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

Comments (4)
Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-07-14 15:58:30

Here's a thing: are there any celebs out there who have had their mail intercepted, their phones hacked, their rubbish gone through etc etc - and absolutely nothing un-toward was un-earthed? Have the hacks ever gone after anyone with all the tools at their disposal - both legal and illegal - and drawn a complete blank? No dirt to dish. Whiter then white. Honest. Decent. Truthful.

Or put it another way: a celeb who actually turned out to be a "role model".

The fact that no such scoop has ever made the tabs leads me to suppose that it has never happened.

Comment by drew_whitworth 2011-07-14 19:37:55

@Paul - and the relevance of your comment is? Are you claiming that if such a paragon of virtue was reported, that this would vindicate the hack(er)s? Or are you claiming that 'if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear'?

Brian was making a point that is precisely the opposite of the snide one you've just made.

I find it utterly amazing that there is so much money to be made by reporting on something of intrinsically no interest (no one's sex life should be of any concern to anyone at all, unless they are trying to pass laws which would criminalise other people's), and I have no idea why people buy the magazines and newspapers which subsist on this diet. Yet the reasons that your average law-abiding, faithful husband does not make the papers is because it does not help sell them. However, the fact that there is a free market in this trash doesn't vindicate in any way the violations of privacy - and the law - engaged in to feed this bizarre obsession.

Comment by ChrisBud 2011-07-15 14:45:26

Paul - how do you suppose we would know? Do you imagine the tabloids would run a story saying that they had broken a number of laws, totally invaded someone's privacy, generally snoooped around but found only that celebrity X was a great guy. What exactly would the "scoop" be? Erm...

I am absolutely certain that the tabloids will have tried to dig up some dirt on people and been unable to do so.

Although, as Drew points out, your point is entirely irrelevant in any case.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-07-19 10:22:59

The Daily Star succinctly covered all my thoughts on this. Their front page headline on Tuesday, their main news of the day was... Ryan Giggs has got some grey hair! This is linked to his incidents previously. This ignores that a) he was grey for a few years now and even in WSC's photo this month of him, and b) men of 37 tend to be a bit grey. That this is considered news is something I can't understand

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