When Sports Illustrated’s infamous Swimsuit Edition has an entire category for “soccer WAGS”, you know it’s become a world-wide part of celebrity culture that transcends anything much to do with soccer.
It has become a career option for English women, with a clear path to success and a hierarchy of status: wife above girlfriend, Premier League husband over Championship husband, and a trip to the World Cup as a WAG to be scrutinised and photographed at every angle shopping, dancing and tanning the ultimate goal.
In a long, thoughtful piece in the Guardian, Kira Cochrane takes the time to actually talk to WAGS, and finds (unsurprisingly) the dream world isn’t quite so dreamy.
Many aspects of Wags’ lives bring to mind a sort of 1950s womanhood: they seem to be expected to come when called and, equally, to stay away when they’re not wanted. (There was the notorious Manchester United Christmas party in 2007, when the Wags were apparently told to stay at home, 100 handpicked women were brought in to party with the players, and the night ended with a rape allegation that was later dropped.)
Cochrane talked to, amongst many, Nicola Tappenden (Bobby Zamora’s ex-girlfriend) and Alison Kervin, a sports-writer who is writing a series of novels about WAGS: initially intended to be aspirational, she was depressed by what she found as her research went on.
The women face isolation and upheaval, says Kervin, as their partners move from club to club and they either follow them, and lose established friendships, or stay put, and live apart from their partners. Tappenden is well-versed in this problem – it’s what she finds most stressful. Her fiance, Walton, has moved clubs a lot recently, “and you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. I couldn’t keep doing it, so now we’re living separate lives practically.” Tappenden is in Epsom Downs, while Walton is in Crewe, “and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. I find it really, really difficult.”
Jadene Bircham, the wife of former QPR player Marc Bircham, concurs: “It’s a long hard slog being married to a footballer,” she says. “They’re out continuously. Their job is their life. It’s lonely: a lot of weddings, christenings, birthday parties are on Saturdays, so they can’t go because they’re playing football . . . That’s always their first priority.”
Cochrane questions what WAG culture says about the values of our society today and the opportunities available to working class women, a regression to a world where women were judged by their appended status to a man.
The icons and images at the heart of a culture tell us an enormous amount about its values. It’s interesting to note which images of women have multiplied over the last five years: an increasing sexualisation, and a media obsession with women in turmoil (Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse, Anna Nicole Smith).
The Wags are a part of this wider culture. It’s not their fault – very often, the couples are childhood sweethearts who would have stayed together had he been a plumber, a plasterer or a teacher. It is the media that has chosen to describe them as Wags and define them by their marital status. But the idea is thus reinforced that women can never be heroes in their own right. If the obsession with Wags represents one thing, it’s surely a means of putting women firmly back in their place.
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- Crystal Palace boss Neil Warnock’s rant against referees at the weekend has put him in hot water with the FA, but he’s not backing down: “I just hate officials smiling when they have done something wrong,” he said, calling for officials who made mistakes to be banned for two or three games.
- The Guardian has more details on the government’s growing pressure for tighter regulation in football, with Supporters Direct chief executive Dave Boyle quoted in the piece in support of the idea that every club should be mandated to have a supporter representative on their board.
The Sweeper appears every weekday, and once at the weekend. For more rambling and links throughout the day every day, follow your editor Tom Dunmore @pitchinvasion on Twitter.