Who would you say out the following three men is the kind of role model a society should look up to? First up is a man who has had two mistresses, chain smokes and drinks between eight to 10 Martinis a day. Second is a man who doesn’t get out of bed each morning before 11am, used opium at college and drinks champagne, brandy, and whiskey to excess every day. Last up is a decorated war hero and vegetarian who doesn’t smoke or drink, and has never had any extramarital affairs.
Should be straight forward really, shouldn’t it? After all, if we want our kids to look up to and have their actions influenced by someone other than us then it is better that it be someone of a clean living lifestyle, right? Not too long ago a certain Welshman in his late 30s easily sat within this mould, a dedicated professional considered by many as a throwback to a bygone era.
In this modern football world of spit roasting and egocentric badge kissing mercenaries, the previously wholesome Ryan Giggs with his longevity at the top-level of the English game – spanning from boyhood to the verge of middle age – coupled with a lack of ‘show me the money’ style contract negotiation with his one and only club seemed almost like a modern-day Stanley Matthews. But in the last fortnight that image of Giggs now seems like another lifetime ago.
Let me put my cards on the table here, I have no real love for Giggs as such – healthy respect for someone who is English football’s most decorated player, spending two decades at the very summit of arguably the hardest league in World football, sure – but unlike Victoria Beckham there has never been a poster of Giggs hanging on my bedroom door. Rarely is that goal in 1999 replayed without my foot being put through the screen, also seeing his name emblazoned across the backs of shirts worn by young kids indoctrinated by their armchair dwelling parents, down here 200 miles away from Old Trafford in a city that has 13 league clubs of its own really gets my blood boiling.
However, if Giggsy ever wanted to raise his own army to take up arms against the nation’s media in mental fight I’d happily get myself down to the recruitment office to conscript and swear allegiance to Private Ryan (or should that be no longer private Ryan?) in his holy ideological war against Britain’s Fourth Estate.
Bill Shankly once commented that football isn’t a matter of life and death, but much more important than that and although Shanks seemed like a decent guy, I really do hope he meant that in a tongue in cheek manner. Don’t get me wrong, I tick most boxes of what a ‘proper’ fan should be – I prefer to watch my football in the stadium itself, I’ve supported the same side for 27 of my 32 years on this earth – a side who come from the same city as I do. However, I’m under no illusion that the social importance attached to football in the 21st century has lost any semblance of sanity. Football is not more important than life and death but ultimately a way we amuse ourselves in our leisure time and nothing more.
It’s worth remembering that the day after England won the World Cup in 1966 it didn’t even make the front pages of the press. However, last year England’s failure to make it past the last 16 at the World Cup dominated the front pages for nearly a week after, along with people randomly sending me texts and e-mails about how these eleven men shamed England compared with ‘young men dying in Afghanistan’. I mean, sorry have I missed something? Have Rooney, Terry et al been funding the Taliban? Where’s the relevance of Afghanistan to World Cup failure? If you want to blame someone for these kids coming back from Afghanistan in boxes, with limbs missing or unable to function back on Civvie street through PTSD, then why don’t you try looking further up in the social pecking order?
In contrast, what wasn’t dominating the front pages and hence public discourse in the week that followed England’s demise was the effects of George Osborne’s emergency budget the previous week, such as this forecast of another 1.3 million job losses in the economy as a whole directly resulting from the Con-Dem’s austerity measures and arguably a policy of that many today claim to be causing stagnation in the wider UK economy.
As a former Labour spin doctor once pointed out just after 9/11, some days and weeks are a very good time for ‘burying’ bad news and the hoo-ha caused by decadent and materialistic footballers, their on-field antics and the way they conduct themselves off the pitch is giving ample opportunity for bad-news burying in what really isn’t a quiet era for serious world events. In fact, one suspects that if the PFA ever wanted to clean up the tarnished public image of its members it could order a 12 month sex-strike by all professional footballers. By the end of which time a large chunk of the nation’s problems may well have been solved because their presence was not relegated to the lower echelons of newsworthiness by sex scandals involving Premier League footballers.
Now you can argue that these publications are merely responding to public demand, however the duty to uphold an informed public opinion that isn’t drowned out in celebrity trivialities should override mere market forces in the interests of democracy. After all, if it is true to say that people are what they eat, in the same way they also think what they read – their consumption of the media greatly influences how they vote. Such coverage or lack of bears greatly on us all as a direct result.
Even though it may be a valid question to ask whether it is right that a rich footballer can gag the freedom of the press to hide who he really is, especially after he has made millions out of his wholesome image, broadcasting to the world what Giggs has been doing in his private life is hardly Wikileaks is it? Julian Assange had made the world privy to information involving certain aspects of decision-making on Iraq, the Middle East and other issues where lives, security and public finances were/still are at threat. Information that it is genuinely in the public’s interest to know about.
The Giggs saga in contrast is merely title-tattle to satisfy the base mentality of certain sections of the public. Arguments put forward by the press of their concern for Giggs as a role model to our nation’s young are also disingenuous. After all, if they were that concerned about the moral fabric of the nation then surely they would keep us in blissful ignorance and not voyeuristically expose it to sell millions of newspapers, would they not?
I also don’t think it’s fair to say that Giggs has made his millions from shining his halo either; his fortune was made from either playing football or advertising deals made on the back of his footballing ability. I may be wrong, but I don’t ever recall him selling his family image through the pages of Hello or OK magazine like the Beckhams or the Rooneys habitually do. After all, did anyone actually know the first name of Ryan’s wife before this whole saga blew up?
