An MTV series spotlights the lifestyles of football’s super-rich but, to Helen Duff's dismay, they just don’t know how to squander their wealth properly
Dream Team. Gary Lineker’s crisp adverts. Ron Atkinson’s cultured analysis. Television and sport may have engaged in mutual degradation in the past – but never on the jaw-dropping scale of MTV’s Footballers’ Cribs, a look at the home design choices of professional players. Crass, banal and ill-advised, it is consequently thoroughly wonderful.
Portentously, the series is hosted by Nancy Dell’Olio – a woman whose appeal to balding Scandinavians may lie beyond dispute, but who couldn’t cut less mustard as a presenter if she was required at zero notice to front Newsnight. Draped on a chaise longue in a posture intended to ooze languid luxury (whereas actually she just looks terrified and rigid, like a dental patient braced for the drill) Nancy rotates her head 180 degrees as she reads the autocue with all the joy, assurance and sympathy for language you or I might employ to recite tongue-twisters in Serbo-Croat.
From here in, things get worse – or, in enjoyment terms, better. Far more compelling than most lifestyle programmes – albeit in much the same way that the sight of somebody falling off a cliff would be – Footballers’ Cribs is an offshoot of an MTV series intended to showcase the extravagant and ludicrous homes of rock and rap stars. Which is where its makers haven’t really thought things through. Because, whereas the average chart star is a debauched hedonist whose excesses are manifest in their zany decor and possessions, the average footballer is a self-preserving numpty who, if he engages in debauched hedonism at all, certainly doesn’t do so on a show his boss might see. Consequently we get a programme about cushions.
Though amusing, this is totally dispiriting. Forgetting, for a moment, the sheer life-affirming wonder of hearing the phrase “Hi, I’m Ashley Ward, and this is my crib” (it’s hard to sound like a gangsta when you’ve got an accent straight outta Congleton) the featured players – or “foooterbollas”, as Nancy has it – prove utterly lacking as stylistic role models.
Talk about a letdown. We’re happy to buy rowdy CDs on the express understanding that their makers will spend the proceeds on voluminous crack habits, compensation to the owners of trashed hotel rooms, and endless paternity suits. It makes sense, then, to pay footballers 80 grand a week only if they’re prepared to spunk it away on pretentious tattoos, grotesque furniture, Ferraris in which to irk magistrates and all the other accoutrements the rest of us might contemplate if we had wildly more money and wildly less taste.
Where are the leopardskin carpets? The gold spiral staircases? The lifesize statues of the householder-as-Roman-god? Ian Walker’s five-bed newbuild in Surrey, bedecked in irreproachable hues of biscuit and bran, resembles the fruits of a lottery jackpot paid out entirely in Habitat vouchers. Listen pal, I sub your Midas wages so you can live large my suppressed dreams of towering vulgarity. When you painted the walls in “Hint of Fawn”, you betrayed not just me and yourself but the whole financial ethos of contemporary football.
Nor do we see much evidence of troubled genius or cosmic cool. Diego Maradona’s medicine cabinet or a “morning after” shot of George Best’s bathroom might merit a glance. Finding out that Harry Kewell’s fridge contains Petits Filous feels less like a scandalous insight. And what, more to the point, is in it for the featured players? Footballers’ Cribs seems as unlikely to win them presenting work as it is to hasten Dell’Olio onto a Question Time panel. Those of us who view Robbie Savage as a gobby little irritant are unlikely to have our views changed by the sight of him deriving self-satisfaction from his worktops – nor will Antoine Sibierski droning “and this is another living room” in the style of an estate agent on the verge of a career change boost Manchester City’s fanbase much.
None of these concerns should, however, detract from the joy of watching people engaged on a self-promotion exercise that’s busy revealing them to be drab and maladroit. Unintentionally, MTV have added to the debate about the morality of players: not only don’t they deserve the money they’re on, they don’t have a clue how to spend it. Brilliant. If only they’d given the show the title it deserves – Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless, maybe.
From WSC 223 September 2005. What was happening this month