14 July ~ At one point, the bizarre news that a producer was considering turning the recent events in the life of Ryan Giggs into a stage musical seemed like the most surprising development on the football celebrity front. That latest football-showbiz tie-up was just another chapter in a story involving legal wrangling around super injunctions and the alleged intricacies of the footballer's family life. At the tail-end of the Giggs saga he announced he was about to start proceedings against the News of the World because the paper had, he alleged, hacked into his mobile phone.
In the light of recent allegations about what James Murdoch described as inhuman behaviour by that paper, the football celebrity elements of the hacking saga are shown up for the trivia they really are. And yet as the NOTW story continued to unfold, the Daily Mirror ran a front page with Rio Ferdinand cheated on wife with at least 10 women, as its lead. Doubtless, the Mirror would claim that it was simply reporting events in the high court, a case in which its Sunday sister paper was involved. But, it's just as easy to see it as further evidence of tabloid obsession with the private lives of footballers. No one could seriously argue that the football celebrity issues are the most significant aspect of the NOTW story, but the allegations of appalling behaviour by some of that paper's journalists are just one extreme of the same moral dimension of invasiveness. It's a view that sees the private details of people's lives as being fair game in the quest to satisfy the interest of readers and to increase circulation.
For many football fans the simplest thing is just to ignore the gossip, but all the time these stories are "reported" there is some kind of reflection on the sport I've followed over the years, as well as on those of us who follow that game. Politicians and regulators, even journalists themselves, will argue the rights and wrongs of this "investigative journalism" over the coming weeks as part of a wider debate, but there was a taste of what is to come in the Giggs case.
Apparently, the press (mainly the tabloid press) are fighting on my behalf against legal threats to my "right to know" about players' off-field behaviour. Part of the argument is based on their assumption that football fans measure much the same as the population at large on the prurience index, but they also argue that we have a right to know because a player's image has commercial value. By presenting themselves as clean living boys or family men, players increase their commercial value. Footballers can sell their lifestyle – and we have a right to know if it is a false prospectus.
Maybe there is half an argument there, but for me it's simply more press double-speak. As the NOTW story unfolds, with characters and events looking increasingly like the plot of an Iain Banks novel, the warped morality that has put increasing circulation above all other considerations will be cruelly exposed.
But the football sub-plot to all this is that whatever the fuss surrounding the latest story of Giggs or John Terry or Ashley Cole, it is just another example of the game being exploited to promote commercial interest. From this standpoint, football itself has no intrinsic value. It is simply a vehicle to promote goods or services or to sell papers, and the players, however important they may feel, are simply passengers. Brian Simpson