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Rooney swore? So f***ing what

Those fretting over the footballer’s anglo-saxon turn of phrase have clearly never been to a match before.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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‘Fucking what? What? Fuck off!’

Wayne Rooney’s angry outburst was curious. What did it mean? Who was he addressing? In appearing to pick a fight with a TV camera, it immediately struck me as an homage to Robert De Niro’s famous ‘You talking to me?’ scene in Taxi Driver. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.

In a statement issued by his club, the player said: ‘Emotions were running high, and on reflection my heat-of-the-moment reaction was inappropriate. It was not aimed at anyone in particular.’ Maybe he was railing against his inner demons. Maybe there is no deeper meaning. Maybe it was a release of pent-up frustration after months of domestic strife and poor goal-scoring form.

But enough of my speculative interpretation, it’s the Football Association’s response that we should really be bothered about. The FA has banned Rooney for two matches for using ‘offensive, insulting and/or abusive language’. You don’t need to be a lipreader to work out that footballers swear quite a lot; every Saturday you’ll find them effing and blinding like proverbial troopers. But while disciplinary action for abusing match officials is nothing new, a ban for swearing per se is quite unprecedented.

Rooney appears to have been made an example of for swearing directly into a TV camera during a live televised game. I can only guess that the FA took action because TV viewers might have been offended by his use of the F-word. But is this really within the FA’s remit? Its job, as I understood it, is to run English football, not to act as custodians of the nation’s morals. Rooney has apologised ‘for any offence that may have been caused’. But how many football fans were actually offended? I haven’t met any. Sky’s switchboards were not, according to reports, jammed by irate callers.

Most of those who expressed outrage appeared to be taking offence on behalf of others, ie, children watching on TV. Incidents such as this are usually held up as further evidence of declining standards of behaviour. Cue Harry Redknapp who obligingly tut-tutted about modern footballers. ‘I don’t remember Bobby Charlton doing that when he used to smack goals into the top corner from 35 yards’, said the Spurs manager. ‘Why do these young players have to be so angry with the world?’

Rooney’s outburst has been criticised in relation to the FA’s Respect campaign. ‘In the space of a single wild-eyed, foulmouthed, slack-jawed eruption, Wayne Rooney blew English football’s brave new Respect agenda out of the water’, thundered Patrick Collins in the Daily Mail. Graham Poll, also in the Mail, castigated Rooney for ‘forcing his way into our living rooms at lunchtime with an F-word tirade of aggression and abuse’. The former referee argued for a three-game ban. ‘A funny thing might happen – it might lead to Respect’, said Poll. (I don’t think he meant it in the funny-ha-ha sense, but admittedly I’m no expert on what makes referees laugh.) But, hang on a minute, what’s the Respect initiative got to do with the price of fish? I thought Respect was aimed at shoring up the crumbling authority of referees not protecting TV cameras. Is this a case of mission creep? Is lack of respect for TV cameras a widespread problem in the game?

The irony of the FA’s decision to discipline Rooney is that it comes at a time when the word ‘fuck’ has largely lost its capacity to shock. But, while the F-word no longer offends adults, what about children? Shouldn’t Rooney set a better example to the kids who idolise him? ‘He has the gifts to become one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever produced’, said England World Cup hero George Cohen in the Mirror. ‘But as a role model? No, thanks – swearing at TV cameras is not something I want my kids to copy… If only one youngster celebrates a goal by copying Rooney’s gross “celebration” at Upton Park, it will be a step towards total breakdown.’

The ‘not in front of the children’ argument has been one of the key weapons in the drive to sanitise football. Making football stadiums ‘family friendly’ in practice has meant that fans who shout or chant obscenities have been ejected by stewards, arrested and even banned. Yet, one of the joys of football is precisely that it’s an arena in which swearing is permitted. Hurling abuse, trading insults, singing filthy songs – football is a glorious haven for adults to let off steam and behave like overgrown kids for 90 minutes.

I’m not suggesting that children should be excluded from football matches. On the same day that Wayne Rooney was yelling at a TV camera, I took my daughter to see Crystal Palace. It was ‘kids-for-a-quid’ and Selhurst Park was teeming with youngsters. I’m all for initiatives like this. It’s vital that the next generation of Palace fans is indoctrinated at an early age. But we shouldn’t sanitise the matchday experience in order to accommodate children.

I think it’s quite good for children to see adults ‘off duty’ – singing, clapping and behaving stupidly. It’s a contemporary rite of passage; a taster session for adulthood. And I think we’ve just got to deal with the fact that our kids will be exposed to bad language in the process. My daughter doesn’t seem to have been corrupted by hearing adults scream expletives at football. In fact she’s the one who usually tells her mum that ‘daddy said a naughty word’. I can’t wrap her in cotton wool and protect her from adult language. But I can explain to her that it’s wrong to use those ‘naughty’ words at school or at holiday club. Teaching my daughter how to behave is my responsibility, not Wayne Rooney’s.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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Topics Politics

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