Rooney rant is on par with fan behavior

Anyone who's heard English soccer crowds wouldn't be shocked by star's language

April 13, 2011|By Grahame L. Jones, Tribune Newspapers

Go into any English soccer stadium on any given Saturday afternoon and you are assured of hearing language that would curl a nun's toes.

So why is such a fuss being made of Wayne Rooney and his latest bit of Neanderthal behavior?

Mostly because it makes good copy, that's why. It titillates television viewers, and it sells tabloid newspapers.

For those who have not been paying attention, here is a brief rundown of the latest contretemps to embroil the Manchester United and England millionaire misfit.

It occurred last weekend when Manchester United was away to West Ham United and trailing 2-0. Rooney then hit a hot streak and scored three goals in what eventually became a 4-2 victory.

After the third goal, a pumped-up Rooney delivered what was gleefully described in the English media as "a shocking foulmouthed rant" directly at a television camera and thus into living rooms around the globe.

There was an on-air apology from the broadcaster, Sky Sports, but that did not lessen the outrage. England's Football Assn. banned Rooney for two games. Rooney appealed. The appeal was rejected. He will thus miss one league game and, more significant, Manchester United's F.A. Cup semifinal against Manchester City on Saturday.

The ban was given for using "insulting, abusive or threatening language." The resulting whine from Rooney was predictable.

"I am not the first player to have sworn on television, and I won't be the last," he said. "Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologized immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing."

Poor baby.

Since when has an apology meant a free pass? Why should ignorant, boorish behavior be treated with nothing more than a slap on the wrist?

Remember, it was Rooney who only last summer swore at fans via a television camera in South Africa after England's dismal 0-0 tie with Algeria at the World Cup. He learned nothing from that, apparently.

Former World Cup referee Graham Poll wrote in the Daily Mail about Rooney "forcing his way into our living rooms at lunchtime with an F-word tirade of aggression and abuse" and called for a three-match suspension.

"Players, we know, are overpaid and overprotected," Poll said. "Despite much of their behavior, they are idolized and mimicked by schoolboys all over the country."

"Football is a game where passions run high, but when a player seeks out a camera to ensure that his foul language can be seen and heard, action must follow."

The point was made in a somewhat sharper manner by Mark Payne, a police superintendent, who said the aggression shown by a 26-year-old who is paid $42,000 a day simply to kick a ball around a field would echo into the community.

"I have seen a thousand Rooneys, and I am sure most police officers will have," Payne wrote on his blog. "The same aggressive stance, the bulging eyes, the foul-mouthed rant, fists clenched, surrounded by his mates, all cheering him on."

"My officers will face more Rooneys over the weekend. No doubt somebody will be injured in some meaningless fight. An officer will have to go out and tell a parent that their son or daughter is in hospital as a result.

"People in positions of influence have an obligation to behave like human beings. It is not a lot to ask."

It is here that Sir Alex Ferguson, the 69-year-old coach who has held sway at Manchester United for a quarter of a century, could have taken the high road and agreed that, yes, behavior such as Rooney's is unacceptable and, yes, it could well prompt others to follow suit.

But Ferguson, sadly, chose another route, one just as misguided as his player. He ridiculed Payne, calling him "a wee guy" who had "managed to elevate himself to whatever it is in the police force" and was seeking attention.

"Some people feel the need to be noticed; maybe people don't know he's there," Ferguson scoffed. "You see, nowadays, with people wearing tattoos and earrings, it's a need-to-be noticed world we're in."

Ferguson should know. Over the years, Manchester United has provided the world with an endless array of sublime players and an equally endless array of flawed characters, many of them one and the same.

Rooney is simply the latest to come off Ferguson's production line of distasteful personalities.

According to his Manchester United and England teammate Rio Ferdinand, Rooney wants to be a soccer player and nothing more.

"That's what he wants to be judged on and talked about," Ferdinand said. "Wayne Rooney swearing on TV — as much as I don't condone it — that is not front-page news.

"There are bigger things going on in the world. There are things happening in Libya and the Ivory Coast, and we are talking about Wayne Rooney … swearing at a camera."

Conveniently lost in all the furor is the real problem — the behavior of fans week in and week out at English games. Players have to listen to far more and far worse abuse than Rooney delivered last Saturday afternoon.

Fans in England are vile in the extreme when it comes to goading opposing teams and players. Behavior that would see them tossed out even from Dodger Stadium is looked upon as normal in England.

Until that changes, nothing else will.

gjones@tribune.com

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