Thursday, 18 February 2010

Will Terrible Terry trigger transformation?

Although I spent a year living with a houseful of football aficionados, when lazy Saturday mornings featured Football Focus and late night comedy was vetoed in favour of Match of the Day, I have never taken more than a vague interest in the premier league jostling. In fact, even though footballer hedonism has long been sandwiched between the pages of gossipy glossies, I have remained blissfully ignorant of WAG-fueled social scandals.

Nevertheless, the tale of Terrible Terry has been hard to avoid: his narrow-eyed glower has been splashed across almost every national newspaper. After the entanglement with his team mate’s ex-girlfriend was exposed, reporters gleefully chronicled Terry’s swift dismissal by a brusque Capello, and opinion columns swelled with didactic editorials, tinged with tones of smug satisfaction.

In fact, the past two editions of The Sunday Times have paraded Terry’s troubles on the opening pages. Last week their magazine featured an exhaustive four-page spread detailing an out-of-date interview with him: the journalist initially describes Terry as a likeable, vulnerable Cockney, before coming to the predictable conclusion, in tune with the times, that he is in fact a skanky-lying-bastard.

Another article, published a week earlier, is entitled, ‘Charity begins at home for Oxshott’s local hero’. The headline itself is a misnomer: far from Terry being a local hero, it is more likely that residents know nothing more of Terry than what they have glimpsed of his £3 million mansion. Indeed, it is clear from the outset that in his ‘neighbourhood community’, what goes on behind his 10ft electric gates stays behind them. So why on earth does the journalist bother to interview the village vicar, the owner of a beauty salon, a resident in the pub, the local butcher and a ‘good, churchgoing member of the choir’?

Admittedly there is popular enthusiasm for gossipy slander, but since when have broadsheets pandered so whole-heartedly to a public appetite for celebrity scandal? Granted, the dismissal of an England captain - particularly when training time for the World Cup is rapidly dwindling - is newsworthy to say the least, but such a plethora of press attention seems misplaced.

Clearly for journalists the woe of Terrible Terry is an opportunity too good to pass up. Terry is not just a self-promoting graduate of reality TV, but is supposedly a symbol of England’s football prowess and an icon for millions of aspiring players. Whether Terry deserves such an onslaught or not, his latest escapade has granted journalists a license to delve into the exclusive lifestyle of footballers, to lament bloated egos and swollen paychecks. His fall from grace has not only prompted dogmatic catalogues of all his previous misdemeanours but has unleashed a general bewailing of English footballers as a breed of overpaid pre-Madonnas.
But will this exposé help to rein in footballer excess? Sadly, football is no stranger to social scandals (Beckham’s interlude with Rebecca Loos and Gerrard’s nightclub scuffle spring to mind) and so far, none has succeeded in deflating overlarge egos. Players have been able to simply sit tight and wait for the media storm to pass by. However, the reaction of Capello – a prompt, unquestioned dismissal - is more promising. The fact that he has banned WAGS from proceedings in South Africa is further encouragement. By linking off-pitch antics with sportsmanship and performance, he can hit players where it hurts. Perhaps he will be the one who will manage to puncture footballer pretension. One can only hope!

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