I WENT on my first corporate jolly at the age of 10 – which, if nothing else, demonstrates what a precocious child I was.
It happened in the late 1980s, when a family friend worked for a company that was sponsoring an FA Cup tie between Oldham Athletic and Tottenham, and managed to get my father and me a couple of seats in one of the executive boxes at Boundary Park.
We watched a cracking game between two attacking sides. A Spurs team containing Ossie Ardiles, Chris Waddle and Clive Allen were just a bit too good for Oldham, and deservedly won 4-2. Afterwards, I got to meet not only Terry Venables and Gary Mabbutt, but also the actress who played Jenny Bradley in Coronation Street. It was one of the most exciting days of my childhood.
I’ve been on a few small-scale corporate jollies since then, although nothing has really matched the magic of that first one. Yet I’ve heard stories of people working for large multi-national companies who seem to be forever going to £300-a-head dinners hosted by Jimmy Carr.
And there’s a friend of mine who told me his company took part in a huge corporate five-a-side tournament at a large Championship ground a few years ago.
It all seemed like another world to me – until I attended the 2005 Corporate Games in Manchester.
The Corporate Games are a bit like the Olympics. But instead of representing your country, you represent your company. The Games have been going for years, attract thousands of competitors and are great fun for everyone who takes part.
I was sent to cover the 2005 Games for the Manchester Evening News, where I’d been working for six months. I hadn’t got off to the greatest of starts at the M.E.N. (If you’ve been following the Match of the Noughties series on this blog, you’ll already know why. If you haven’t, click this link.) So this was a chance for me to make a positive impression with the sports desk.
There were 6,000 competitors at the Corporate Games in 2005 – three times as many people as had taken part at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester three years earlier. But to enjoy the corporate event as a spectator, it would probably have helped if you knew a few of the competitors.
The fact was that most readers weren’t going to be interested in reading a two-page article on a load of middle managers and IT consultants playing each other at netball, so I needed to find something a bit more interesting to write about.
It helped that there were a few sporting celebrities supporting the event, such as Stockport-born basketball legend John Amaechi and former England rugby union international Tony Underwood. Even better, there were a few taking part.
And that was how I found myself at Manchester United’s Carrington training ground on a sweltering Saturday afternoon moving between various six-a-side pitches trying to catch a glimpse of former world snooker champion Mark Williams.
I had been told by the event organisers that Williams and Matthew Stevens, along with fellow snooker pros Lee Walker, Ryan Day, Mark Davis and Gerard Green, were going to be playing in the football tournament. (They had also told me which company they were playing for, but I have long since forgotten.) They hadn’t, however, been able to tell me where or when.
Even so, I figured it was worth popping down on the off-chance that I might be able to snatch a word with Williams or Stevens.
I’d like to be able to report that my journalistic initiative was rewarded, that I managed to track down the snooker stars and get full in-depth interviews discussing their love of football, and their professional hopes and ambitions for the year ahead.
But I didn’t. I don’t know when they’d played their games, but I slowly realised I must have missed them. I spent a couple of hours watching lots of blokes trying to win games for the workplace, with each pitch surrounded by a few other blokes waiting for their turn to play and a smattering of female colleagues and/or partners taking the mickey out of them. Eventually, I started to feel as if I’d wandered into a party full of strangers, so I left.
In many ways, 2005 was a transitional year for me. A lot of friends I’d made through work during the early part of the decade started to drift away, to jobs in other parts of the country, to long-term relationships and marriage, to families.
And I started to realise, after a few years trying to build a career and get myself established as a journalist, that I didn’t have a lot else to my life other than work. That wasn’t a particularly healthy state to stay in, even though I was doing something for a living that I’d always wanted to do.
But if you’re a sports journalist, you’re always going to work odd hours. And I don’t think I could have quit for a 9 to 5 office job, anyway. So I decided to compromise. I’d carry on working the odd hours, but make a bit more space for a life outside of work too.
In short, I’d no longer be the sort of person who unconditionally gave up his Tuesday evenings to watch Clitheroe play Atherton Collieries, or his Saturday afternoon to see accountants play six-a-side football on the off chance of meeting a snooker player. I wouldn’t say I grew up in 2005, but I did try to make a start.