Somewhere in the heart of New Zealand, the England team will be shaking off hangovers, disengaging themselves from the arms of dwarves and former family friends, and getting psyched up for training prior to their all-important clash with France.
While Mike Tindall’s injury excludes him from the final team, his presence will be felt nonetheless. A little while ago, I posted a short note warning that, following reportage of an early wild night out across the tabloid press, the England team faced potential PR disaster should they fail to perform. This week that’s been stepped up and nailed down with the long-running tale of his ‘mystery blonde’.
After renewed interest in the story on Monday, the Mail outed the girl as old family friend, and ex-lover, Jessica Palmer on Tuesday. By Wednesday, she was gleefully reported to be going into hiding.
It hasn’t, by any means, been the worst sporting publicity disaster of all time. Even Ryan Giggs’s superinjunction scandal, itself surprisingly minor, far eclipses it as far as recent tabloid splashes go. What’s important, though, is that this coverage has well and truly brought the team out of the back pages and into the front.
It’s a crucial rule. Unless they have a particular promotional goal, sportspeople, artists and other specialist figures should do all they can to stay in their back pages comfort zone: sports reportage, reviews and all the rest of it. This is where they are judged (more or less) solely on their performance. This, therefore, is where they have the greatest degree of control over the way they appear.
Once you’re out in the front pages you’re exposed, buffeted, ravaged but occasionally sent soaring into the air by the capricious winds of tabloid- and hence public- judgement. It’s a whole different game, and the stakes are higher. Tindall’s shenanigans are not disastrous-yet anyway- but they’ve dumped a whole new load of pressure onto the team.
Should tomorrow’s game go well, this will all blow over- it’ll be high spirits, a drunken mistake, perhaps even a piece of necessary team bonding. The public with put it down to a bit of banter in the dressing room and ascribe it as one of the reasons for the team’s success. If this is the case, Mike would still do well to keep a low profile, let it blow over, and thank the black gods of publicity he’s been spared.
Should the game go badly, however, the tabloids have proved they have ammo to make this run, and it’s a safe bet they can find plenty more. Events like the RWC have a narrative automatically imposed upon them, and Tindall’s indiscretions will become written into it as the reason it all fell apart- symptomatic of a lack of dignity, or drive, or focus.
Watch this space, though you probably won’t be watching as closely as Mike will tomorrow afternoon.