Wednesday 24 July 2019

Boys don't cry?

Well... the not-so-fair sex certainly do now, says Damian Corless

Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan sheds tears as he steps down from his post last week
Former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan sheds tears as he steps down from his post last week

Judith Woods and Damian Corless

Although he was England's Test captain, or perhaps because of that fact, the name of Michael Vaughan had largely escaped notice in this country. That was until last week when he resigned the captaincy amid a torrent of tears. He showed no stiff upper lip on the occasion, just two quivering ones, spluttering his thanks to family and colleagues before signing off with: "It's time to go."

Far from winning the sympathy of a grateful nation, by turning on the waterworks for the cameras Vaughan produced the opposite effect, with many commentators and fans protesting: "It's just not cricket."

In an attack on what was widely seen as a childish display, one newspaper taunted: "Why the blubbing, Michael? Did a big boy do it and run away?"

While many will argue that a backlash against weeping male celebrities is long overdue, the fact is that today's men are granted a licence to spill tears which their forefathers would neither have expected nor appreciated. One expert, possibly with tongue in cheek, has contended that this climate of permissiveness can be dated back to the early 1970s when super-sensitive singer-songwriters such as James Taylor and Clifford T Ward set to work reducing the testosterone levels of popular culture.

An unlikely candidate to help set the ball rolling was the abrasive Belfastman Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, who celebrated his second snooker world championship in 1982 by hugging his wife and young child as tears streamed down his cheeks.

But Higgins was ahead of his time. Five years later Stephen Roche was having the most torrid time of his life, battling to win the Tour of Italy under a police escort after he'd inflamed the home crowds by stealing the lead from his Italian team leader. He later recalled: "Everyone was jumping on me and poking me and calling me every name under the sun."

He admitted he was on the verge of breaking down in tears "because I was so upset", but faced with his make-or-break point he put on his bravest face, gritted his teeth and won the race.

But three years after Roche's show of manly resolve, a wayward sporting genius in the Higgins mode turned up during another Italian summer and ripped up the etiquette rulebook. As the Italia '90 World Cup finals played out, 23-year-old Paul Gascoigne emerged as a true star, raising hopes (in his native land anyway) that England could even win the contest. But when Gascoigne received his second yellow card of the tournament in the semi-final, the realisation that he'd miss the final if England got there set him off bawling his eyes out.

In that moment, Paul Gascoigne was transformed from being merely a marvellous footballer to a cultural icon. His outburst became so iconic that it was first lampooned in one of Spitting Image's most memorable sketches, and was later sent up by Gazza himself in a TV advert for Walkers Crisps.

The deeper societal meaning of the Gazza episode has been endlessly analyzed, with one learned commentator concluding: "Gazza in 1990 made us realize what a heady brew could be concocted from sports and tears.

"After all, the essence of sport is control, be it of oneself or a ball, and, at its best, physical control is dazzling to watch. But it is not often profoundly moving. If, however, it is followed by a display of emotional vulnerability, if we are moved as well as dazzled, then we really have our money's worth."

That may be pure psychobabble, but if it does come down to the public getting their money's worth, males in the public eye have been increasingly ready and willing to put up their part of the contract.

Cristiano Ronaldo cried on the pitch after his Portugal team were dumped out of the 2006 World Cup Finals. American basketball legend Michael Jordan stands 6'6'' and weighs 16 stone, but his tears on winning his first championship lent him the image of a gentle giant.

When rank outsider Ben Curtis won golf's Open Championship in 2003, he made an immediate splash on the world stage with a good blub into the microphone, proclaiming his love for his fiancé and family, followed by a couple of faltering steps backwards to mop his tears. Even the fearsome Mike Tyson got in on the act, and footage exists of him shedding a tear on the shoulder of one of his trainers.

When tennis ace Roger Federer won his first Wimbledon in 2003, the then 22-year-old held aloft his trophy with tears streaming down his face. Growing up in the post-Gazza world of sport, it must have seemed like the most appropriate way to register his feelings.

One of his early coaches, Madeleine Barlocher, recalled: "It was so funny when Roger won Wimbledon for the first time and then started crying. I remember when he was little and lost a match, and he would try to hide behind the umpire's chair and would not stop crying for more than 10 minutes."

But the sporting arena is not the only place where tears have become a sign of admirable sensitivity in a man rather than dodgy soppiness. In the US Presidential race of 1972, the campaign of Senator Edward Muskie was derailed when he appeared to weep in response to a media attack on his wife.

Some months back, Bill Clinton had no hesitation about wiping away a few tears while attending a funeral during his wife's Presidential campaign. In fact, his enemies suggested that Clinton showed great expertise in turning on the waterworks, and the video posted on YouTube suggests they may be right.

In Ireland, Bertie Ahern's recent reluctant resignation as Taoiseach provoked an apparent downpour of weeping, with Ahern informing RTE's This Week programme that each and every Cabinet Minister was reduced to tears by his shock decision. The eyes of the former Taoiseach had themselves watered up in September 2006 when he assured newscaster Bryan Dobson that a 1994 whip-around on his behalf was made by "long-standing friends". The Mahon Tribunal later heard that this came as a "total surprise" to one of the donors, Brian O'Connor, but Ahern's tear-soaked performance took the heat off his coalition and helped facilitate a win in the following year's election.

The question is: where will it all lead? It is almost 10 years since the New Statesman magazine addressed the question, observing: "It's a short step for politicians from feeling that they are now allowed to cry, to believing that they must cry. Once upon a time, they could have clenched their teeth and nobody would have blamed them for looking glum and awkward. Now they must do more."

With that in mind, perhaps the time has come to make a stand and say "thus far and no more" when it comes to blubbing in public.

Or have we already long passed that point?

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