On the pitch, Damian Batt was a machine. A completely different full-back to his doughty and disciplined predecessors. He was signed by Chris Wilder from Grays Athletic in 2009, a statement of intent about the team he was trying to build to get us back to the Football League. Days before the signing we’d been docked 5 points for fielding an ineligible player. The signing of Batt felt like we weren’t going to take it anymore. Wilder wanted players who would dominate the opposition, Batt fitted perfectly.
Where most full-backs need a winger to share the load, Batt could patrol the right flank on his own. He could attack with pace and track back to shore up a solid back four. He just didn’t seem to stop, a gazelle in a sea of clod hopping buffalo.
It was the early days of Twitter and Batt was an enthusiastic adopter. Clubs hadn’t woken up to its opportunities, or risks, so he was free to enjoy the attention, while we enjoyed the access.
Batt was integral to our march back to the Football League, there was one particular game against Altrincham where we needed the win but were labouring, we missed a penalty and it looked like we were destined for a single point. Batt cut through it all smashing the ball home for a crucial 1-0 win. Back in the Football League he played in three famous derby wins; our first away win in 38 years in 2011, an epic tussle the following March, and a JPT win, just for good measure. He left in 2013. Improbably, he announced that he was moving the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS, but then he came back and promptly retired. Then he un-retired to play at the old folks home for Oxford United players; Eastleigh. Then he moved back to the Football League with Dagenham and Redbridge. Then, in 2015, he retired (again).
The Conference isn’t glamorous, many footballers had ways of supplementing their income, a hokum ‘health’ product called Herbalife was the business of choice. Poor, but fit young men promoting the health benefits of powders and shakes to desperate fat old men.
Batt was different, he launched Alexander Du’bel, an ambiguously positioned ‘lifestyle’ brand which had the strap line ‘Live Life Exclusively’.
There’s a character in the US sitcom Parks and Recreation, Tom Haverford, who sets up a business, Entertainment 720, as high-end, all-media entertainment conglomerate. It serves no obvious purpose, and has no income, bankrupting itself by spending lavishly on parties and marketing. On the face of it, Alexander Du’bel had a similar business model.
Even at the time, Alexander Du’bel seemed a bit lost, stuck somewhere between the tail end of lavish trend of bling Premier League footballers and the subtler, more aware and aspirational Instagram generation. For me, it was a bit too much, though I remained curious because of his Oxford connection.
How did he afford it? What did he do? His Conference salary couldn’t have funded it, whatever it was.
There was a lavish launch party, part of me thought it was ugly and gauche, part of me was a bit jealous. I didn’t ever want to live in that kind of world, but marketing is powerful so I still felt it wasn’t fair that others did.
I assumed that there was a business sitting behind the brand; as far as I could tell, it was some kind of service which offered discounts on luxury brands. Like Bicester Village? Except Alexander Du’bel didn’t mention which brands you could access through the service. His Twitter feed just became an endless feed of lavish photos. Eventually, I lost interest in Damian Batt.
Then, quite recently, I was idly googling something and stumbled across an article in The Telegraph which detailed how a charity – The Alexander Du’bel Wish Foundation – set up by ‘former football star’ Damian Batt had failed to deliver any of its promised charitable plans, or even set up properly as a charitable trust.
He was running a charity, that wasn’t a charity, which failed to do any charitable work. Little Mix were involved. Like, what? The article wasn’t particularly damning. The Charities Commission seemed to have procedural concerns about the foundation, but the article didn’t really go as far as implying that Batt was a deliberate fraudster. The implication was more that he was a bit of a lovable goon who had too many ideas, a slick line in chatter and no business sense. He had debts of £60,000, not insubstantial, but hardly a figure to deliver national headlines.
The article mentioned the wider Alexander Du’bel ‘empire’; several businesses, some of which had been liquidated, others which appeared dormant. There was a car financing business, something called ‘Celebration Gala Ltd’, a rights business, an operations business.
The Alexander Du’bel website is little more than an email address which promises to deliver ‘bespoke tailoring’. It’s all a bit weird. It features a biography which describes, in some detail, the career of Damian Batt. Except it doesn’t refer to Damian Batt, the man it describes is Damian Alexander-Du’bel.
Written entirely in the third person; it describes not only his football career, but also his glamorous post-sports career in which he became a fashion model in Monaco for Pal Zileri. He gushes about being the first non-F1 sports person to model at the Amber Lounge Fashion Show. It’s written in that Americanised hyperbolic language premium brands use to express themselves, as though what they are doing is genuinely life changing.
I then found a WordPress website with one lengthy post from December 2017. The post is apparently written by Damian Alexander Du’bel.
It talks about being invited to an event by an organisation called Alexander Du’Bel Group – which isn’t one of his many businesses listed on Companies House. It describes a presentation by ‘Managing Director Damian Batt’. If I were cynical, I might think that it was Damian Batt talking about himself in the third person, using a different name, about his own company. And if I was being very critical, I would say that’s not normal.
Not only does it seem that Du’bel isn’t Batt’s real name, it doesn’t seem to be anyone’s real name. I couldn’t find a single person with the surname Du’bel apart from Alexander Damian. Translated from French it means ‘Of the beautiful’.
Dig deeper and there’s Fascinating People, Alexander Du’bel’s YouTube channel in which he interviews ‘famous and inspirational’ people. There are three videos, the main one has Batt interviewing someone called Simon Talling-Smith owner of Surf Air Europe on what appears to be his company’s private jet. Surf Air seem to be an American company that Forbes reported last year owed $2.4m to the IRS and had just been sued for $3.1m for unpaid bills. Talling-Smith’s Europe operation doesn’t come out favourably either. None of the three videos appear to feature anyone that you might describe as ‘famous’; Talling-Smith has 326 Twitter followers.
What is even more odd about all this is that none of the criticisms seem to go quite as far as inferring that Batt or Du’bel, or whoever, is acting in a deliberately deceitful way. The Charity Commission expressed their concern, but it remains unregistered and the link to their website returns a 404 error. Another abandoned endeavour.
Some footballers on retirement melt back into normal society; Steve Basham is an accountant, Anthony Tonkins a quantity surveyor. Others grimly cling onto the football world, like Mike Ford or Kevin Brock. It can’t be easy in the lower leagues, you live a dream, of sorts. Then, before you’re old, you retire knowing you’ve got years ahead of you which will never give you the same fulfilment. Perhaps hiding from that reality is the best option. Rather than deal with the realities of a post-football life, it seems that Damian Batt is destined to live his life exclusively in the curious world of Alexander Du’bel.