Monday, October 09, 2006

‘This one could not be blamed on the WAGs,’ declared Richard Williams in today’s Guardian of England’s game against Macedonia. What he fails to acknowledge is that Saturday’s lacklustre performance fairly conclusively proved that blaming the WAGs – as Williams, and others, did repeatedly during the World Cup – was never valid. To be fair, I don’t think anybody ever placed all of the blame at the feet of the England players’ partners, but the idea that it was an issue worthy of raising at all, let alone with punishingly tedious regularity, struck me as pathetic.

To an extent, the obsession with the detrimental effect of the WAGs was just another way of bashing Sven-Goran Eriksson. Thanks to the sterling efforts of this nation’s press, working tirelessly as ever to uncover information in the public interest, we knew that he was a bit of a shagger. It therefore followed that he’d be more indulgent towards the England players including their wives and girlfriends in the World Cup entourage. So if it was a Sven idea, it logically followed that it was a bad idea in the minds of his many, many, many critics, offering the most damning condemnation that one can make of a football manager: that he was not, first and foremost, a ‘football man’.

Yet are we seriously expected to accept the notion that letting women get too close to the team is automatically a bad thing? Are we seriously ascribing the failures of England to pernicious female influence? If you do believe this, then for God’s sake grow up. You sound like those whingers who blame Yoko for breaking up The Beatles, rather than blaming The Beatles for breaking up The Beatles. But why accept that your heroes have fucked it up for themselves, when you can just blame a woman for intruding on the boys’ club?

England’s shortcomings at the World Cup were their own. The suggestion that the WAGs were a ‘distraction’ makes the players sound like hormonal pupils at a mixed secondary school. They’re big boys – more than that, they’re big rich millionaire boys – and they should be used to having women around. If Frank Lampard was distracted by anything at the World Cup, it was brushing up on his Spanish and imagining how he’d look in a red-and-blue striped shirt.

As ever, England exist in a culture of extremes. Nobody can decide whether this England team is one of the best for decades and has missed a huge opportunity for glory through under-performing, or was simply never that good in the first place. Owen Hargreaves used to be considered (by most people who aren’t me) a clown who had no business in the England team, now his absence through injury is a major blow. The team either needs to modernise or go back to basics. Amidst all this, the WAGs have emerged as easy targets but now that the media circus around them has died down, and England have shown themselves perfectly capable of being a bit crap under ordinary circumstances, it’s time to drop it. If you’re irritated by the amount of press coverage they receive, then stop reading the tabloids and stop buying Hello! They’re not the most admirable human beings who ever lived, but neither do they deserve vilification from critics who refuse to accept that football, and indeed the world, has moved on since the 1950s.

It’s times like this I’m glad I’m half-Scottish, frankly.

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