Thursday, 26 May 2016

End of Season Roller Round-Up 2015/16

AFC Stoneham. Raced by Dani Behr.
There are so many celebrity reality shows on TV these days. I've been told by a trusted source that there was a show on one of the minor channels on Freeview recently which went by the name of Celebrity Scraping The Barrel, wherein minor celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, sport and politics literally scraped real wooden barrels in ever more unlikely ways with different kitchen utensils. The worst scraper was sent home at the end of each show, until they were just left with ex-Ipswich Town midfielder Colin Viljoen and the controversial former Tory MP for Cannock Chase, Aidan Burley in a final day scrape-off with beetroot strainers for the series trophy.

Hythe & Dibden. Manhandled by Elton Welsby.
This got me thinking. "They'll put any old nonsense on the telly these days - so many hours to fill on so many channels. Maybe, just maybe, I could come up with a brand new idea, something no-one has thought of before that would appeal to advertisers and that I could therefore sell to a desperate commissioning editor..."

After a couple of beers and an hour or two of deep thought, a lightbulb lit up above my head.

Celebrity Rolling!

Of course! My idea involved down-on-their-luck minor celebrities preparing non-league football pitches against the clock! "Jodie Prenger, you have just one hour to fork and roll Fareham Town's pitch to make it playable for this evening's El Creekio against AFC Portchester! And to make the task even harder, you have to mow the grass in a spiralled pattern, starting at the centre spot and gradually making the circles wider and wider..."

This might just work! Although, to be fair, I might give Jodie two hours to complete her task - one hour would be a bit tight.

AFC Totton. Greased by Noam Chomsky.
I'd need to source props - willing rollers and mowers to help with the show, as I'd have to knock together a pilot to show the men at the television stations. (If you've seen a shifty bloke taking photos of rusty rollers and talking to wonky wheelbarrows over the last few months, it was probably me, but you can now understand why).

And so, in January, my task began. Go to a match, search out the rusty groundsman's equipment, and talk business. I gained assent from eight different clubs to potentially film celebrities rolling their pitches against the clock, so it was all systems go...

I'd need celebrities as well, so I downloaded a book of contacts off of the web, and started e-mailing a few agents. The first to get back to me was Dani Behr's Mr 10%. Apparently, she'd be free to pop along for a couple of days in early May, as she was visiting friends in the Eastleigh area anyway.  Immediately, I contacted AFC Stoneham to check that their equipment was still available. It was, so I met Dani at Southampton Airport Parkway and drove her to the home of The Purples.

The club were well prepared, and had their roller out all ready for action. Unfortunately, Dani's agent had given her a garbled message, as she thought she was going to be racing lawnmowers against other celebrities. As soon as she spotted Stoneham's motor mower, she was on it, turning the key and revving up the engine. With flames spewing out of the exhaust like a Santa Pod dragster, she was off, whizzing over the pitch, careering through the fence separating AFC Stoneham from the golf driving range next door, trouncing golf balls by the dozen as she zoomed over the driving range...the last we heard, she was bombing up the M3 in the outside lane, heading for Winchester.

Such a shame, as we were going to call that episode Rollin' Dani, in an attempt to appeal to middle-aged Fall fans (a notoriously difficult target audience for advertisers).

Banbury United. Lovingly stroked by Mariella Frostrup.
After The Dani Behr Disaster (if any indie kids out there are looking for a band name, I have the rights to that one, but am willing to do a deal), I needed someone a little calmer, preferably someone with football connections who would understand what we were trying to do. This is where sports presenter Elton Welsby came in.

Elton travelled down from his home in the north-west for the day in his vintage Humber Hawk saloon. He was going to combine a morning visit to Hythe & Dibden's Clayfields ground with a commentary gig at a crown green bowling tournament in New Milton in the afternoon. It didn't go well. I've been sworn to secrecy, but the angle of the training light in the photo tells its own story.

As I was driving back through Totton after The Elton Welsby Disappointment, I spotted American linguist and historian Noam Chomsky coming out of the Romna Indian Takeaway with a biriani in his hand. I stopped and we chatted, and to cut a long story short, we ended up at AFC Totton's football ground. Chomsky was fascinated with my proposition that he appear on The Rusty Roller Show (as I'd started calling it). He felt he'd become typecast as a "serious kinda guy" and would love to be seen as having a lighter side by the general public.

However, as soon as he saw Totton's rusty lawnmower, he insisted that we pop in to Halford's and buy some oil to grease it up a bit before he would ride it on to the pitch. So there I was in the second week of May, on my hands and knees, greasing a lawnmower with Noam Chomsky. By the time we'd finished, it was nearly dark, but Noam insisted that the mower should have a catchy name painted on it, like the contraptions on Scrapheap Challenge. He wanted it to be called Mud Monster, after his favourite Scrapheap episode. So off I went to find some paint on the nearby Calmore Estate, knocking on strangers' doors at 10 o'clock at night and begging them for a tin of old emulsion. It must have been the state of me, covered from head to toe in grease, or perhaps it was the wild-eyed gibbering after such a long day, but I had a lot of funny looks, but no paint to show for my efforts.

By the time I arrived back at the stadium, Noam Chomsky had gone. As had the mower (tidied up and put away in a shed by the groundsman). So that was that.

Gaerwen. Chased Bob Carolgees off of Anglesey. Not sure what happened to Spit The Dog.
I roamed further than the county boundaries these past few months, looking for rusty TV stars of the future. I went to Banbury United, who agreed to let Mariella Frostrup dress up their roller as a roly-poly cat, with fake ears, perky tail and whiskers. When it started purring and coughing up furballs, we realised we were getting nowhere and had to abandon that episode.

