I’m one of the lucky ones. Only God knows how lucky I was. What you will read will shock you. You will be stunned by what goes on behind closed doors in the Britain of today. But it is all true, every word. This is my story.
It was 2009. The credit crisis was turning into a full-blown recession and Brown’s Broken Britain lurched from one crisis to the next desperate for leadership. And me? I was struggling. At work, my job was under threat and at home my kids were getting to the age when they would run wild through South London’s streets, feral. I was drifting and starting to drink more and (often) alone. I should have known I’d be a target for the likes of Norcross, but you just don’t think it’ll happen to you.
I’d dabbled with cricket media before – just experimenting, nothing serious. I’d riffed a little on the Guardian’s OBO and I’d posted on their “The Spin” discussion boards, but everybody does that don’t they? It was just a bit of Rob Smyth and Lawrence Booth – I mean, they’re legal aren’t they?
Then one day – I can’t recall exactly when – I was surfing on the net, concentrating on cricket sites, when I heard a voice asking me to “Tweet @testmatchsofa with your choice of boy band for Luke Wright to join, because he sure as hell ain’t going to be playing for England again”. Foolishly – what a fool I’ve been! – I tweeted “JLS” and I’d put one foot on the slippery slope. It really is that simple.
Soon I’d met Norcross and one of his shady accomplices in a sordid South London bar and I was slowly, ever so slowly, drawn into his web. Now I’ve seen their methods at close quarters, I can’t believe I actually believed what they told me. But it’s not just me – I’ve seen it work on dozens more good, honest, but vulnerable, oh so vulnerable, people.
I rendezvoused at a secret location (they have a lot of secrets at Test Match Sofa and they regularly move from one safe house to another). As usual, new recruits are expected at 4.00am. (The feeble pretext in my case was an obscure Test match between England and Bangladesh, but I’ve seen others introduced on the frankly laughable suggestion that they are commentating on India vs New Zealand). Immediately on entry to the safe house, you’re handed headphones and expected to read a stream of expletive ridden nonsense sentences (supposedly tweets, but carefully drafted by Norcross stooges with codenames like his shady North London agent Nestle Boy and the seemingly innocuous Spitfire Sarah, whose covert photographs are stored in a secure location on the Test Match Sofa website should blackmailing be required). All the time your reactions are monitored by nearby silent apparatchiks, surrounded by banks of sophisticated computers, recording and playing back your every word.
Then the tried and trusted methods of cults the world over come into play. Norcross wins your trust, taking your side in an argument with Aussie fanatic Jarrod Kimber about the relative merits of the 1989 and 2001 touring Australian sides. Katie Walker, a mysterious, Lady Penelope character, will engage you in conversations about art and celebrity, tempting you with a world that is never going to be for you – it’s one reserved only for Norcross and his cronies. Just when you’re beginning to have doubts about these strange people, Jonathan Zoob arrives and immediately makes everyone else seem utterly normal in every way and, fatally, you let down your guard.
Soon you start to go in for two sessions – maybe the occasional whole day. Before long, you’re neglecting home life, your work suffers and you become drawn towards Test Match Sofa more and more. That’s the cue for Norcross to pounce and ask you to drink the Kool Aid. “Can you do Days Two, Three and Four of the Brisbane Test?” Of course I agreed – what could I do? – and soon I was arguing the relative merits of bounce or turn for slow bowlers with Manny Cohen at 2.30am and reading tweets about the last ten bald batsmen to have played 25 Tests minimum for England. That’s how low I fell.
I lost everything – my job, my family, my dignity – while Norcross luxuriates in a media presence that David Mitchell can only dream of. With counselling and support, I think I can get my life back on track, but it’ll never be the same again. I’m strong now though, and I can get through a T20I without shaking or squawking incoherently about David Hussey. The programme I’m following allows me to watch Tests again in 2015, but with only Sky’s commentary to support the pictures.
I just hope that my story, and the campaign launched today by a band of brave men against the tyranny of Test Match Sofa’s grip on so many young people, will be enough to stop anyone else going through what I’ve suffered all these years.
If you’ve been affected by Test Match Sofa, please call 501 400 517-1 free for professional advice.