Backlash begins against England's 'WAGs'

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The Independent Football

By train, coach and private jet, the England contingent, which has displayed an extravagance so sorely missing on the pitch, will roll into Cologne tonight on the latest leg of a tour that has consumed the supplies of some of Germany's finest boutiques and restaurants.

If, in the finest winning tradition, England's WAGs (wives and girlfriends) stick to the pre-match routine, there will be Japanese-style private saunas and coaches festooned with booze that will be drained dry.

Yet for all WAGs' attendant glamour, the first murmurs of discontent were sounded yesterday about the high jinks, including £270 champagne bills and strangulated renditions of We Are The Champions, which have seen them plastered across the German papers.

Sir Bobby Robson and Paul Jewell added their names to the list of pundits who consider the sideshow to be an unwelcome distraction, while some German commentators made it clear that their amused tolerance is giving way to profound irritation. "It's more like a hen night the way they behave - a military-style celebration where everyone has to drink themselves under the table," said Markus Hesselmann, the author of the recently published Germany Through The Eyes of its Football Rivals. "English women seem to treat their bodies as something to gradually dismantle. The Germans in contrast want to preserve theirs."

Though more circumspect, the English pundits tend to agree. The BBC's Alan Shearer pointed out that that the players were in Germany "to play football" while Martin O'Neill observed that when the players were reunited with the WAGs after their match against Paraguay that they had not seen them "for all of 20 minutes". Sir Bobby, who took England to the semi-finals at Italia '90, declared: "We're going to war. You can't fight a war worrying about your wife or child. For one month, kiss them goodbye."

The Wives, as they are known in Germany, are being accommodated (at their own expense) at the spa resort of Baden-Baden, where Wayne Rooney's girlfriend Coleen McLoughlin, 20, led a delegation to Garibaldi's restaurant and nightclub. They drank and sang for five hours and ran up a £428 bar bill.

The town's boutique owners took pre-emptive action by ordering in extra stocks of new season Gucci, Prada and Dsquared. But in a display of the growing distaste for the WAGs, the mass circulation newspaper Bild Zeitung took a swipe at their spending yesterday. "How can you tell the difference between the species of English woman and the majority of German women?" it asked. "In 10 minutes they spend more cash on clothes than ours do in half a lifetime."

It's a long way from 1966, when Tina Moore (wife of the captain, Bobby Moore) led the England wives on two excursions; one to The Black and White Minstrel Show, the other to Golders Green shopping centre. But the WAGs do have the backing of one commentator, the pundit Alan Brazil, whose Scottish side was denied such access rights before the 1982 World Cup in Spain and who recalls the profound pre-match boredom. "It didn't help. We beat New Zealand, lost to Brazil, drew with Russia and got on the plane home," he said.

The FA declined to comment on the WAGs' effect on the players' performance. "You'll have to ask Sven," said a spokesman.

By contrast, only five of the Swedish players' wives will watch tonight's match because after an initial week paid for by the Swedish FA, they then had to fund the visit themselves. Most opted to fly home.