Saint Rooney The Persecuted

By God’s providence he was catch’d, with dark lantern and burning match.

Just about to light the prime, caught him in the nick of time.

“What shall we do with him!”

 “BURN HIM” –Prayer by the Bishop of the Edenbridge Bonfire Society

Contrition lies deeply wedged in Wayne Rooney’s throat. Following the public disclosure of his affair and his near departure from Manchester United, saying sorry clearly is not easy for him. In its place there is an admission of sorts, which comes a little late, as if it was forcefully wrung from him. Launching a verbal assault at a Sky TV camera while celebrating a hat trick, provided an opportunity for Rooney to issue an unprompted and expedient apology in an effort to preempt criticism and avert or minimize disciplinary action. But it was also meant as a gesture of personal growth and maturity that he hoped would be recognized in light of the recent past, regardless if the effort was carefully managed and scripted.

The apology moved quickly to sanitize the “foul-mouthed rant” by addressing his responsibility as a role model:

“I want to apologise for any offence that may have been caused, especially any parents or children watching. Emotions were running high and on reflection my heat-of-the-moment reaction was inappropriate. It was not aimed at anyone in particular.”

This didn’t help his case with the FA who issued and upheld a two-game ban “for the use of offensive, insulting and/or abusive language”. Rooney issued a statement after the failed appeal. Admittedly gutted, he went on to defend himself:

I am not the first player to have sworn on TV and I won’t be the last. Unlike others who have been caught swearing on camera, I apologised immediately. And yet I am the only person banned for swearing. That doesn’t seem right.

Rooney portrayed the incident as a common occurrence for which he chose to make an exemplary apology. Whatever, it was a poor defense. Not having the benefit of seeing the incident unfold on television is a thin excuse and requires us to uncomfortably stretch the benefit of the doubt. The speedy apology indicated that it didn’t take long for those who watched the ranting live to relay the truth of how bad it looked, regardless if one thinks swearing trivial—it’s not Libya after all, Rio Ferdinand said.

Rooney, and those who have come to his defense, quickly indicted the FA for the hypocrisy and inconsistency of its position.

On the Football United Blogs, a post puts the crime in its proper place to illustrate the inconsistency of judgment. Alongside the video of Rooney swearing is a GIF of an unpunished Joey Barton grabbing his crotch and calling Fernando Torres a “poof”. Torres speaks proficient English, but colloquial terms may slip by him and so Torres likely saw Barton looking like a guy grabbing his crotch for some unknown reason. There is no disagreement with the author’s point that a homophobic slur is far worse than swearing, but this is beside the point.

As are most of the arguments made on Rooney’s behalf. His defenders argue from the pitch and those who support or understand the FA’s position (a 65% majority do in a Manchester Evening News poll) argue from where ever they were when they saw it on television. Through the apology and public statement, Rooney tried to bolster his case by occupying both positions.

Rooney’s defense used a subtle shift of language, a sneaky slight of hand with prepositions. In his apology, the swearing wasn’t “aimed at anyone in particular”. In his statement, he described the incident as “being caught on camera.” His apology was more honest than his statement, but received neither the goodwill nor the equal justice he hoped for. Rooney, once again, felt aggrieved.

Swapping at for on made the plea for overlooked innocence by trying to expose the hypocrisy of the FA. It was also an attempt to sidestep what was still indisputable. This was a televised incident, no matter how it was sliced, as Lady Cathy Ferguson knew immediately. He swore at the camera and this is the punishable offense.

A clever move, but unfit for this one. Sharpening his case also turned out to be an admission of its weakness. Rooney changed tact again. He must have known that convincing the FA or the public that he was caught on camera was a hard sell, so why not admit he was swearing at it as he had initially done? Blame the camera. It aggressively closed in and trapped him with no alternative but to be aggressively addressed. Against regulation, it had encroached upon the pitch, stuck itself right into the action, and, judging by Rooney’s response, became a threatening intrusion. “Friends say the ‘f*** off, what do you want?’ yell was aimed at the cameras as they closed in on him.”

Pinned on camera, he had nowhere else to direct his rant but at an inert piece of equipment that could not take offense or be abused (further, no one would come to its defense). Swearing at the camera and not the people behind it is the only way to give legitimacy to the claim that his rant “was not aimed at anyone in particular.”

The camera was a well-deserved recipient of invective, because it captured and framed him in the most unflattering way. Not only did the camera manipulate the context from on to at, but through its own sleight of hand unfairly transformed itself from a camera to the masses of offended fans behind it. Rooney, powerless to thwart this, was again, villainized, cruelly made an example of, and—most significantly—victimized. The camera was able to take one moment of just some swearing and frame it as the embodiment of a past far more transgressive in deed.

Why does Rooney—once beloved and hoping to be again— feel relentlessly under siege? Why is he so angry and resentful? Has he taken to heart and radicalized his manager’s mantra of it’s us against the world? He cursed in anger at the air and under his breath, at referees and players long before his life on and off the pitch went into a vertiginous and extended fall. He was foul-mouthed and ill-tempered while being beloved. But the intervening years saw the slipping into temper tantrums and occasional decadence become a hardened anger and spiteful behavior. He went from Cabbage Patch Kid to Chucky. His behavior has taken on an edge.

“If that is how Rooney celebrates [a hat trick], goodness knows what sort of trouble he will get into should he ever become upset about something.”

