Return of the working-class hero

spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on Wayne Rooney.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume

Topics Politics

Tonight more than 20 million English men and women will gather before television screens and turn their eyes towards the new star in the national firmament. He is not a showbiz celebrity, or a media role model, or a global brand. He is just a shy 18-year-old Scouser, who plays football in the European Championship as easily as if he were kicking it around the streets of Croxteth with his mates. So the people cried with one voice: All hail Wayne Rooney, and the return of the working-class hero.

Rooney will run out against Croatia with the hopes of a football nation on his burly back. His performances so far against France and Switzerland, when he became the youngest championship goalscorer in Euro 2004, have sent his reputation and his transfer price soaring. With England playing in the dull, deep style favoured by Sven Göran Eriksson, Rooney looks like the one man who can make something happen.

Rooney stands out off the pitch too. In an age when even the world of sport often seems obsessed with image, the rough-and-ready Rooney looks like a PR man’s nightmare. The obvious contrast is with David Beckham, whose multimillion-pound image has been so carefully constructed that a new book on global marketing strategies is called Brand it Like Beckham. By contrast Rooney, as The Times has noted, is ‘more Shrek than Becks’. After Beckham’s glossy adverts for fizzy drinks and razors were televised at the end of one England match, Rooney popped up to be interviewed looking as if he had been drinking meths and not shaved for a week. What can they use that face to sell? Potatoes?

George Best once claimed that if he had been born ugly, ‘you would never have heard of Pelé’, presumably because the Belfast boy could have concentrated on playing football instead of playing the field. In which case, our Wayne has been doubly blessed – with a gift for the beautiful game and without the flashy attributes to distract him from it.

For some of us slightly jaded fans, this only adds to the beauty of Rooney. The way that he plays and behaves speaks to the old-fashioned sporting dreamer in us about the glory, glory game of football pure and simple. He is a boy doing a man’s job in a world where men too often behave like children. There can surely be no more genuine example of visceral hero worship than that thousands of lads have been asking for a Rooney haircut this past week, even though it makes them look like a Scouse scally.

No doubt the soccerati will soon be trying to over-intellectualise the ‘Rooney phenomenon’, as they have done with Beckham (‘he has single-handedly changed male behaviour globally’) and every other thing in football. We await the cultural studies essays deconstructing the ‘authenticity’ of Rooney, written by the sort of people who produced a literary journal entitled Gazza Agonistes, and who would probably run a mile at the sight of those authentic flagwaving Rooney clones on the terraces. Each to their own.

Mention of Gazza, of course, always raises fears that Rooney might go off the rails like England’s last real footballing hero. As with the similarly bullish and bullock-built Paul Gascoigne, Rooney sometimes seems to have a young head on old shoulders, which helps to explain their shared fearless attitude to football. Let us just hope that Rooney’s youthful exuberance stops short of the infantilism that prompted Gascoigne, as he reveals in a new autobiography, to commemorate England’s defeat on penalties by Germany in the Euro ‘96 semi-final by having a drunken tomato ketchup fight with Robbie Fowler, which only ended when Gazza emptied a ‘monster carton of the stuff’ over him. ‘Then I ran to my room and had a good cry.’

Ah yes, the crying game – the morbid face of our new ‘feminised’ football. Gascoigne famously won the nation’s hearts by bawling for England on camera after they lost the World Cup semi-final on penalties to Germany (again) in 1990. Rather pathetically, Beckham has publicly cried his eyes out already at Euro 2004, after the last-gasp defeat by France in a group match that decided nothing.

If England’s campaign goes pear-shaped, we can expect many more tears from the millions who seem to have developed a football-shaped hole in their lives. It is time for a hero to take a stand against this degenerate big-girls’-blouses-for-goalposts tendency. So come on Wayne: even if you get sent off or knocked out tonight, don’t let it all end in tears. I really do not think we could stand to see that face cry.

This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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