After a couple of months on the road working in Europe, nzherald.co.nz's Andrew Alderson puts an arm around the shoulder of some of the unsung heroes he's observed making up sport's backstage crew... and a few others while he's at it.
TRACK AND FIELD
1. Long jump pit rakers
Each jumper is presented with a pristine blank canvas. The dedicated messieurs who assisted at the Paris Diamond League created spirit level sand perfection and then, every minute - splash! - it was ruined. Goodness knows who volunteers, but given their industrious nature with a rake they must be in demand during autumn.
These guys are gluttons for punishment. Well, that's the only thing they can be gluttons about, having to stay at a minimum 55kg for men and 50kg for women. Radars go off anytime they think about approaching the buffet. Then it's off to be bundled into a skiff where they make sardines look like they're travelling first-class. If their crew wins they face a final indignity; thrown in the drink by a posse of lycra-clad oarsmen or women.
3. Formula One pit crew members
Not only do these brave souls change the tyres and refuel some of the world's most powerful cars, they deserve danger money when the drivers burn off. Some are run over courtesy of rhino feet on accelerators and, on occasion, a spark lights fuel fumes. Human torches can be seen rolling on the tarmac while extinguishers are fetched.
Ray at Lord's does an admirable job, as do most of those assigned this task on the sub-continent who address the troops with military precision, "attention please!", before reeling off a series of bowling spell figures or a scroll of batting statistics to help media embellish their reports. The secret is finding a balance between overloading with data, sounding too self-important and vagueness. Most achieve it and would qualify on a short-list of 'ultimate sporting anoraks'.
5. Line judges
Not only do they volunteer to watch a line all day, they develop a thick skin; 1. For the occasional fits of pique from stroppy mommy's boys or daddy's girls who never learnt to control their emotions growing up and 2. To dodge the odd wayward serve which zips through at 200-plus km/h. Their reaction times are legendary; composed, incremental movements as the ball cannons into the wall centimetres from their ears.
Necessary toil for those who have to work their way to the top of the business from the ground up. They're capable of producing equine perfection whether its plaiting tails, brushing a horse's coat for a glossy sheen Mr Miyagi would be proud of, or wielding pooper-scoopers like the guy who presumably follows the Queen and her corgis on their daily constitutional out the back of Buck House.
Want to make it in cycling? Start carrying drink bottles and sandwiches to your leaders... Be prepared to let them draft in your slipstream and make sure you chase down any pesky breakaways to expend your own energy while protecting them. It's not translated as "servant" in English for nothing.
8. Floor-mopping squads
The merest hint of a break in play triggers them into action like navy seals. Out they go in military formation, armed with squeegees or towels to mop sweat off the court in case a hoop hero should slip. No match-winning three-pointers on the buzzer and armchair lifts for them, just stale, smelly rags and a bucketful of brine.
9. Wardrobe footmen.
Who gets stuck with the job of fastening the 30-foot long, two-foot wide mawashi on the grapplers? That's a tough gig. If it comes off during competition it signals automatic disqualification. Removing them after a competitor has been wedgeyed out of the dohyo must also pose a significant challenge.
10. Matador laundry attendants
If we're searching for the sport with the highest amount of brown trousers per capita, this must be close to top of the podium (although rodeo, base-jumping and foiling on one of those new America's Cup boats appeal as candidates). Dodging livid bulls with a cape in arguably one of the most barbaric sports must create anxiety in the ring. It's a fair bet the shelves backstage are stocked with bleach.