Yesterday's edition of the Bangkok Post told its bemused Thai readers how England's World Cup soccer campaign had fallen into jeopardy, due to the uncovering of the affair between the England soccer manager, Sven Eriksson, and Ulrika Jonsson – described with disturbing precision by the Post as "a popular former television weathergirl". It might have added that, in British terms, the Sven/Ulrika liaison is to popular culture what Sebastian Junger's lethal weather nexus was to storms. This is The Perfect Story. We may never see a better one.
Usually my role in such a situation would be to spend 1,250 words explaining why it is that Mr Eriksson's private life is his own business, and urging that we should be discussing nurse recruitment instead. And so it is, and so we should. But I find myself unable to do it. I remind myself that there is a wronged partner in all this, and still I can't help laughing. The revelation of an illicit sexual liaison between these two particular Swedish minor celebrities could not have been better calculated had you asked Max Clifford to sit down with Stephen Hawking and devise the ultimate, scientifically tested, modern scandal.
Timing first. Sven, that national totem – England manager – has been found out in the weeks leading up to a World Cup, a trophy England has not even nearly won since 1966. The 30 years of hurt will soon be 40, and many of our feelings of rueful self-pity are pleasantly associated with that failure (look how bad-tempered the French are despite having the best football team in the world). The job itself is the only major appointment in the country in effect made and unmade by journalists operating as a savage collective. Like English Heritage, they believe that it is their job to run down the England manager on behalf of the nation.
Nationality next. To British people, Swedes are funny. And the word, meaning also a rather large, boring root vegetable, makes Swedes even funnier than they already are. With their imagined characteristics of sexual openness combined with a wintry reserve, we see them as walking paradoxes. We too are reserved. Perhaps we, too, can have lots of sex. And they are serious and that too is funny. Here we have not one, but two Swedes, in a world where there aren't many Swedes. Had they been Chinese, the story wouldn't have been so good.
Sven's character is wonderful. He is described as phlegmatic, calm and unemotional. He does not give much away. Now we are invited to picture him in the throes of anti-phlegmatism, being less calm and considerably less unemotional. And having given everything away. Beneath that cool exterior lies molten passion, throbbing lust and many other inevitable pairs.
It is an older man, younger woman liaison, which is always worthy of comment or judgement. Younger men don't mind, and older men feel better. Younger women understand that such relationships keep their options open (particularly as the body clock ticks), and older women – though threatened – can feel free heartily to disapprove.
Now her. She is the quintessential borderline B-C list celebrity. Once a weathergirl, her nice looks and lack of obvious guile have seen her maintain some kind of presence on our screens for a decade. Steve "Shagger" Norris turned up yesterday to explain in The Daily Mirror that Ulrika is "every grown man's fantasy", and while you wonder how he would know, many chaps do seem to fancy her. (I once saw her in the flesh at the 1996 British Sausage Awards handing out chipolata statuettes to the industry's top performers, and though she did it with élan, she wasn't my fantasy. Maybe I'm a bit young for her.) She's been beaten up, dumped, left with two kids and has kept on smiling.
As a result of their personalities and histories, loads of people have been involved in their liaison – even my friend Tom Shebbeare of the Princes' Trust was pictured with the two of them in yesterday's Sun. The consequence of the story has been to make our public life like one of those British comedy films in which every famous comic and character actor in the country gets a cameo part. The Swedes were supposedly introduced to one another by Alastair Campbell, at the 50th birthday party of the Express newspapers proprietor and porn baron, Richard Desmond. Ulrika went back to her seat next to fellow weird celebrity, Vanessa Feltz, and – apparently – confided her feelings of instant attraction.
The narrative is good too. Ulrika makes a determined and ruthless bid for Sven. The girlfriend – Nancy – is the last to know; in fact Sven has (and this could be a lie) conducted mobile phone conversations in Swedish with Ulrika, with his unwitting fiancée by his side. The details include his platform shoes left outside Ulrika's bedroom door to alert the nanny to the Scandinavian scene within. There's a Portuguese villa too, which is miles more believable than, say, a private Caribbean island.
Unbelievably, the Swedish mothers speak to the press. Ulrika's mum, Gun Brodie, says: "They have enjoyed each other's company very much." Eriksson's mother, Ulla Eriksson, is less joyful and says only, "The boy is over 50 years. You can teach children to walk but you can't tell them what road to take."
For scribblers, it is nirvana. Football is the land of sexual metaphor. Sven can "select" Ulrika by "relegating" Nancy. He has a "big one coming up". His assistant is called Tord Grip, which itself suggests something out of the Swedish Kama Sutra. Glenda Slaggs can, like Sue Carroll of the Daily Mirror, tell us how, improbably, "Sven's affair betrays a nation". Estate agents are put to work estimating how much the protagonists' homes are worth (£2m for him, between £650,000 and £850,000 for her). Forget age, house price is now the essential piece of background information for any reader.
Best of all, perhaps, the sagging tryst is being conducted via the front pages, in a conversation that we can all listen to. Ulrika, Svenless over the weekend, yesterday asked "a close friend, 'What kind of man is he?'" adding, "If he doesn't call me by the end of the week ..." "Close friend" is code for the woman herself or her agent. So by Saturday we will know if he has phoned! I can hardly wait! No, really!
Except, of course, being a broadsheet man, I wouldn't run this at all – if it wasn't that (or so the excuse goes) there is a genuine, kosher story now, which is how Sven's performance might be compromised by the continuing desire of newspapers to run this story. And that story must run. Or, as The Daily Telegraph's editorial put it, in a piece headed "Eriksson's own goal", "Those who live for fame must not complain about gossip." The Telegraph concludes, absolutely incomprehensibly, "Vikings are not usually admired solely for their intellectual prowess."
On the BBC website you are invited to vote today. "Do you think that Sven-Goran Eriksson's private life will affect England's chances in the World Cup? Is the media coverage warranted? Does it really matter?" The problem is, of course, that if you think the answer to the last question is "no", then you shouldn't vote at all. All I can say is that I hope I have helped you make up your mind.Reuse content