Sport on TV: Reality stings for the kids who sing the Blues

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Such is the uniformity of the image of the modern Premiership footballer - the slicked back hair, the Hugo Boss suiting, the BMW, the perma tan - that it is easy to believe that they are manufactured not grown, trundling off a top-secret assembly line deep in the bowels of Bisham Abbey to be consigned in expensive job lots to Old Trafford or Anfield, with factory seconds, those with malfunctioning knees or a button missing on the waistcoat, snapped up by the dodgy dealers of the lower divisions.

But it is not so. A few Premiership players - very much a minority these days, but a significant few - are grown from seed rather than bought in as the finished article. Football Dreams (Channel 4) concentrated on one fertile nursery at Stamford Bridge where Graham Rix is in charge of rearing the next crop of Chelsea players. These trainees are recruited straight from school at 16 years of age. For the next 24 months, if they stay the course, they will earn pounds 37 a week, roughly a thousand times less than the stars in whose footsteps they wish to follow. Indeed, they spend plenty of time at the feet of their heroes, polishing boots. If you want to shine, you first have to shine.

"Duties have got to be done," Rix warned a fresh crop of wannabies, outlining a cleaning schedule the worst of which comprised boots and loos, while at the pinnacle was the trainees dream detail - the chance to swab down Ruud Gullit's office. Rix is a stickler for detail on the field and off, swooping on a lump of chewing-gum that remained on a freshly scrubbed dressing-room wall, and detecting with a practised eye that a batch of hand-towels had been installed upside down in their dispenser. Any top manager will tell you that paper work is the bane of their life.

The point of all this drudgery is to install the notion of discipline in young minds which had previously associated football with freedom. "I expected shorter days," one youngster, Nick Crittenden, complained. "I thought I'd be home about 3 o'clock every day, but I never am."

It was not all boots though. One errant young midfielder, Jimmy Aggrey, was given a particularly onerous punishment, trying to persuade Gullit to autograph footballs for charity. "Hopefully one day I'll be signing them," Jimmy mused.

But if he ever gets the call-up to sign for a good cause, Jimmy will be in the minority. "Every single boy who walks in that door thinks he's going to make it," Rix observed. "But out of every dozen or so only three actually will. What happens to the other 10?" Rix clearly hasn't spent a rainy afternoon at Barnet, say, or Rotherham.

In an effort to stiffen the sinews and broaden the world view of his charges, Rix entered the team - mostly under-17s remember - in an under- 19 tournament in Spain. "It will give them experience of a different culture," he asserted. "Of different tactics. Four games in four days, mind you - it's a test." Not least of young bladders, to judge by the shot of a mass relieving routine on the verge of an auto route.

The Young Blues' hopes were similarly dampened once they took the field. They were clogged by Osasuna and simultaneously robbed by a referee who must have had a nasty childhood experience involving a Chelsea bun - or, perhaps, a Chelsea pensioner. After an ugly 0-0 draw, the Blues' captain, Ritchie Hanlon, did a Southgate and missed the crucial penalty in the shoot-out.

Things went from bad to worse. The team got a battering from some Basques in their next game, where the goalkeeper "Nanny" Sexton was felt to be at fault, and Hanlon compounded his earlier error by getting sent off. The previously affable Rix was not happy. "That has really hurt me," he told a glum dressing-room. He had a spot of trouble raising morale for the next game but that was understandable - the opponents were Real Madrid.

Gloom reigned on the bus en route. "The whole trip is boring," one lad opined. "I reckon we'll get hammered by Real Madrid 20-0," was the opinion of another who sounded suspiciously like the captain Hanlon.

Up front, next to the driver, Rix's ears were twitching. Dangerous talk can cost professional lives.

After the inevitable heavy defeat, during which the midfielder Aggrey was given the aggro of being replaced by the reserve goalkeeper, Rix delivered a tirade. "How badly do you want it?" he demanded. "You could be doing what you loved and paid 10 grand a week for it. Twenty if you're really good. But no, you think, `I'll have a beer, I'll have a giggle in the back of the bus'."

Rix looked slowly, threateningly around the hushed dressing-room. "I feel really let down by a few chaps," he said.

Back home, we found out which chaps. Ritchie Hanlon is at present following his stint as Southgate with a year's contract at Southend. And "Nanny" Sexton is an apprentice air-conditioning engineer at Heathrow Airport where he is forming a fond relationship with quite the wrong kind of fans.

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