Magazine article The Spectator

Why Chicks Love Becks

Magazine article The Spectator

Why Chicks Love Becks

Article excerpt

SOMETHING curious is going on in this World Cup. Not just Les Bleus crashing out, mighty Argentina flying dejectedly home, the plucky Irish so nearly toppling suave Spain. No, stranger than that: women are getting in on the act.

Football used to be a working-class male enclave: tough, traditional, with an established hooligan fringe. There is a rump that regards rioting Millwall supporters with a twisted nostalgia, regretting the lost days when each match ended with a pitched battle between rival fans. A spasm of disgust runs through diehards as they watch footie swing from Old Labour to New Labour, from working-class to middle-class, and beyond.

Like the gentleman's club, football was where men could go to escape their womenfolk; they could be tribal, foulmouthed, legitimately aggressive, furiously ecstatic, without fear of being observed by sharp female eyes. Now women are to be heard, in public, patiently explaining the merits of the Arsenal offside trap.

There are 20 different explanations for all this, among them the rise of the ladette; a can't-beat-'em-join-'em resignation; a furious desire not to be relegated to a cod 1950s ghetto of baking and tatting, and other respectable female pursuits. This heady June, women have discovered, sometimes to their surprise, that a World Cup offers more than thick, overpaid millionaires kicking a ball round a green sward: it has the passion, heartbreak, excitement, even subtext, of an epic film. It has human interest, cliffhanging finishes, David and Goliath confrontations; it has many pairs of delightful legs.

I have loved the World Cup since the glorious summer of Italia 90, and this year more women than ever before are entranced by the tournament. There is the melodrama: little Senegal coming through against all the odds; Ireland rising to the challenge after the Roy Keane debacle; America finding themselves in the odd position of underdogs. I like the jokes of the commentators, the fact that there is an Italian called Totti, the sturdy inevitability of the cliches. With the papers packed with stories of an England swamped with sleaze and spin and useless public services and tawdry reality television shows, there is an invigorating charm in watching Beckham and his boys play like Trojans.

It is a fantastical release from the humdrum realities of daily life to see the England team, through sheer grit and heart, beat the Argentinians, who think that fair play is for girls. Well, fair play is sometimes for girls. I suspect that women love David Beckham not only for his great beauty and soaring talent, but also because he is a gentleman - a truly gentle man. He loves his family, captains his team with dignity and presence, eschews cynical tackles or babyish shirt-pulling. Men tend to admire the thugs of the game, but women see it differently: my sister, who has never watched a sporting event in her life, is newly entranced by Gary Lineker on BBC 1, and rings me up most days to remind me that he was never once booked in his career. She says this makes her want to cry.

Of course there is a lot wrong with football: racism, sexism, violence; the problems of wider society crammed into a little grassy O. But this World Cup seems to have transcended all that. The famously pugnacious England fans have been infected with Oriental courtesy (despite a splinter element chanting charming ditties such as `Batista f-s Alsatians') and have behaved like saints, delighting their hosts. …

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