Mark O'Brien offers an Everton supporter's perspective on England's star performer at Euro 2004 and wonders whether the adoration of a fickle public will hold
During the latest European Championship two questions got asked more often than any other. Firstly, why are there so many Portuguese people living in Thetford? And secondly, who is going to buy Wayne Rooney?
Without a doubt, the teenage striker was the revelation of the summer. While comparisons with Pelé are possibly a little premature, there’s no denying that he rose to the occasion at the tournament while more established stars struggled to make any impact whatsoever. For a fortnight at least, you couldn’t turn on the telly or open a paper without reading about the remarkable exploits of “the son of an ex-boxer and a dinner lady from a rough part of Liverpool”. All the attention garnered by Rooney’s goals and breathtaking performances in an England shirt, however, represented the proverbial double-edged sword for Evertonians.
On the one hand we were heart-swellingly proud of him. Those half bashful, half cool-as-fuck celebrations – let’s overlook the ill-judged Peter Beagrie impression – made grown men swallow hard and blink rapidly to get rid of a mysterious bit of grit in their eye; the one that last bothered them years ago when they realised Jon Voigt wasn’t going to get off the canvas in The Champ. There was Rooney, looking like 90 per cent of young lads in Liverpool – once it would have been 100 per cent, but you see more and more of those weird skater-kids nowadays – taking the piss out of Zinedine Zidane and, to coin a greatly overused phrase, “living the dream”. And we were living it with him. The most exciting young player in Europe, with the potential to be one of the best in the world, is a Blue. Not that you’d know it, the way the media talk about him. For the time being the press believe that Rooney belongs to an adoring nation. How times change.
Last season, according to terrace wits up and down the country, Rooney was little more than a fat thug. Some accused him of eating all the pies, while Liverpool fans ran to the police and accused him (falsely) of spitting at them. Once he became England’s Wayne Rooney, though, the public’s perceptions shifted. Quite frankly, the sight of sunburnt plumbers from the Home Counties, in their Don Estelle shorts and Lambretta T-shirts, chanting “Roooooooooney” and doing the pointy-fingered celebration that almost got Donal McIntyre sussed and filleted in Copenhagen, were enough to make most Evertonians’ blood run cold. More bizarre still was a girl in a Warrington pub, resplendent in her Liverpool Football Club baseball cap and red England shirt with – yes, you guessed it – ROONEY printed across the back.
Perhaps she’s one of those people you occasionally hear of who claim that they “like to see both teams doing well; it’s good for Merseyside”. If so, good on her, but what will she do when Rooney’s playing for Chelsea or, even worse, Manchester United, next season? After all, “the experts” say he has to leave Everton if he’s to develop as a player. Presumably if he were a Chelsea player he would have broken into the full England side at the age of 14. And if he wore the red of Manchester United he would already be twice as good as Pelé, no question, and would have scored at least eight goals in three games in Euro 2004, not just the four. Despite the opportunity to play alongside Marcus Bent – a replacement for Kevin Campbell, whom time hasn’t so much caught up with as overtaken, then turned round and gone “meep meep” in his face like Road Runner – Rooney is yet to sign a new deal at Goodison. The rumours about a move to Old Trafford being a “done deal” – although this has been said for the past two years – also seem to grow stronger by the day. Evertonians are still desperately proud of the way he played in Portugal, although the nation at large is a little more fickle. According to a friend who watched the quarter-final in a London pub, as Rooney limped off the field in Lisbon a Grant Mitchell lookalike screamed: “Fackin’ ’ell Shrek! Run it off, you fat poof!”
From WSC 210 August 2004. What was happening this month