Spare a thought for Rooney

Anyone who prefers to believe, with Woody Allen, that there is no such thing as bad sex would be advised to avoid a recent interview with one of the two women who have found fame by selling their accounts of going to bed with the footballer Wayne Rooney.

The incident which has excited the press, and caused Rooney to be dropped from his team over the weekend to avoid gleeful abuse from opposition football fans, involved two prostitutes and was over in “10 minutes flat”, according to one of the girls, Helen Wood. Rooney had seemed shy and uncomfortable. While the girls busied themselves in the manner of their profession, the footballer “didn’t say a word or even touch us”. Almost as soon it was over, he told them was feeling “really shit already” and, for the sake of his marriage, begged them not to talk about what had happened.

Fat chance. The story was told and sold, causing the spasms of ecstatic outrage that is now traditional on these occasions. The latest revelations, which were full of bogus remorse and sympathy for Mrs Rooney, were a second wave of interviews. These days, sections of the press offer a sort of Tarts’ Treble Chance which provides a lucky girl with a triple pay-off – first for the sex, then for the story and finally for the expression of guilt.

All the same, the account has the grim ring of truth. It is the reality behind those wet-lipped headlines about “three-in-a-bed romps” – quick, furtive, joyless and instantly regretted. Infidelity is almost always about something more than mere randiness, and that is particularly true when the offender happens to be famous. One of the most candid accounts of the allure of illicit sex for those in public life is to found, rather startlingly, in the recently published memoirs of Tony Blair.

There is a “free-bird” impulse towards infidelity to help “spring you from that prison of self-control,” Blair writes, in the oddly tumescent tone occasionally adopted in the book. With an affair you are “put on a remote desert island of pleasure, out of it all, released, carefree. You become a different person, if only for an instant, until returned back to reality”.

A politician’s remote island of pleasure tends to be different from that of a footballer. Its sole occupant will be a colleague, a researcher, a secretary, perhaps one of the upmarket courtesan types who are on the outer fringes of political life. She will provide more than a quick, heartless bunk-up, offering an escape from the expectations of the outside grown-up world which is as much to do with companionship as sex.

The faithlessness of a footballer is entirely different. Those which interest the press are feverish, brief flings with a prostitute or the kind of nightclub floozy whose area of special interest is going to bed with famous footballers. Far from becoming a different person, the adulterer is conforming to type. There is nothing remotely carefree about what happens. The motive, though, the free-bird impulse, is the same as that described by Tony Blair.

It is the public attitudes towards straying politicians and footballers that are now so contradictory. The reason why Blair has been able to write so breezily about the temptations of infidelity (apart from a certain marital smugness) has been that there is a greater understanding about the effects of a political career on private lives. In spite of the earnest efforts of the press, the public is now less scandalised by the sex lives of politicians than by their expense accounts.

Why then is it that, when a 24-year-old footballer, living at the epicentre of a highly sexualised celebrity culture, gets into a muddle in his marriage, we are all so scandalised and appalled? Not for the first time, here is a “scandal” which tells us more about the moral health of those who sit in judgement than of the flawed human being who is their prey.

Yet while the public are gradually taking a less sanctimonious attitude to the private lives of politicians, dragging a reluctant media along behind them, there is not the slightest attempt to understand the pressures of being a footballer.

Independent, Tuesday, 14 September 2010