The witness box of Court 13 is far from the only box into which Wayne Rooney has made a well-timed late arrival, and the results were typically devastating.
Manchester United and England’s record goalscorer was the penultimate witness in his wife’s defence, and though we can’t know yet, it’s quite possible he’s decided the game.
In the latter stages of their careers, once-rampaging attackers like Rooney have to learn to play a little bit smarter. Their all-action days are over. They can’t always track back. Instead they must conserve their energy, wait for the moment, and then, wallop! They pounce.
Which is exactly what Wayne Rooney did.
For five and a half full days – that’s twenty-seven and a half hours of court time – he had sat there, eyes fixed with such piercing intensity on the oak-panelled desk of clerks in front of him that no one would have been surprised had the court stenographer’s pencil levitated suddenly off the desk like a piece of chalk in Matilda. And then he took his shot.
In the absence of clear, undeniable evidence that it was ……… Rebekah Vardy who was knowingly giving information to The Sun from Coleen Rooney’s Instagram account, Ms Rooney’s lawyers have instead sought to paint a picture of a woman who had become – to all intents and purposes – a fully paid-up member of the paper’s news desk.
She was, they’ve said, texting her husband’s teammates, fishing for information to assist The Sun’s reporters and photographers, providing tidbits about the mood in the Leicester City squad, secretly lining up paps to snap the Wags outside a restaurant in Russia, and so on and so on.
To listen to Wayne Rooney’s account of quite what was going on in the England camp at Euro 2016, a tournament at which he was captain and at which it’s fair to say things did not go well (England were ejected by Iceland, three days after the former had voted to eject itself from the European Union), was somewhat troubling.
Rebekah Vardy was writing a column for The Sun throughout the tournament, and had, Mr Rooney said, taken to video-calling Jamie Vardy in the players’ hotel with such regularity that “she was almost in the team” – a situation that had become so suboptimal that the manager, Roy Hodgson, asked Wayne to have a word with Jamie about it.
It’s hard to overstate how much this kind of thing will have annoyed England’s overlords.
By way of context, I happened to spend a little while covering the England football team during the Hodgson years, which were not the most tranquil of times for any of those concerned.
England staff would routinely have to search the toilets of major tournament stadiums at the end of open training sessions, as reporters would occasionally hide in them to try to catch a glimpse of the closed training session that came after, from which the starting XI for the next match could often be gleaned.
At England’s impossibly glamorous Rio de Janeiro base at the 2014 World Cup, it was quickly worked out that the training pitch could be seen from the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car. I happen to know for a fact that at least one pair of binoculars was purchased.
In the midst of this febrile atmosphere, a Sun columnist – Rebekah Vardy – was, in the words of England’s captain, “almost in the team”.
The implication, clearly, is that Vardy was constantly FaceTiming her husband in order to glean information for her column. She has claimed in her witness statement that Jamie Vardy said that the “word” that Wayne was asked to have with him never happened – a point that was put to Mr Rooney by Vardy’s barrister, Hugh Tomlinson.
“I’m sitting here under oath,” said Wayne. “And I’m telling you 100 per cent that it happened.”
At one point, Tomlinson also wanted to know why, if Coleen was so upset, Wayne hadn’t texted Jamie Vardy so that the two of them could sort out their wives’ Instagram-based issues before it all got out of hand. Mr Rooney told him that the two men were not friends, adding: “My wife is an independent woman.” An independent woman who doesn’t need her husband sorting her problems out for her (not when a libel trial in an open court will do instead).
Ten yards away, his former England teammate, Jamie Vardy, was making his first appearance in court since the start of the trial. It’s not clear why he chose to attend today, of all days. If it was to attempt to throw shade over Wayne’s testimony, then as a point of fact he kind of forgot to do it, instead electing to stare straight ahead of him, as appears to be the way.
A word regarding the judge, Ms Justice Steyn, who has kept a remarkably low profile as the ringmaster of her own private circus. But she did interject at the end of Wayne Rooney’s evidence, to ask whether, as a follower of his wife’s private Instagram, he had personally seen any of his wife’s fake stories, made up for Vardy’s benefit.
For about five agonising seconds he looked completely confused, before his wife’s barrister, David Sherborne, interjected to tell the judge that the fake stories had only been seen by one account, Rebekah Vardy’s, which was, well, kind of literally the entire point of the three-year-long libel case that’s going to cost someone about 3 million quid.
“Ah, yes,” she said. “That’s absolutely right.”
We also heard from Wayne Rooney’s long-term agent, Paul Stretford, who – being a football agent – also acts as a kind of concierge service for all of his clients’ needs (most football agents will privately admit that this mainly involves arranging for the replacement of malfunctioning Sony Playstations).
Stretford was also acting as de facto project manager for Wayne and Coleen’s new house; so naturally, when news of it having flooded appeared in The Sun, he was straight on the phone to the contractors, who promptly told him there was no flood (the flood having been summoned by Coleen Rooney, very much the Prospero of her own private Instagram by this point, in order to catch out Rebekah Vardy).
The court also saw the famous Instagram screenshots, with the deadly graphic in the corner of each, “Seen by 1” – that one being Rebekah Vardy.
The trouble for Vardy, though, is that this court case has very much not been seen by one. It’s been seen by everyone. As have her thousands of WhatsApp messages, along with the somewhat jaw-dropping extent of her descent into the world of celebrity journalism – in which, on the available evidence, she appears to have been very much both the star and the star reporter.
To see the two men sitting this close together on the court bench was a sad reminder that the pair never quite linked up as an England front two.
By the time Jamie Vardy came on the scene in 2015, Wayne Rooney had retreated to a deeper-lying role.
It will now be up to the judge to decide which one of their wives has been also been playing in that position.