Wayne Rooney. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

It’s hard to remember a time when Rooney hasn’t been injured

I hardly slept for weeks during the run-up to the last two World Cups, terrified he wouldn’t make it.

I am always getting T S Eliot and John Lennon mixed up. Easily done. One said he measured out his life in miles and the other in coffee spoons, or was it teaspoons? Any road up, I have measured out my life in injuries.

I don’t just mean my own injuries, though they are markers in my long-legged life. Now, I say to myself, was that before or after I had my new knee? I also date stuff by saying: hmm, it must have been ten years ago, certainly before I had my seizure. That happened on a south of France beach when I passed out, woke up in Cannes general hospital.

But it’s nothing compared with the dreadful, worrying, awful injuries to my heroes, which have happened at regular intervals in my football life.

After Man United got knocked out of Europe by Bayern Munich, the clever clogs in the back pages, who suck their pencils and think of a number, gave Wayne Rooney only five out of ten. They said he was rubbish, didn’t look fit. Dear God, I thought, give him a break. He’s had a poorly toe all week, poor lad. Now he’s got a tight groin.

It’s hard to remember a time when Rooney hasn’t been injured, or recovering from injury. I hardly slept for weeks during the run-up to the last two World Cups, terrified he wouldn’t make it (I was ghosting his autobiog, and yes, his injuries and lousy World Cup form did hurt sales).

At one time, the whole football nation was holding its breath in case Beckham pulled his metatarsal. Can you pull one, or do they break? I used to know. I cut out diagrams from the back pages and pinned them on the bedroom wall, then started worrying the moment I woke up.

Bryan Robson, Captain Fantastic, didn’t they call him, or was it Captain Marvel, was always getting injured before cruciate games, I mean crucial games, getting my medical terms mixed up. We were on tender hooks, another medical term, until he actually appeared on the pitch. Which he usually did. He put himself through pain for our sake. He should have been known as Messiah, not Marvel.

Gazza, goodness, he was a heavy load to bear. I used to close my eyes when I watched him play, knowing that at any moment he was going to do something stupid. Sometimes it was funny, like picking up a Mars Bar thrown by some rival fan who had been shouting “fat bastard” at him, and eating it. At other times it was a mad, wild lunging tackle of an opposition player, the goalpost, the mascot, or the referee, which usually resulted in him being the one injured.

Back in the Sixties, I lay awake at night hoping Jimmy Greaves would not get injured. This rarely happened on the pitch: he didn’t move fast enough to get hurt, restricting himself to strolling around the penalty area, as if not bothered, but his little eyes glinting, taking everything in, being a natural-born poacher.

Off the pitch, though, weird things happened to him. He once got himself a new Jaguar, leaned over into the rear seat, something went in his back, and bingo – he was out for ages. Oh, the worries he caused me.

Today, there seem to be more injuries than in the past. It could be the modern flimsy boots, which give so little protection, or the speed of the game, yet the players themselves are supposed to be fitter, healthier, can run further and longer. Most teams, at any one time this season, have had at least three regulars out injured. Arsenal have been missing Walcott, Wilshere, Ramsey. Man United have had van Persie to worry about as well as Rooney. Wenger was asked the other day about Arsenal’s injuries. He hinted that personal medications could be to blame, players using hair restorers, slimming pills, sex pills – all unknown to the club – which could be having nasty side effects.

Oh no, that’s all I need. With the World Cup coming up now, I have to worry what they get up to in the bathroom and the bedroom, not just on the pitch.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, India's worst nightmare?

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

In focusing on the famous few, we risk doing a disservice to all victims of child sexual abuse

There is a danger that we make it harder, not easier, for victims to come forward in future. 

Back in the 1970s when relations between journalists and police were somewhat different to today a simple ritual would be carried out around the country at various times throughout the week.

Reporters, eager for information for their regional newspaper, would take a trip to the local station and there would be met by a desk sergeant who would helpfully skim through details in the crime Incident Book.