But clearly he is very angry about something, not in spite of a hat trick, but because of it. One brief, but complete video clip confirmed everything that Rooney had become or couldn’t escape, whether it was the spoiled footballer, the common thug, or the stupidity of his own decisions.

If it could be irrefutably proved that Rooney was swearing at an autonomous piece of plastic and metal, then it could be expected that his media sophistication would be acutely aware that there was no way to separate the camera from the people behind it. The number of times Rooney has run to the sideline to celebrate a goal was ample opportunity to make a clean and joyous display second nature. Isn’t that what the pitch near the corner is about? Where the public is brought in and embraced? The public is on the field whether Rooney accepts this or not. Instead of sharing the communal moment, Rooney rejected and destroyed it as a response to a provocation. His “What? Fucking what?…” has an equivalent in Mafioso “You looking at me? You got a problem?” as well as in Hawaiian pidgin “[You] Like beef? It’s Esperanto. He challenged and told off a few million people who clearly understood what he meant.

But it was heat of the moment, a temporary loss of sanity. This may have worked to inoculate his behavior and words when he thought he wanted to leave Manchester United, but the convenient descent into madness failed him this time around.

This may be due to the fact that Rooney is not a king, but a Christ-figure or saint. Alternately revered and persecuted. He glows under Old Trafford light or escapes from it into the deserts of Las Vegas. This last year may have been angry Rooney’s Passion, but the dichotomy has a “hinterland”.

Remember the conspicuous cross and rosary bead necklace Rooney wore during the 2010 World Cup? Or the spectacle of his shirtless torso painted with the English flag as a cross in a 2006 Nike ad? At the launch of his Coke Zero campaign, Rooney revealed that religious studies was the only academic subject that held his interest. If he didn’t have football in his life, he may have entertained the priesthood as a career path.

The revelation surprised many. Rooney has an interest in religion? Rooney has other interests? Journalists couldn’t stop pointing out that this devout young man was the same foul-mouthed Rooney who admitted visiting brothels and had forty-five stitches in his ear—likely from a drunken yacht accident—when he made the admission of piety.

He could have been posturing or seeking attention. Hey Stevie check out my big cross. “Bling” has expanded to cover any cultural group’s ostentatious display. He may have worn the crucifix as a loving expressions and symbol of marriage, as Father Edward Quinn, Rooney’s parish priest, suggests. “I suspect Wayne might have been given them by Colleen to take with him as a blessing and also as protection.”

In an otherwise pointless article on the false sincerity of celebrity faith, Jan Moir eloquently credits the sincerity of Rooney’s religious expression. “Rooney may be a terror on the pitch, but he has a religious hinterland, which means he understands the significance of the cross he bears.” He does indeed need protection. Coleen knows her husband well.

This couldn’t have been more insightful. In an article that deems fashion trends an anathema to religious faith, there is no mention of Rooney’s behavior that many suggest to be alien to faith. Instead, his life lends credibility to this faith; the cross he bears encompasses the conflict within him.

Rio Ferdinand, in one of his many comments on the incident, speaks to the persecution of Rooney. “We should follow him as a footballer rather than keep lynching him for a lot of the stuff that goes on.” The problem with Ferdinand’s point is that it ignores the contribution Rooney makes to his image as the persecuted—in one instance silenced for his faith—which goes back to the willing bodily inscription of the burden he bears in the Nike ad. Five years later, he is still expressing this burden. His goal celebration after scoring from a bicycle kick against Manchester City resurrects the image of the crucified saint, simultaneously revered and reviled.

‘i’m not religious but wayne rooney must be jesus.’

And here Rooney is the notorious figure honored last year by the Edenbridge Bonfire Society:

Honored by being burned at the stake for treason makes for an interesting martyrdom. His foul mouth combusts in putrid green.

At one point, the flames form a faint crucifix…


Rooney’s bicycle is so divine that it can’t be captured on film. Only its trajectory and presence can be directly witnessed.

He ends his statement on the two-game ban, “Whatever, I have to accept that what’s happened has happened and move on from here. That is what I intend to do.”

Part of a footballer’s job is to quickly process the past so that it will not hinder the future. There is a will to forget, to control memory, and a defined processing of determined experience. The next game is right around the corner and it demands uninterrupted focus. Proper self-reflection moves to its own rhythm and requires more time. A mistake on the pitch or in life must be addressed quickly, often expressed with terse incomplete statements. One doesn’t witness Rooney making amends, but is asked to accept his more economical intent in its place. The it is what it is is nothing more than what it was: something to move on from. This is a standard footballer’s line, useless for anything but the generally recognized agreement of putting the issue to rest. Why, Rooney asks, doesn’t this apply to him?

Swearing at the camera offered the opportunity to tell off the world. It wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular, because it was aimed at everyone. Rooney is angry with everyone out there, at anyone who won’t let go of his past. The mockery, criticism, and condemnation continue. He’s focused on the present, on football, and everyone else should be too. If everyone moved on, then he’d be able to give them what they want—like a hat trick against West Ham. But time and again he is reminded of his fall from grace, his goal scoring drought, his indiscretions, the loss of endorsements, his inescapable character flaws, the prison of social class, and revocation of model citizen (SOS Children’s Village International, the latest to distance itself, no longer want him as their ambassador).

He could no longer hold back after scoring his third against West Ham. As Arséne Wenger would see him saying, See? See what I can do? Isn’t that what you want? Then move on too. He saved his marriage and devoted himself to the club. What more needs to be done? But if everyone stopped persecuting him, would that also mean he would stop persecuting himself?


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