paris for three years, I'll know more, I'll have seen more things, I'll be more ready for the world." Quite right, mate.
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