Tuesday 10 December 2019

The world of the Wag is just not what it used to be

No one wants to be labelled a Wag, says Sarah Caden, since World Cup 2006 gave the gig a bad name

Cheryl Cole, Coleen Rooney and Victoria Beckham at an England game during the 2006 World Cup
Cheryl Cole, Coleen Rooney and Victoria Beckham at an England game during the 2006 World Cup

Sarah Caden

We all know that she never looks conventionally cheerful, but 10 years ago, at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Victoria Beckham looked properly peeved. It's unlikely that it was England's performance bothering her but, in retrospect, you'd wonder if this sharp operator realised that peak Wag had been achieved.

It was another year before this term, an acronym for the pejorative and dismissive 'wives and girlfriends' made the dictionary, but in Baden Baden, in her short shorts, with Cheryl (then) Cole glued to her, Victoria had the dark look of someone who knew the game was up.

These days, no one wants to be referred to as a Wag. To be fair to the term, to take it at face value, it's a neat and knacky way of describing the plus-ones of well-known sportsmen. On the other hand, it's undeniably used as a pejorative, a way of dismissing these women as hangers-on.

It lumps them together as a certain type ­- the Wags we saw on the UTV show Footballers Wives perhaps, which began four years before Baden Baden, who were characterised as in it for the lifestyle, the money, the clothes and the cars, with little regard for the beautiful game.

Soulless women, basically, who looked good on a fella's arm as an extra trophy for being good with a ball.

Of course, comments like those made by Ireland manager Martin O'Neill at a recent press conference don't help. When asked if he'd be banning wives, girlfriends and partners from the Euros, in common with the Welsh manager, O'Neill answered: "Well, it depends on how good looking the girls are. If they are really attractive, they're very, very welcome. The uglier ones, I'm afraid not."

This, of course, reinforces the idea that to be a wife of a successful sports star, only good-looking girls need apply, otherwise you don't fit the picture. Unattractive does not spell success.

This could be said for many walks of life, but in football, with its massive salaries and massive egos that are built from when players are teenagers living away from their families with regular rites of passage, this is writ large.

In the style of Alex Ferguson, a lot of football managers like their players to settle down and find domestic stability early. Ferguson didn't love that David Beckham married a popstar, but he did concede that she centred his boy. At the same time, though, she created the Wag archetype.

The beauty, the bling, the big houses and cars, the big clothes budgets, the careers in fashion, beauty, modelling, acting - they're all still part and parcel of being the partner of a footballer. Even if most of them won't want to be called a Wag.

And there is, admittedly, a sort innocence about the wives and girlfriends of the Irish Euros team that was not evident in the peak Wags of 2006, but they still remain a set apart from most sports-star partners.

In many ways, 2006 is longer ago than a decade. Because it has been such a decade. Facebook was only two years old and wasn't anything like the oversharing phenomenon it has become. Twitter was launched in 2006 but barely anyone knew about it and the inventors of Snapchat were mere children. We weren't selfie slaves in 2006.

Which is all a way of saying that in 2006, the extent to which we got to peer, with permission, into the lives of celebrities and strangers was in its infancy.

Which made the manner in which we gazed on the wives and girlfriends at the 2006 World Cup entirely different to the way we regard the wives and girlfriends of various teams, including our own, in France this summer.

These days, you don't need to buy Hello! to get a load of the life of an Irish footballer and his wife. Shane Long's wife, Kayleah, has a very active Instagram, on which she shared pictures of their home renovations and on which you can watch the footballer playing guitar while his little girl sings along to One Direction.

Kayleah Long posts holiday snaps and all sorts of really quite homey stuff that is, nevertheless, definitely in a different league to the rest of us. It's not stretch-limos and private jets to Marbella for the weekend, it's more subtly asserting wealth and comfort, but with a twist of domesticity that we didn't see a decade ago.

We had seen Posh and Cheryl and Coleen and the gang in magazines, when they got married or had a baby or moved into their dream home of marble halls, floors, bathrooms and walls.

We saw them styled and set up and then, in Germany, we saw them on the move.

And those English Wags in Baden Baden really moved. They moved in a pack, they reportedly cut up the nightclubs with Elen Rives, then the partner of Frank Lampard, alleged to have stood on a table to sing 'I Will Survive'. Coleen apparently brought a tanning consultant with her on the trip.

The images of the English Wags walking side by side in a line of bling and deep tan are a sight to behold even now.

Victoria in her vests, her short shorts and her long boots was quite something. Her bright blue bag stood out from the crowd, in a time when very few of us would know without a moment's hesitation that it's a Birkin bag.

The thing about oversharing is that we now know almost everything about everybody and even bling is a bit jaded by now.

If Victoria was queen of the Wags in 2006, the queen bee of the Irish partners this year is undeniably Claudine Keane. Claudine has the seniority and the longevity, and she has a clutch of other elements that make her top of the heap.

Claudine, who held her own round table with the press last week, has the top-notch glamour of the classic Wag. Never slouchy, never slumming in her gym gear, never without her full face of make-up and sleek hair, never off duty. She also has the lifestyle to which many other footballers and their partners aspire. They're not living in the arse end of England or here in Ireland, hoping for the odd day of sunshine. They're in LA, baby, and thanks to social media, we know a lot about how that's a fine life.

Only the other week, in fact, Claudine, Robbie and Robert Jnr posed on the Friends sofa on the NBC lot, fulfilling a "lifelong dream", according to her Twitter. On the surface, hers is the stuff of the Wag dream, but there's that utterly conventional core to it too.

Claudine and Robbie Keane have been together since they were very young, long before the big money and the LA life. She is always a picture of glamour, but she's generally getting stuck in with her kids and hanging out with her husband at the same time.

There's a steady, sort of surburban-with-diamond-bells-on quality to the wives and partners today that sets them apart from those of the past.

The Twitter of Erin McClean, wife of the controversial Ireland player James, is a case in point. There are a few pictures from their recent wedding, but aside from that, her tweets are bursting with excitement about the Euros, filled with pride about her husband, complete with green emojis and tricolours. It's normal modern young woman stuff, even if the world that she and her husband inhabit is less than normal, or more than normal, perhaps.

In 2006, the antics of, and the attention given, to the English Wags was blamed, in part, for their 'crashing out' of the World Cup. Now that the women have scaled it back, they're not only Wags no more, but potential scapegoats, too.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss