Today’s edition of the Sun features an exposé of Wayne Rooney’s recent night on the tiles as his team-mates “completed rigorous pre-season fitness tours”. It is a typically irked and excitable article, chipping away at the veneer of sporting heroism that has been liberally applied to Rooney and his sporting colleagues in the past.
The article is desperate to get people fulminating about spoilt football players in the wake of England’s World Cup flop, on the assumption that these football “legends” are heroes and idols for the nation’s kids who are betraying their legions of fans by going out and being normal. They are doing nothing of the sort.
British football has moved far too far away from the streets to be able to be seen as the people’s sport any more, and almost nothing of the millions being poured into people like Rooney’s pockets is coming back to the street to allow a new generation of great footballers to develop.
The media, however, still need to build these ordinary, fallible, serially overpaid people into heroes. However, whereas in the past they were built up to be perpetuated as idols (just look at the 1966 World Cup team, who shall forever be used as rods to beat the backs of any English footballers with even an ounce of talent), they are now being built up to be destroyed at the first sign of feet of clay.
The media need these modern footballers to behave badly, as the stories that sell papers are the soap operas, the tales of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. These are the stories that resonate most completely with the 21st century British public; they have been created only to be destroyed for the vicarious thrill of the tabloid- and website-reading masses.
The only extraordinary thing about Rooney is the amount of money he earns for being pretty good at striking a ball towards a net – in the usual run of things, this is a man who would be down the pub most weekends, having a laugh with his mates, not buying mansions. So next time you read an article full of outrage and disappointment, please remember that the media – be it tabloid- or web-based – thrives on badly behaved sports and TV stars and will do all that they can to manufacture the conditions in which said star can fail in style so they can keep on selling you papers.