Glancing through the red-tops on certain days over the past few weeks, one could be forgiven for thinking that England’s World Cup bid revolved not around 11 strapping male athletes on the pitch in Gelsenkirchen, but rather the occasionally dubious antics of a group of Cristal fuelled, bejewelled glamour queens in Manolo Blahniks and oversized sunglasses.
Certainly this does not constitute any great departure from form on the part of either the tabloid reporters or the WAGs themselves. The likes of Victoria Beckham (neé Posh Spice), Coleen Mcloughlin et al enjoy a tumultuous but mutually beneficial relationship with the tabloid press the year round; the designer label and conspicuous consumption led lifestyle financed by their HABs’ (Husbands and Boyfriends’) nosebleed-inducing salaries providing the perfect fodder for the type of journalist that eschews ‘real’ news and the tabloids in turn providing that all important limelight presence that is the lifeblood of glamour models and dried up pop has-beens. Few can have been generally shocked at the ‘mistake’ that saw the WAGs and other family members of the England team booked into the same hotel as the majority of the British press deployed to cover the World Cup. For a few short weeks the Brenner’s Park Hotel played host to a bona fide match made in Heaven as the WAGs trailed journalists pied-piper-like around Baden Baden’s hot spots, handing out tabloid-friendly photo opportunities and faux-shocking examples of ‘scandalous’ behaviour with the generosity of spirit of an anorexic at a soup kitchen. This was truly the blonde leading the bland.
Tabloid journalists, by their very nature, are risky bedfellows who specialise in biting the hand that feeds. That docile, friendly poodle in the lap of the IT girl can turn to a ravening, bloodthirsty pack animal quicker than you can say ‘deviated septum’, and this summer’s WAG-watching exercise saw its fair share of savagery. Like wolves or hyenas, when packs of tabloid journalists select their prey they single out the weakest individuals on the outside of the herd. Top spot on the tabloid maul-o-meter in this case must go to Abigail Clancy, (erstwhile?) girlfriend of Peter Crouch, lambasted not only for having done the dirty on England’s Unlikeliest Athlete but for having come clean to him about it mere hours before England’s game against Trinidad and Tobago in which Crouch scored the opening goal. Whilst we can all appreciate that such news is never good, and few would deny that its delivery could have been better timed, the majority of tabloid umbrage at this fact seems to be drawn from the assumption that the pain of receiving such news might have stymied Crouch’s game. This, of course, quite ignores the fact that until Crouch’s golden moment in the 83rd minute and his subsequent lamentable dance display he was one of the lesser known stars of English football whose very inclusion in the squad was the subject of dark and doubtful mutterings in some quarters. Had Abi Clancy’s relationship misdemeanours indeed put the kybosh on Crouch’s ability to play at top level, the goal would never have gone in and the entire sorry episode would barely have been newsworthy to start with. There again, when did we ever look to the tabloids for logic?
Of course, now that England have returned in ignominious circumstances it’s not just Abi Clancy who has strayed within the tabloid zone of terror. Having made such a towering media edifice of the England team in recent weeks, the hacks of Middle England now balk at the prospect of knocking it down, so instead they cast around for a scapegoat. All accusations seem to slide from erstwhile manager Sven-Goran Eriksson like droplets from a well-oiled silver duck, and in any case what does Sven care? He’s already packed his bags for Sweden and kissed his love affair with English football a fond goodbye. All in all, it looks like the blame for England’s poor performance (it just wouldn’t do to recycle an excuse from the past 40 years) may well be laid at several pairs of immaculately manicured feet in very expensive heels! Come to that, so what? In return for such a lavish existence and a media presence second to none (certainly to none who do so little to warrant it) couldn’t they at least shoulder a little blame now and again? Is that too much to ask?