Wags Beget Wams Beget Warbles
Wilby, Peter, New Statesman (1996)
There was a time when football, even during the World Cup, was confined to the sports pages, except when England actually won the damn thing. Now, though, the Times, for example, publishes 16-page daily sections on "The Game", more than twice the space it devotes to "World News", and football spreads into news and features. Monday morning's Sun gave the World Cup the first five pages of the main paper and even the Independent cleared the front page for it. News-stand browsers needed strong stomachs, too.
As if a picture of David Beckham and Ashley Cole with their mouths wide open wasn't enough, the Mirror added a close-up of the England captain throwing up, with no detail (or no Photoshop manipulation) spared. All this was to celebrate our lads reaching the last eight after famous victories over, er, Trinidad and Tobago, Paraguay and Ecuador.
Just as we now wage war on small, weak countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, so we now beat small, weak countries at football, and get mightily excited about it. We struggled a bit against Trinidad and Tobago, so perhaps we could persuade them to enter separate teams in future to give us an easier passage.
The trouble with football is that a game lasts only 90 minutes and, most of the time, nothing much happens except players passing a ball around in the middle of the pitch. The challenge, therefore, is to fill all that space. The papers had sent legions of reporters to Germany to cover riots by drunken English fans. But apart from two nights in Stuttgart, which looked and sounded about as bad as a wet Friday evening in Milton Keynes, the fans failed to oblige.
This explains the attention lavished on the Wags (the players' wives and girlfriends), supplemented where necessary by the less glamorous Mads (mums and dads). If politicians are worried about voter apathy, they might try something similar in the Commons public gallery or at party conference time, offering Warns (wives and mistresses), Glads (gay lovers and darlings), or, in the case of the Lib Dems, Warbles (wives and rent boys, lubricants excluded).
The great thing about Wags, from the press point of view, is that not only are they young, slim, leggy and white (much whiter than the players themselves), but also that they behave as women are supposed to be behave: shopping, gossiping, dancing, posing, painting their toenails and having occasional tantrums, in between giving their men what the red tops call nooky. …