When my contact in the biz rang me one afternoon and told me that Pedigree were relaunching their Chum brand, and that Bob Carolgees and Spit The Dog were interested in doing the programme, we agreed that we should pursue the dog food makers and discuss a synergetic marketing strategy of benefit to us both. You come on board as programme sponsors, and we'll get you Spit The Dog noshing away on a bowl of Chum whilst Brummie comedian Bob Carolgees rolls a spongy centre circle against the clock at a scenic ground in North Wales. Win-win for us both. Well, that was the idea.

When we arrived at Gaerwen on Anglesey (with snow-capped Snowdon glistening in the distance, making it the perfect setting for both ourselves and our sponsors), we were greeted by a disconcertingly fierce pair of rollers. Apparently, these two had been crossbred with pitbulls and didn't take too kindly to hoity-toity, high-falutin' Spit The Dog prancing around on their manor.

We couldn't get out of there fast enough. We needed a fast car to make our getaway, as we were being pursued by the Terrible Twosome. Luckily, German motor racing legend Timo Glock was just passing by as we made our exit. He saw what was happening, opened the passenger doors on his high-end Beamer, we leapt in, and two minutes later we were crossing the Menai Strait, safe and sound.

When I say "we"... myself and Bob both made it. Sadly, Spit The Dog had been left behind in the rush to get away. I should probably give Bob a tinkle and find out what happened to his best friend.

Lewes. Ignored by Naomi Klein.
I don't know what kind of a list of "celebrities" and their agents I downloaded, but the next person I had a confirmation of interest from was environmental activist and the author of No Logo and This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein. She was in Brighton for a meeting of the local branch of the Occupy movement, so she agreed to meet us at The Dripping Pan, home of nearby Lewes FC. We had the club roller out ready for her nice and early (a natty green number - I'd even given it a clean with an artificial chamois leather cloth). She'd promised to turn up for lunch in the clubhouse to meet us, which she duly did. We sat down and were enjoying a healthy meal of samosas and salad, when she suddenly excused herself and strode across the clubhouse to the other side, where she shook hands with someone familiar.

It took me a few minutes, but eventually I recognised Naomi's new companion - it was the leader of the UK Green Party, Natalie Bennett. They were obviously enjoying each other's company, so I let them chat for a while. In the meantime, I popped outside to do some last minute preparations for filming. When I returned to the clubhouse to chivvy Naomi up, I found I could barely get in the door. The place was packed. And there was Naomi, stood on a table, giving a rousing speech on corporate tax avoidance and climate change to half of Lewes. I beckoned to her, but she clearly wasn't interested in rolling Lewes's pitch any longer. We decided to leave her to it and moved on.

Controversial artist Grayson Perry had agreed to meet us at Liss Athletic's ground the following day. I must admit, after so many setbacks, I wondered just what else could go wrong. Would we ever get to make our pilot? Well, Grayson did turn up and we had an interesting conversation about his time at Portsmouth Polytechnic, where he studied fine art in the early 1980s.

When we got around to digging out the groundsman's equipment, we couldn't find a roller. Instead, there was a stepladder, a wheelbarrow and a bin. Grayson immediately got to work, constructing a fascinating sculpture behind the far goal, which he said was a representation of modern masculinity. Clever stuff, but with no roller, there was to be no filming that day.

Liss Athletic. Sculpted by Grayson Perry.
We decided to give ourselves one last chance to get the pilot done. After seven celebrities and seven abandoned attempts at filming, our final hope was Olympic cycling gold medallist, Dani King. Now, Dani has a gold telephone box painted in her honour in her home town of Hamble, and she went to Barton Peveril Sixth Form College in Eastleigh, so she has plenty of local connections. She was also in training for the Rio Olympics, so when we told her about the rolling, she agreed to do it because it would help her build up a bit of extra stamina for the summer ahead. This was very promising. What could possibly go wrong this time?

Answer: Nothing! We did it! Dani cycled to Baffins Milton Rovers from her parental home in Hamble, resting her bike upon their roller whilst we discussed our proposition in more depth. She was superb, doing everything asked of her. I won't tell you how quickly she rolled Baffins' pitch or in what pattern, as we were able to sell our pilot to a start-up channel which launches on Freeview in September. They promised us an early evening slot. I make a cameo appearance in the background, wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar in the stand. Dani said that she'd ask Wiggle to sponsor the show. Best of all, we were able to call the pilot show Rollin' Dani after all. Those advertisers searching for grumpy Fall fans to sell their tat to will be overjoyed!

Look out for us in the Autumn!

Baffins Milton Rovers. Ridden on by Dani King.
Okay, before anybody asks me if any of this is true, the answer (apart from the bit about Timo Glock*). It was just a different way of presenting this Spring's roller pictures to you. There are many other pieces of nonsense like this, which are tagged Rollers etc.

My next project is to write a few hundred words for a new book about the last 30 years of Romsey Town FC, which should be coming out during the 2016/17 season. It will be the follow-up to the centenary book, which came out thirty years ago. The author is Jack Smith. If you have any fond memories (or photos) of the club from 1986 to the present day, I'm sure Jack would love to hear from you. You can contact him either via HAH, or you can find him on the HAH Facebook page. This is a real project, by the way - I'm not making this one up.

That'll do. Enjoy the rest of the summer!

*The bit about Timo Glock was also made up...


  1. Even after googling her name, I've still never heard of our new tractor queen

  2. To be honest, I'd never heard of Jodie Prenger either until I wrote this - I just came across her and liked the sound of her name. Would you prefer Louise Wener of middle-ranking Britpop band Sleeper instead? I hear she might be available.