But for a brief period in the early to mid-1990s when Giggs dated Dani Behr and Davina Taylor from Hollyoaks the press have largely been disinterested in Giggs’ private life, especially in comparison to the private life of his former colleague David Beckham.
Unlike some sort of ‘Back to Basics’ style Tory MP, I also don’t recall Giggs ever being particularly sanctimonious with regard to ‘family values’ either. Is any hypocrisy on Giggs’ part really being exposed by this sort of coverage? At the end of the day, the matter of Giggs’ extra-marital affairs is a private one for his family and the argument that we as members of the public have a right or substantial interest to know about his misdemeanours is a very weak one at best.
In the aftermath of the Giggs saga one Twitter user stated that footballers should seek retribution by utilising their wealth through the vanity press to publish stories about the private lives of newspaper journalists and proprietors. My article for the Online Gooner in the wake of the exposure of Arsène Wenger’s alleged affair back in November shows there would be plenty of juicy titbits should they ever wish to do so, particularly with some of the infidelities – alleged or otherwise – involving Mr and Mrs Rupert Murdoch.
It’s also odd what the Murdoch press wants us to revere and who it wants us to ostracise – a footballer who is unfaithful to his wife is to be utterly condemned and something the world at large needs to know about in full detail. However, in contrast it has no qualms whatsoever in urging the general populace to vote for former Bullingdon Club member David Cameron – presenting him as ‘our only hope’.
For those of you who are unaware of the antics of the Bullingdon Boys – this socially exclusive dining club for the privileged of Oxford University where £3,000 alone is required for the purchase of its uniform – then let me enlighten you. Andrew Grimson, the biographer of his Oxford contemporary and fellow Bullingdon member Boris Johnson, stated that “I don’t think an evening would have ended without a restaurant being trashed and being paid for in full, very often in cash….A night in the cells would be regarded as being par for a Buller man and so would debagging (removing one’s trousers with force) of anyone who really attracted the irritation of the Buller men.”
The last noted incident involving this obnoxious group was as recent as last year and involved the drunken vandalism of the National Trust maintained Hartwell House in Buckinghamshire. It’s nice to know that such over-privileged Oxbridge chaps can indulge in an orgies of drunken destruction and still rise up to a position of authority overseeing economic reforms that overwhelmingly hurt the working classes of the UK, without facing anything near the scrutiny and condemnation from the popular press that a footballer who indulges in consensual extra-marital sexual shenanigans can expect.
Another intriguing aspect of the Giggs saga is the lengths that the press went to in order to expose it, which sharply contrasts with Cameron’s Bullingdon past. The inquisitiveness of Britain’s popular press is well noted, however coverage of Cameron’s Bullingdon antics have remained largely obscured and glossed over. Cameron’s only statement in mitigation is that: “I did things when I was young that I should not have done and I regret.”
It’s also notable how, unlike Giggs, no-one seems to be Twittering details of Cameron’s Bullingdon misdemeanours over the web and if they did the popular press certainly wouldn’t be pointing us in their direction. In the case of Murdoch the reason is self-explanatory: Murdoch gives his full backing to Cameron, Cameron in turn waves through his 100 per cent acquisition of BSkyB and doesn’t ask much in the way of paying much, if anything, in the way of corporation tax. Neither is going to go out of their way to step on the other’s toes.
The use of the internet to subvert legal rulings and privacy laws to the benefit of the Murdoch press is also quite an irony. Back in December last year I chatted to a journalist from the Murdoch-owned Times at the Arsenal Supporters Trust Christmas party, during which he expressed his dislike of the how the internet is giving away the fruit of his profession’s labour free of charge. So fearful of the internet’s potential effect on the industry of the print media was the aforementioned journalist, that when I had played devil’s advocate and suggested a few positives to this scenario he gave me a look of disapproval that most right thinking people would usually reserve for sex offenders.
His employer Murdoch also expressed such concerns in 2009 by accusing sites like Google, who would argue that they are merely directing internet traffic in Murdoch’s direction, of stealing content from the titles among his News Corporation global conglomerate. Murdoch asked: “what’s the point of having someone come occasionally who likes a headline they see in Google? We’d rather have fewer coming and paying.”
Hence the decision behind the introduction of pay-walls to many of the Murdoch publications.
However, with the Giggs saga Murdoch is greatly in debt to an anonymous and benevolent Twitterer in cyberspace exposing much of the detail to reduce Giggs’ super-injunction to a legal impracticality. This is ultimately good news for Murdoch because voyeuristic sensationalism and gossip is largely how the print media has remained relevant despite for many years being the slowest form of media since the introduction of the Radio, TV, Teletext, the internet, broadband and now the iPad.
, while Giggs believed he had bought secrecy with his super-injunction, its ultimate defeat means that the print media has bought its survival for next few years at least, with more voyeuristic coverage involving the private lives of celebrities.
So in his battle to keep his extra-marital affairs secret Giggs was ultimately the loser. However what of his legacy in the long-term? Adultery never did the legacy or careers of John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Martin Luther King, Syd James, Amanda Holden and Beckham any real and lasting damage. It is probably safe to say that barring an Iranian style era of ultra-moral conservatism it’s highly unlikely to do Giggs any real and lasting damage either.
And returning to the question I had posed at the start – had you chose the third example as society’s ideal role model you would have chosen Adolf Hitler over Franklin D Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Therefore, if there is any moral to this tale it’s probably that you really should resist the temptation to judge others before seeing the fuller picture first.
Arsenal fan Robert Exley is a regular contributor to Gooner fanzine.