There is a moment in the forthcoming Wayne Rooney BBC documentary when he takes the cameras to Cartmel Terrace in Croxteth, an innocuous street from his childhood notable for the fact that on the day he scored his first Premier League goal, aged 16 against Arsenal, he turned up there later for a kickabout with his mates.
An old neighbour in her 70s comes over to say hello and tell him that she still has “a little gamble” on his goalscoring from time to time. Rooney laughs and explains self-consciously that the cameras are there because he is “doing a documentary on England”. “Oh, isn’t that lovely,” she replies encouragingly, as if he had just told her he had passed his driving test. “I’m telling them how good it is round here,” Rooney adds anxiously.
It is notable he is keen that everyone from his past knows he has not forgotten his roots, a trait just as evident as his decision that this time he was prepared to give more of himself than ever before. The programme was originally pitched as a chronicle of his football career, to coincide with him breaking Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record for England. As Rooney warmed to the theme, it developed into something more comprehensive about his life away from the game, encompassing his family, his past and even his mistakes.
In the end it justified a change in title from the original, England’s Greatest Goalscorer, to the more intimate, The Man Behind the Goals. Granting the BBC the kind of access that stars like Rooney agree to but a few times in their lives, you sense that the guard has been lowered, the instinctive caution toned down and the best English player of his generation is opening up.
It would be fair to say that Rooney, in the general run of things, is not a man given to disclosing his deepest thoughts but, as he steers his customised Range Rover round the streets of his old neighbourhood, he is seized by a mood of reflection. “You can live in a big house and drive a nice car,” he explains, “but I’m from here. This is in me. Regardless of what you achieve in life, it will always be the place I grew up in and learned a lot about life.”
A month ahead of his 30th birthday, this is the best portrait yet of how the boy with the thorn in his side became the captain of club and country 13 years on from that stupendous first goal against Arsenal. We see him playing football in the garden at home with his oldest son Kai, a five-year-old whose obsession with the game, Rooney tells presenter Gary Lineker, extends to insisting father and son watch West Ham in the Europa League.
You can live in a big house and drive a nice car but I’m from here. This is in me
His parents Wayne senior and Jeanette make a rare appearance, the latter recalling matter of fact that she did three jobs – dinner lady, cleaner and “working in a sweet van” – while bringing up three sons. She still works as a dinner lady at Rooney’s former school. When Jeanette reads aloud the comment “good conduct in IT lessons” from one of his school reports she cannot stop herself laughing at the idea of it.
There is Rooney’s collection of guitars that he admits he cannot play, including one signed by Paul McCartney to a fellow “soul brother” and “Scouse git”. He recalls how, as a 14-year-old, he would walk the three miles home from watching Everton, running the last part of the journey as the streets grew dark.
The list of interviewees is A-list, including team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic pops up to pay tribute. Managers past and present, David Moyes, Sven Goran Eriksson and Roy Hodgson play their part. The obvious absence is Sir Alex Ferguson, the one request from the BBC production team that was turned down, and you can draw your own conclusions from that.
Rooney, at least, seems to have made his peace with it. “It is not just me who has had a fall-out with Alex Ferguson, many players have,” he says. “Some have left, some have stayed.” Neville says that he and Giggs persuaded Rooney to apologise after the 2010 contract stand-off. As for the final bust-up three years later, Rooney is adamant that he never made a direct transfer request, although it is noticeable that he stops short of calling Ferguson a liar for saying otherwise.
There is no avoiding the moments he lost his cool in the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals, or for United. “There were times you lose your head and you’re out the game for five minutes,” Rooney reflects. “Now I think more about the game than I did when I was young.” The other elephant lurking in the corner are the mistakes he has made off the pitch which have, at times, been reported in excruciating detail.
“He has done some stupid things like most lads,” Coleen says. “But because he was Wayne Rooney he got a lot of press over it. There are things, petty things that make me angry that he does – but you know it is part and parcel of growing up in the public eye. Some things you do and you don’t do again.”
In defence of Rooney and his wife, they were under no obligation to go over awkward old ground but they seemed to have acknowledged that these things just have to be tackled. Watching the footage of Rooney signing his first professional contract at the age of 17 you can only wonder at how raw and unprepared he was then for the life that lay ahead, and just how far he has come to break that record of Charlton’s that has stood for 45 years.
There is a nice moment later on when Rooney, Charlton and Lineker – England goalscorers Nos 1, 2 and 3 – talk together at Old Trafford. At 77, there is a vulnerability now about Charlton and the two other men accord him the veneration he deserves. As Charlton pays a generous tribute to Rooney you get the impression that the younger man knows that this is a remarkable moment in his life: to be spoken of this way by England’s greatest ever footballer, having broken his record.
Back in his early years there was never any concern that Rooney would be good enough, just that he might not care enough to make it all last. Gerrard describes his former team-mate’s rebel “Scouse swagger”. Others feared a disposition to listen to no-one would preclude him from taking a life in football seriously. Now, 50 international goals and 13 years on, he has developed a capacity to deal with success, failure, responsibility without losing sight of where he came from.
There is not much more we can ask of our great working-class football heroes than all of that. Of course, a World Cup triumph would have been nice but, as Lampard points out, Rooney is not the only fine English footballer to carry that burden. “The one thing we will always have against us is that we never won the World Cup,” Lampard says. “Not many of us Englishmen have, but it doesn’t mean you can write off every team since then. It doesn’t mean you can write off Gary Lineker, Bryan Robson. They are England greats, and Wayne is one of those.”
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