View from the Bridge: 33

by John Morrison


33: Man-to-man Marketing

The French have discovered that there's a huge audience for watching grown men fish numbered balls out of a velvet bag. Yes, it's the draw for the World Cup next summer, to decide who plays who. The commentators for this less-than-rivetting televised extravaganza wonder just how it is that the biggest teams are magically kept apart in the preliminary rounds. And how come France, the home country, are cosily grouped with Lichtenstein, the Faroe Islands and Rockall? After all, the balls look identical. But what would happen if half the balls had spent a few minutes in a freezer, with the other half in an oven? Just a thought...

It's almost three o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, and Milltown's own football team is being cheered onto the muddy pitch by a few loyal fans. So few, indeed, that the team has been informed, over the tannoy, of changes to the crowd. It's a chilly afternoon in December. Older guys test the credulity of the young fans by recalling the Ice Age ("Now that was cold...") when the arctic weather brought such chaos to the fixture list that the pools panel had to convene for three million Saturdays in a row...

Milltown Rovers are known in the league - the Vauxhall Cars Beezer Homes Sherpa Van Division (North) - as a sleeping dwarf. A club destined for mediocrity at best. With the team having spent years propping up the league, the club chairman decided during the summer that drastic action was required. When he swapped the entire team for two bags of Cheesy Whatsits, local footballing pundits reckoned he'd got the best of the bargain.

The new crop of players, mostly plucked from park football and still unaccustomed to goalposts, have to stop themselves from throwing their jackets down on the grass. The captain picks his team in traditional fashion ("one potato, two potato...") which is why the scrawny players with glasses warm the substitutes' benches for game after game.

Other changes are afoot. The manager is trying to adopt the system of man-to-man marketing that has served Manchester United so well. The team's strip is now being sponsored, appropriately enough, by a local knacker's yard. To the question "How's the team performing", there's only one answer: "Offal...".

When the sports reporter from the Milltown Times says that the players are "a good advertisement for the game", he is merely pointing out that they are covered from head to foot in sponsors' logos. Whenever they get injured, the players are contracted to crawl in front of an advertising hoarding, in case the photographer from the Milltown Times has remembered to put a film in his camera. Yes, the financial situation at Milltown Rovers really is that bad.

This is Milltown, so the club has a sports psychologist who works on the players' motivation. Nevertheless, when it comes to getting a result, no-one's yet come up with a better method than locking the players in a small room and shouting at them. The bells at St Diana's Church are chiming three o'clock, so the manager has to finish his tirade and let his players do the talking. Before taking his place on the bench he cups his hands and bellows encouragingly: "The grass is green, the paint is fresh... so get out there and bloody play".

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