Wednesday, 14 October 2009

What Bath Rugby need is a tea party

Bath Rugby players have been boning up on tales of the club’s glory days and legends in a bid to foster a winning spirit.
Well, the history classes don’t appear to have worked so far, but if the players are in need of some more rousing tales to put some fire in their bellies after a limp start to the season, then they need turn no further than to the fabulous club historian Peter Hall.
A couple of week’s ago I began researching a piece on how rugby fared in the city during the Second World War. One email from Peter later and I had a mine of fascinating information at my fingertips.
The tales he provided - much of it from the Chronicle’s archives - put the drugs scandals of the past year into perspective.
They also raise interesting questions about what it is to be a sports fan and what it means to stand by your team.
The equivalent of a team-worth of players from the club was killed in action during the conflict, but Bath still managed to host a steady flow of matches.
And next team you’re sipping the tipple of your choice at The Rec, remember this. During the war, the government’s Food Office declined to give the club permission to buy tea and milk for post-match drinks for the players. Anonymous donors then posted off batches of tea to ensure the players didn’t go without.
I find this tea anecdote both amusing and instructive. Amusing because it is final proof, if it were needed, that we English are indeed a nation of tea-drinkers, and instructive because, contained within it, are messages of what it means to truly love the game and the side you support.
Already, some Bath fans have been using message boards and contacting me to bellyache about the team’s start to the season and question the two-year contract extension that head coach Steve Meehan has been given.
Of course, supporters who feel passionately about their club are bound to noise off whenever they feel their team is under-performing. That is their right and what you'd expect, and many of their suggestions - such as starting Jack Cuthbert ahead of Nick Abendanon at full-back on Sunday - I would wholeheartedly agree with.
And of course I wouldn’t agree with all of Meehan’s team management techniques, either. Particularly bizarre in my book was his request for players to sit down and write a job description following their loss to Harlequins, although that’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy casting my eye over the results.
But claims that Meehan should go at this stage of the season are impatient on an almost infantile level.
Bath have played six games. We are a mere six weeks into an eight month season. Bath endured a nightmare close season and a tough opening Guinness Premiership fixture card, so a galloping start to the season would, let’s face it, have been a surprise.
At times of change - and there’s been plenty of enforced change at the club recently - an axis of stability is needed. And especially the kind of stability afforded by a coach who has won silverware for the club and delivered successive top-four finishes.
The bellyachers could do a lot worse than swapping petulant criticism for the metaphorical batches of tea.

Tales have reached me of a disturbing occurrence on the Bath Rugby coach - and , no, they didn’t involve Justin Harrison.
David Flatman took it upon himself last week to revive the tradition of requiring new signings to belt out a song on the bus.
Well-placed sources tell me that hard man Julian Salvi opted for an effeminate version of Enrique Inglesias’ ‘classic’ Hero, while his fellow Aussie Matt Carraro embarked on a version of Waltzing Matilda with gusto until he forgot the words.
And Chris Cracknell warmed up his vocal chords with Happy Birthday in honour of Salvi and Ben Skirving.
Meanwhile, Skirving’s own performance seems to have been wiped from the club’s collective memory - a sign that it must have been pretty awful.