There's aways a penalty to pay for playing away

Scottish footballers may be feeling miserable, depressed and downhearte d today. But it's nothing compared to the suffering of their wives and girlfriend s. By Louisa Young
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The Independent Culture
THERE'S a line in Scotland's World Cup song which goes: "Don't come home too soon..."

There will be a mixed welcome in the Highlands. As they return home with ignominious haste, the Scottish lads will be needing all the cheer and support they can get from their loved ones. Footballers are not the prototype ideal life and family companions, so what is life like for the women who marry them?

We read a great deal about the players who beat up their girlfriends or wives in a moment's loss of control. But football can be romantic. Just ask the Norwegian fan who married a Brazilian on the pitch before Tuesday's match. Or Posh Spice, whose engagement to David Beckham has added several points to his status (if she would only refrain from dressing him in her clothes). The football player's appeal is clear - as the unfortunate Ulrika Jonsson pointed out when asked about her relationship with Stan Collymore: "I think if you look at him that would be obvious."

As Ulrika discovered to her cost, sex is not the end of the story. The physical and emotional demands of the Beautiful Game do not seem to encourage the development of mature males, capable of rational discussion. Sheryl had her fingers broken by Gazza, but was still there to pick up the pieces when he was deselected.

Some players claim to love the game above all else. It was Paul Ince who embarrassingly regaled us with the insight that (prefaced with "my wife won't like this but...") tackling is better than sex. He likes "the crunching sound."

Tony Adams and Paul Merson have shown through their conquest of alcoholism, that a footballer can become emotionally mature, or at least self-analytical. Merson even managed to save his marriage.

But even without violence or alcohol problems, footballer's schedule can make things difficult for any kind of family life at home. Mariana Le Saux, wife of Graeme, said recently: "You don't get weekends together, and you can't be spontaneous and just say `Let's go away tonight!'" No weekends would alone put the kibosh on most family life, but there's more: "When Graeme left Blackburn for Chelsea we went within two hours. He was on the phone saying `Pack your bags, we're going to London tonight!'"

Mariana, 26, was born in Argentina, and has just finished her degree exams - not what we generally expect of a football wife. "It takes one person, and that's it, you're all labelled," she told She magazine.

Beatrice Leboef, wife of Frank, goes further: "When I saw the wives at Tottenham and Arsenal I understood why people think we're stupid and only good at showing our bottoms."

Mariana Le Saux is currently on holiday on her own in the South of France, because the England squad don't get days off during the World Cup and wives are encouraged to keep a distance. "We're only allowed to see them for one day. They want the players to concentrate and they think we'll distract them."

Women - who needs `em? Except on all those weekends, of course, when presumably someone has to be with the children.

David Seaman, the England goalkeeper, rang his sons recently to explain that he was going to marry the girl for whom he had left their mother after ten years of marriage. His son assumed when he heard his father's voice on the phone that he had rung to say Happy Birthday, as he was just turning 13. But no. According to his aunt, the lad said: "You left us on my birthday, you put the house up for sale on my birthday, and now all this is going in the press on my birthday."

Now the tabloids are reporting that the boys have said they don't want to go to the wedding, and that Seaman is upset. The girlfriend, Debbie Rodgers, is meanwhile telling the Mirror that they have a busy social life and get the best seats everywhere ("Nowhere is full if the table is for David Seaman"), and that when he moved in with her "it was fun for him having no ties and doing what he wanted to."

Debbie, a former part-time receptionist at Arsenal, doesn't like the fact that he gets photographs of naked women in the post, but it's worth it because she's "not just an on-looker. I'm connected to the whole excitement of Arsenal winning the double, Euro `96 and now the World Cup."

When Dean Holdsworth had an affair and the girl spilt the beans, his wife Sam did not hold back. The woman, she said, was "Uglier than a Rottweiler. She said Dean caressed her all night," cried Mrs Holdsworth, choosing to ignore the unlikelihood of anyone but a tabloid journalist ever using that word, and then only to put in someone else's mouth. "I know Dean, and believe me, Dean does not do caressing. These days I see the young footballers' wives when their husbands get into the premier league. The think they know it all, I think: `Watch out. He's coming home on time now, but a year down the line you'll be waiting for the phone to ring and you won't know where he is."

A few years more down the same line Sam has forgiven Dean. "You forgive, but you don't forget," she says.

There are other pressures on footballers' families. When Bournemouth went into receivership last year the players were not paid. Steve Fletcher and his pregnant girlfriend Lynn Gibbons were trying to move house. "The mortgage was put on hold for six weeks," she says. "The people we were buying from were livid. In the Premiership they're paid so much that these things aren't a concern, but we were thinking: "What if he does lose his job?" I'd have to go straight back to work. We talk about what would happen if he's injured, or when he's too old. His father runs a pub, so we'll probably do that. It's very different now, but at the time we had no idea whether things would be alright."

Ms Gibbons paints an unappealing picture of life with a footballer - a picture which gets worse, the more successful the player. "There's always the same women hanging round the gates on a Saturday. It's sad really. Followers are obsessives. Footballers are all stars in their home town. People know where you live and come knocking at the door.

"Then there's a lot of exaggeration: if Steve was in the papers every time he talked to a girl I'd go mad. Everybody has an opinion, there's hassle and bad media - but then he's home every day by one o'clock, and we have all summer off. That's the best thing. I don't know how I'd feel about him moving up the league. In some ways it would be quite scary."

Perhaps Scotland's early exit was welcome in the Highlands after all.