Nicola Tappenden was a 14-year-old schoolgirl, when a psychic told her she’d grow up to do something very special. She would marry a professional footballer. Later in life, Tappenden met the then West Ham United player Bobby Zamora. They started dating, but the relationship didn’t work. Then she met Simon Walton, a “journeyman” footballer. Fifteen months ago, the pair had a baby girl, Poppy, and now they’re engaged. That psychic’s prediction should soon come true.
Tappenden is living many young girls’ dream. She’s a kind, appealing, and I believe her when she says she didn’t date him for publicity. But she admits it raised her profile: she appeared on TV shows including WAGs Boutique and Celebrity Big Brother.
And yet, when I ask if she could recommend being a footballer’s girlfriend, Tappenden says no. “If you could get paid the same and have a nine-to-five job, I’d say f*** the football. If anything ever happens between me and Simon; I’ll never look at another footballer… I think it’s a bit of a curse on a relationship.”
Cheryl Cole and Toni Terry might agree. The past few weeks have cast an ugly light on the lot of footballer’s wives, starting with the allegations of John Terry’s affair with Vanessa Perroncel – the former partner of his England team-mate Wayne Bridge and friend of his wife, Toni.
In fact, footballers can seem a singularly priapic bunch, unable to walk past a glamour model without propositioning her for a threesome. And yet, in recent years, marrying a footballer has become an aspiration for young women. Surveys confirm it is seen as a career option by a minority; and that many girls can name more wives and girlfriends of footballers than female politicians. There is also a light-hearted group on Facebook called ‘When I grow up I want to be a WAG,’ and an instructional book called WAG Don’t Wannabe: How to Date Footballers – and Survive!
Of course, Wags, the acronym used to describe the wives and girlfriends of footballers, is a sexist slap in the face; an appellation that underlines their status as adjuncts to their husbands: accessories, appendages. By the 21st century, we might have expected the idea of women being defined by their male partners to have died – along with the idea of marriage as a career path. And yet, when it comes to the Wag obsession, we seem to have regressed many decades.
But they are a part of this wider culture. It’s not their fault – very often, the couples are childhood sweethearts who would have stayed together had he been a plumber, a plasterer or a teacher. It is the media that has chosen to describe them as Wags, and define them by their marital status. But the idea is thus reinforced that women can never be heroes in their own right. If the obsession with Wags represents one thing, it’s surely a means of putting women firmly back in their place.
- The Guardian