(Every Friday the Cutter looks back on the week’s football events. This week a tweet from a chiselly-jawed former England rugby captain got us thinking about the rise and fall of false idols and how their fluctuating fortunes play out as mere soap opera entertainment for the masses, whilst our real heroes remain largely unsung and continue to do us proud)
Will Carling used to chase eggs for England, then went and allegedly boffed the married future Queen of the very same country.
Those two facts – okay, one fact and one persistent rumour – aside there is little else that has blipped on the Cutter’s radar down the years concerning the man. Apart from our vague disapproval of a smugness honed from a privileged background that seemed to radiate from his every sweaty pore whenever he appeared on the telly, he is from another time and another sport.
Yet on Tuesday Carling got us thinking and, of all things, he did so with a tweet.
‘Why do we seem to enjoy knocking our heroes down? Is it media led or part of our culture?’
Moving swiftly past the possible personal grievances held in those words (she was the People’s Princess you swine!) it can be assumed that the chunky-thighed rugger-bugger was referring to Wayne Rooney, and the widespread castigation that followed his bout of celebratory tourettes into the Sky cameras last weekend.
A further assumption can be made from those two short sentences (or 140 characters as Twitter devotees will insist upon calling them). That Carling believes that Rooney was harshly treated – and this was even before his F.A imposed ban – and that such unjust condemnation was heaped upon the poor flower entirely because he was there to be shot at. A tall poppy in the field. Another victim of that distinctly British syndrome born from jealousy or spite towards our great and good.
So do we, as a nation, build up our heroes just to knock them down again? In truth it’s hardly an original question Will and its one that has been pondered many times before.
For what its worth the Cutters view is possibly yes, we do seem to derive a notable thrill of schadenfreude every time we witness one of our superstars or celebrities hit a bump in the road.
For the latter half of his social network musings however we shall pause and reflect with more consideration. Because, although it is tempting to suggest that this dismantling of a heroes reputation – the gleeful removal of a halo – is indeed a complicit pact between the media and their viewers and readers, it is the Cutter’s assertion that these fallen idols are not even heroes of the public to begin with. Rather they are false Gods created by the media, over-hyped and lauded far beyond their genuine level of popularity, in order for newspapers and television alike to generate a running soap opera from their lives.
Yes we tune in and yes we participate. But we, the public, invest little more than that.
Certainly not our love, which we save for footballers who are far more deserving of it.
Wayne Rooney is greatly admired by Manchester United supporters. But they do not love him. Or at least, he has never been venerated to hero-worship status and granted that special place in their hearts reserved only for the elite few.
What they love are the significant contributions that he brings to their club through his extraordinary innate talent, his fiery passion and commitment on the pitch, and a footballing brain so attuned to a seemingly blind pass that you sometimes suspect he is being directed via an earpiece from an accomplice high in the stands.
Yet despite all of this, they also know all-too-well the distinctly flawed man behind the gifts. The arrested development and predilection for aging prostitutes. The sullen, chippy, inarticulate character who joined United, with seemingly little confliction, from his home-town club, a club he had previously proclaimed such heartfelt devotion and loyalty towards.
Throughout the past few seasons of glory, at the back of each supporter’s mind, was this nagging thought – if he could do it to them…..what will stop him doing it to us too?
This very concern came to pass earlier in the season when Rooney declared that his team-mates were not of sufficient quality to justify him being at Old Trafford anymore. He put in a transfer request and briefly destabilized United’s season until an agreement was eventually reached to rocket his already astronomical wages up into another stratosphere altogether. That he did all this was remarkable enough. That he had the sheer front to do so whilst being desperately out of form and regularly suffering the indignity of being ‘carried’ by his perceived inferior colleagues throughout each game, made his actions unforgivable in the eyes of the media and public alike.
Yet, whilst United fans lashed out in understandable ire, the media once again fell back on their favourite slant for any negative story involving a sportsman and supposed role model. They went for the ‘fallen idol’ angle. By portraying the supporters who demonstrated outside Rooney’s house (as idiotic as they were) as being distressed and betrayed – as if the scales had fallen from their adoring eyes following years of blind devotion – they were not only doing the United fans a disservice but all football fans of every allegiance. Because for United read also England.
