James Corrigan: England stars' antics leave plenty to be desired but spare us the role model guff
The Way I See It: It didn't take Mystic Meg to work out that the press would swoop on any Tindall misdemeanour, what with all his connections
Wow, that dwarf story had some legs didn't it? But now the saga is finally drawing to its close – until England lose, that is – perhaps it is time to peer back and analyse what all the fuss was about.
In short, it was contained in five words uttered by the coach, Martin Johnson, in the wake of the raucous night at the Altitude bar in Queenstown just over two weeks ago. "Rugby player drinks beer – shocker." That angered people, or, more to the point, the people who are paid to be angry. They saw it as flippant, arrogant and worse of all condoning of the behaviour which was capped by video images of the husband of the queen's granddaughter in a clinch. They saw it through football men's eyes.
"Imagine if England footballers had acted this way..." Yes, that was written once or twice. Imagine, indeed. Imagine a foreign bar owner having the nerve to entice in the England football fans with promises of wildness and madness. Imagine that owner thinking so little of his property he would have football fans of different countries mixing, inebriated and stoked up. Those particular CCTV images wouldn't have been released on YouTube; you would have seen them on Crimewatch.
But then, imagine England footballers actually attending a bar which did not have a guest list and did not have Cristal champagne flowing at £500 a throw. Imagine them mixing with their supporters, signing autographs, as Mike Tindall and Co did, posing for pictures, talking through the finer points of the tournament. Imagine all you like. Imagine David Beckham lifting the World Cup if you must.
The point is rugby union is different to football. And that has nothing to do with class or type of education. Granted, Tindall did attend a fee-paying grammar school, but the rest of his party attended state schools. Google will confirm that many professional rugby players from many walks of life have regularly indulged in behaviour that football, and its observers, would find inappropriate. Take Wales, a land where rugby is the gospel for a public in which "private education" is what you do when you run through your 10 times table in the lavatory.
Each community has its rugby club as a focal point and each rugby club has its folklore built around alcohol and laddish antics. At my hometown club, whichever poor dolt it is who has just played his first away match is stripped as the bus goes through the town centre and thrown out to run past Greggs, Boots and Sainsbury's all the way back to the club. Funny? Well, one or two of the old ladies laughed.
It's not seemly, it's not right, it doubtless needs police correction. But it is rugby and it isn't football. Go to any rugby club in either Wales, England or Scotland and you will find a clubhouse bar. That just isn't the case with football, where the overwhelming majority of teams play on rented council pitches, using rented council changing rooms. That is a cultural difference, not a class difference and if it isn't Wales must be a damn sight more affluent than it realises.
That is what Johnson meant by his "shocker" quip. He didn't imagine what would have happened if he had been the England football manager because he isn't. If he was, he would not be subjected to the banter which greets him at every turn in Planet Rugby. If you want to imagine what would happen in a football setting, then there is a former England rugby player on the after-dinner circuit basing a portion of his act on how thick he believes Johnson to be.
Imagine the headlines if this was football and, say, Teddy Sheringham was bawling out that "if Fabio Capello's IQ was any lower they would have to water him". But Johnson shouldn't worry and doesn't. After all, it could be worse and Johnno could be the prominent Guinness Premiership coach who, claims the same speaker, was the "human voted the most likely to marry outside his species".
That would elicit a few headlines as well, particularly when rugby is suddenly top of the sporting agenda. Maybe it will, because the sport is occupying football's spotlight at the moment and is therefore receiving the football treatment. But all this role model guff and all this moralising is so over the top it's gone down the back and located the avenue to disappear right up itself.
There is only one way to view this and that is through a rugby prism. Talk about the effect alcohol can have on an athlete and that is one valid argument. There is another. Rugby coaches plot their tactics many moves in advance; the most important factor of the art is to predict what's going to happen and to base the gameplan on their prescience.
It didn't take Mystic Meg to work out that the press would swoop on any Tindall misdemeanour, what with all his connections. Of course, if he had married a commoner, there would have been none of this outrage. But does the identity of his wife mean he has more responsibility to be squeaky clean whilst representing his country. What a strange world, with a strange ethical set of values if it does. Now, that is class snobbery.
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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