The mystery of 'Rooney's uncle' and his moment of fame

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The Independent Online

Not only that, but Martin Rooney, 57, spoke fluent German and was more than happy to co-operate with journalists, posing for pictures in an England shirt with his famous surname on the back. His "15 minutes of fame" came on Tuesday night when the public broadcaster ARD, the equivalent of BBC1, broadcast a prime-time feature of Mr Rooney watching his nephew in action against Ecuador from the comfort of his sofa.

There was, however, a complication that had clearly not occurred to some of Germany's numerous media organisations, including Der Spiegel magazine, Radio Bremen, Hamburger Morgenpost and local newspapers, Weser Kurier and the Bremer Kurier. If he was as he claimed Wayne's uncle from the side of his mother, Jeanette, he should have the surname Morrey.

Intrigued by ARD's exclusive, journalists quizzed the player at a press conference the next day and were answered simply by a raise of the eyebrows.

Wayne's grandmother, Pat Morrey, 75 , said yesterday: "I haven't heard of him. I think I'd know if he was one of the family. I don't know anyone by that name. I've never heard of him and I doubt any of the family has. I don't know why this man would say such a thing."

Whether Mr Rooney has any connection to the player's family remains unclear as he was unavailable yesterday, having been called away because a friend had an accident.

Mr Rooney describes himself as a freelance author and interpreter. He says he moved from Manchester to Germany in 1973, apparently completing a PhD at the University of Bremen, after learning German by reading the works of Heinrich Heine and Gotthold Lessing and the German football magazine Kicker.

It is thought that he married a German but is separated and now lives alone in a terraced house in the Rheinstrasse in Bremen. He has given interviews to the German media dating back to 1996 about being at the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley between England and West Germany. He even claims he was inspired to live in Bremen as it was the home town of Bert Trautmann, a German goalkeeper who played for Manchester City. Mr Rooney has spoken fondly of his supposed nephew, but said that he had not seen him for several years because illness forced him to miss two recent family get-togethers.

Before the tournament the Weser Kurier ran an interview entitled "World Cup Fever," in which he said: "I am really looking forward to England's participation in the World Cup, especially as I am the uncle of one of England's strikers, Wayne Rooney.

"He is a fantastic footballer. I always told him that he could be one of the greats if he could keep injury-free." Asked how he reacted to news of Wayne Rooney's broken metatarsal, he said: "I thought, it's happened again. Oh shit!"

In another interview he said he had not seen Wayne since he was a child but was touched when the player left messages on his answering machine at home wishing him a speedy recovery from his illness.

He said that, as a child, Wayne was "always larking around and wasn't the most sensible person but on the other hand he was very strong-willed. He has a temperament from his Irish ancestors."

Yesterday, the reporter who interviewed Mr Rooney seemed impervious to any schadenfreude from his British counterparts. "He sounded plausible and had the Rooney name," he said.