Among the entries about petty thefts, burglaries and road accidents there would occasionally be a reference to an allegation of incest. And at this point the sergeant and journalist might well screw-up their faces, shake their heads and swiftly move on to the next log. The subject was basically taboo, seen as something ‘a bit mucky,’ not what was wanted in a family newspaper.

And that’s really the way things stayed until 1986 when ChildLine was set up by Dame Esther Rantzen in the wake of a BBC programme about child abuse. For the first time children felt able to speak out about being sexually assaulted by the very adults whose role in life was to protect them.

And for the first time the picture became clear about what incest really meant in many cases. It wasn’t simply a low level crime to be swept under the carpet in case it scratched people’s sensitivities. It frequently involved children being abused by members of their close family, repeatedly, over many years.

Slowly but surely as the years rolled on the NSPCC continued to press the message about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, while encouraging victims to come forward. During this time the corrosive effects of this most insidious crime have been painfully detailed by many of those whose lives have been derailed by it. And of course the details of the hundreds of opportunistic sexual assaults committed by Jimmy Savile have been indelibly branded onto the nation’s consciousness.

It’s been a long road - particularly for those who were raped or otherwise abused as children and are now well into their later years - to bring society around to accepting that this is not to be treated as a dark secret that we really don’t want to expose to daylight. Many of those who called our helpline during the early days of the Savile investigation had never told anyone about the traumatic events of their childhoods despite the fact they had reached retirement age.

So, having buried the taboo, we seem to be in danger of giving it the kiss of life with the way some cases of alleged abuse are now being perceived.

It’s quite right that all claims of sexual assault should be investigated, tested and, where there is a case, pursued through the judicial system. No one is above the law, whether a ‘celebrity’ or a lord.

But we seem to have lost a sense of perspective when it comes to these crimes with vast resources being allocated to a handful of cases while many thousands of reported incidents are virtually on hold.

The police should never have to apologise for investigating crimes and following leads. However, if allegations are false or cannot be substantiated they should say so. This would be a strength not a weakness.

It is, of course, difficult that in many of the high-profile cases of recent times the identities of those under investigation have not been officially released by the police but have come to light through other means. Yet we have to deal with the world as it is not as we wish it would be and once names are common knowledge the results of the investigations centring on them should be made public.

When it emerges that someone in the public eye is being investigated for non-recent child abuse it obviously stirs the interest of the media whose appetite can be insatiable. This puts pressure on the police who don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past by allowing offenders to slip through their hands.  And so there is a danger, as has been seen in recent cases, that officers lack confidence in declaring there is a lack of evidence or the allegations are not true. 

The disproportionate weight of media attention given to say, Sir Edward Heath, as opposed to the Bradford grooming gang sentenced this week, shows there is a danger the pendulum is swinging too far the other way. This threatens the painstaking work invested in ensuring the public and our institutions recognise child abuse as a very real danger. 

Whilst high profile cases have helped the cause there is now a real risk that the all-encompassing focus on them does both victims of abuse and those advocating on their behalf a fundamental disservice.

As the public watches high -profile cases collapsing amidst a media fanfare genuine convictions made across the country week in week out go virtually unannounced. If this trend continues they may start to believe that child sexual abuse isn’t the prolific problem we know it to be.

So, while detectives peer into the mists of time, searching for long lost clues, we have to face the unpalatable possibility that offences being committed today will in turn become historical investigations because there is not the manpower to deal with them right now.

So, now the Goddard Inquiry is in full swing, taking evidence about allegations of child sex crimes involving ‘well known people’ as well as institutional abuse, how do we ensure we don’t fail today’s victims?

If they start to think their stories are going to be diminished by the continuing furore over how some senior public figures have been treated by the police they will stay silent. Therefore we have to continue to encourage them to come forward, to give them the confidence of knowing they will be listened to.

If we don’t we will find ourselves back in those incestuous days where people conspired to say and do nothing to prevent child abuse.

Peter Wanless is Chief Executive of the NSPCC.