Sport on TV: Grumpy exits, flash entrances and furrowed brows
Sunday 02 November 1997
Listed building regulations probably precluded the fitting of a revolving door at the club's elegant Queen Square offices, which is a shame because it would have greatly assisted the executive comings and goings as the venerable institution struggled to come to grips with the world of commerce last season.
Last week's episode was entitled "Spring Cleaning", and previous events led viewers to expect rather more than a gentle wipe around the boardroom table with duster and Pledge. Sure enough the new broom, in the shape of recently appointed chief executive Tony Swift, was quickly at work, and the figure being swept towards the dustbin of history was John Hall, the club's director of rugby.
Bath fans, and rugby fans in general, will have found this a painful process to watch. Hall was the epitome of the loyal club servant, having turned out in their colours for 14 years before the coming of professionalism. His father played for Bath, his grandfather played for Bath, and no doubt his grandmother would have donned jockstrap and embrocation in the cause had such behaviour been socially acceptable. But heritage and dedication cut no ice with the number-crunchers. Swift, who had to do the dirty work, was a former team-mate of Hall's, and clearly did not enjoy showing his old mucker the way out. Hall's comradely feelings were also tested. "It's put a big dent in our friendship, put it that way," he said.
On Exit Day the air was thick with legalese as executives scurried back and forth trying to come up with an acceptable form of words for public consumption. Anoraked hacks pressed their noses to the windows, but Bath's press officer, Ken Johnstone, stood firm. "I have news for you," he said. "I just can't say what it is yet." The press release had hit another snag. "He [Hall] hates being called Mr Grumpy," a director of the club pointed out. Nice of them to care.
In the end, a two-line statement was read out, declaring that Hall and Bath had "parted company". But it seemed that the lawyers and diplomats had been wasting their time, because as soon as the cameras turned to Hall, he put the record straight: "I was sacked," he said.
Meanwhile, a coach more attuned to the demands of the business world was zooming down the motorway: Clive Woodward, at ease behind the wheel of his convertible BMW, listening to a management motivation tape. Woodward's aim, it transpired, was to use "an integrated approach, working in a fluid, unchaotic manner", which is easy enough to get your head around when cruising down the fast lane of the M4, less easy to grasp at the bottom of a muddy ruck with a 16-stone prop treading on your head.
Julie Bardner, Bath's part-time physio, was doing some spring cleaning of her own, renovating the bits of players that had suffered wear and tear over the winter. Cauliflower ears are a speciality of Bardner's, and the care with which she tended a particularly toothsome example would have challenged Delia Smith for culinary delicacy.
But Bardner too was to be swept away by the new broom. "It's very sad," she said. "I shall miss these characters a lot. But the changes in the professional era are so fundamental that it has to be a full-time job." Never mind the professional era - what about the professional's ear?
The Lions' captain, Martin Johnson, popped up as a guest on A Question Of Sport (BBC 1) in the week that he was passed over for the England captaincy in favour of Lawrence Dallaglio. Johnson's ears are immaculate, probably because they spend most of their time at an altitude of around seven feet, out of harm's way. But the fearsome second-row forward has through his efforts in the scrum, or just by thinking very hard, acquired a rarer syndrome: cauliflower eyebrows.
This is not thought to have counted against his chances of the England job, but it is whispered that Dallaglio's superior "media skills" might have helped his cause. Johnson used his appearance on AQOS to demonstrate that he is no slouch at the PR lark: he pronounced the five words that he uttered with perfect fluency.
Another beetle-browed type, John Inverdale, presented the BBC's new sports chat show On Side (BBC1), which was chock-full of goodies. Almost too full, in fact. Messrs Dettori, Holyfield, Eubank, Cruyff (Snr), Villeneuve and Hill all had their say, and it might have been wiser to save up one or two of them for later and spend longer with fewer guests. Johan Cruyff, in particular, is worth more than five minutes of anyone's time - and the minion whose idea it was to ask him to play keepy- uppy with a ball thrown from the audience should be banished to The Big Breakfast forthwith.
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