Rooney was never, and never will be, a truly beloved hero of the masses.
He is far too truculent and sour to merit national worship. Dare we say it but perhaps he is also just a little too…scouse. Yet the media persistently herald the myth that he is universally lionized – they have to if only to legitimize the astonishing volume of coverage he receives – and although there will always be Singapore tourists with his name emblazoned on the back, and In-ger-land supporters, full from the neck up with Stella, screaming out ‘Wooney!!’ in boozers across the land during internationals, the media’s persistent depiction of the player as being a revered idol is vastly out of kilter with how the majority feel towards him.
Now imagine, if you will, a similar contract dispute occurring in Cantona’s time. Would there be rabid discontent from a mob of hoodied dissidents outside his pied-a-terre (in typical Cantona style situated in Leeds, a city he broke the heart of yet remained in residence throughout his time in England). Would there have been graffiti sprawled onto Manchester walls threatening his life? Or would there instead be something akin to a huddled vigil as supporters openly prayed for a change of heart? Yes King Eric, you are indeed infinitely better than those around you. Your team-mates are in fact not fit to grace your field but please find it within your Gallic soul to stay.
And the bumper pay-rise? Pay him more would undoubtedly have been the cry from the Stretford faithful.
For Cantona truly was a hero of the Stretford End. His insouciant disdain for the ordinary, and the haughty ease in which he exhibited such an extravagant array of gifts, meant that not only did he often bestow genuine genius upon Old Trafford….but he then shrugged off the gratitude like a guy on pay-day offering his mate a pint.
And the fans adored him for it. More still, they elevated him to royalty.
Yet the press initially didn’t get it at all. Cantona to them was an eccentric figure of ridicule, an impression formed perhaps with a touch of xenophobia and certainly from a fear of the complicated, so when he launched himself feet-first into a spectator’s chest at Selhurst Park, they duly went to town. Headlines frothed with outrage and the pitchforks were summoned. The United fans however – in distinct contrast to the frustrated annoyance they displayed towards Rooney this week for a far lesser sin of swearing – simply revered him all the more. It was an act of righteous recompense for open treason. How dare such a common oik abuse the king.
Then came the famous press conference. All that nonsensical Edward Lear talk of seagulls and trawlers. The press duly scoffed – hell, they reacted as if the local asylum had an inmate missing – and once again completely missed what the United fans could plainly see; the glint of mischief in the eye and the first evidence of an endearing humour we all now know him to possess. Much more than that, the thrill, the joy, and the rarity of finally having an interesting, multifaceted, and wonderfully unpredictable icon in our midst.
Whilst newspapers piously lambasted this fascinating enigma their back pages were filled with images of Geordie dullard Shearer, accompanied often with a four-letter word only they associated with him – hero.
By the time the media caught on it was all too late for them. They had pigeon-holed Cantona and struggled to adapt. Not for the first time they had greatly underestimated the British public’s intelligence and nous in choosing an individual deserving of acclaim.
There are occasions of course when the public ultimately gets it wrong in deciding who we should revere. And when that person’s true colours are revealed, and the media inevitably wade in with their sustained castigation, there is admittedly some compliance from us, as Carling alludes to.
Torres is one such example. The prolonged unravelling of Gascoigne another.
Yet during such times we do not ‘enjoy’ their downfall. Torres’ contentious move to a Premier league rival was met with a great deal of betrayal, hurt and anger from the red half of Merseyside. With Gascoigne’s disintegration came sadness.
There is very little evidence of any pleasure being derived from the knocking down of our heroes.
Generally however the media’s choices of heroes do not tally with our own. They opt for the obvious and simple totems – armbands, strike rates, and glory. The clenched fist of Terry the ‘lion-heart’ in battle for England would be an image plastered across the back pages and trumpeted by the press who believe we are impressed and inspired by such patriotism. Whereas, in the main, we regard the man as an utter cunt.
We are much more discernable and sophisticated than they give us credit for and choose our heroes wisely. For qualities as diverse as integrity or madness, loyalty or geniality, qualities that are far beyond the rudimentary sensibilities of a tabloid sports editor.
Their heroes create headlines. Our heroes – usually – don’t let us down.