Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Rooney furore is a flight of reason
John Brewin, Senior Editor
On November 13, 1965, Kenneth Tynan, the foremost theatre critic of the day, became the first person to utter the "f-word" on British television.
As Tynan lay on an emphysemic deathbed in the summer of 1980, he lamented to his family of his annoyance that his obituaries would likely lead off with that very fact, to overshadow his writings and influence on theatre on both sides of the Atlantic. Tynan was to be proved correct.
His actual words that evening, as part of a BBC satirical show BBC-3 (not to be confused with the licence-fee-sapping channel of a similar name), seem pertinent in the light of the latest Wayne Rooney affair. "I doubt if there are any rational people to whom the word 'fuck' would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden," said Tynan in inviting infamy.
Tynan did not live to see the latterday Football Association and its attempts to follow the groundswell of media opinion with charges against Rooney but he would have noted a clear lack of rational reaction. The Manchester United man's use of the 'f-word', itself a hugely versatile tool in the English language, was base-level. Aimed at a roving Sky cameraman, his "what fucking what" was nonsensical, and "not aimed at anyone in particular", according to his apologetic statement. To read the media reaction to what looked at the time a most minor of transgressions could transport one back to 1965 and the furore that greeted Tynan in the popular press of that day.
Not that Rooney's legacy is not already sullied by a foul mouth. Such a reputation is far more deserved than Tynan; spittle-flecked 'colourful metaphors' are never far from the surface where he's concerned. His goal celebrations never match the nonchalance of predecessors like Cantona, Best or Law. If anger is the force that inspires him to footballing feats then he is hardly likely to follow them with a mere smile of demure pleasure and a stiff handshake. This demeanour has terminally damaged his reputation, and made him a target for a carrion press with battle lines drawn against Rooney, his club and his manager.
Rooney and United's latest session in the dock must be viewed in the light of their previous. Rooney only escaped a ban for his clash with Wigan's James McCarthy on a technicality while Sir Alex Ferguson currently watches matches from the stands after his questioning of Martin Atkinson as a 'fair' referee. Not that Ferguson's latest punishment has prevented him from ridiculing the latest push for a 'Respect' campaign that receives little of the esteem its name would request. An 'us against them' complex has fired Ferguson's successes throughout his long career, and a team without the flair of previous models now has further fuel to the determination that has been their foremost quality this season.
West Ham's Mark Noble was also targeted by the Sky steadicam on Saturday, and if we are to cast aside accusations of sexual assault on the grounds that his kiss of the lens was invited by the tacit consent of the cameraman, then it must be asked if he would have faced such a barrage and henceforth an FA charge if he had done the same as Rooney. It seems unlikely.
More so than in 1965, this is an age of trial by media, and what will have been seen by most viewers as an unfortunate outburst from a man who really ought to know better by now was swiftly whipped up into a storm. We live in a society that implores perceived wrongdoers for grovelling penitence but often decides that an apology is not enough. Rooney's issued statement has been ignored, or ridiculed as not his own work, as suitable punishments were sought and the fatuous concept of footballers as role models was dredged up once more.
From this viewpoint, anyone who chooses to set the modern footballer, or worse, Wayne Rooney, as a role model for their children should be referred to Social Services. Yet the increasing gentrification of the English game and its reportage has given rise to a series of such suggestions. The language of the factory floor still pervades in football, to offend the sensibilities of some, but not nearly as many as a wealth of hand-wringing reactions and the Victorian language of the FA charge against Rooney would have you believe.
A football ground - note, not a 'stadium' - used to be a place where the swear word was an accepted part of an afternoon, and a usually polite family man could vent spleen without fear of the thought police before reverting back to his weekday self. It was all part of the theatre, and would no doubt have been to Kenneth Tynan's approval.
In 1965, context was abandoned as Tynan was pilloried for an attempt to debunk a taboo. He would likely have been appalled that 46 years after his attempt to rationalise the 'f-word', it still meets as furious a reaction as he once experienced.