At the chalkface: A working class hero

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

Some prejudices seem effortlessly intact. You just parade your unchecked privilege, flaunt your lack of knowledge and feel somehow permitted to unleash such ill-considered tripe.

I’m in a pub watching Monday Night Football, when Wayne Rooney appears. He’s not playing, he’s a pundit, an analyst. His presence elicits some kneejerk comments from a group of mainly metropolitan, mainly, I’m afraid, teachers, watching.

“I’d be surprised if he could string two words together,” says one.

“He probably doesn’t have two cerebral hemispheres to rub together,” says another.

This profound wit elicits shallow mirth. He’s a footballer – ergo, thick and inarticulate. And working class, Northern and of Irish descent – a perfect hat-trick! Ripe for ridicule – “the spud-faced nipper”.

He also became, through sheer hard work, raw ambition and a quite phenomenal talent, one of the best players we’ve ever produced. Still, the casual condescension and meringue-headed ignorance persists and shocks.

Some prejudices seem effortlessly intact. You just parade your unchecked privilege, flaunt your lack of knowledge and feel somehow permitted to unleash such ill-considered tripe.

The remarks go unremarked. I ponder retaliation. Most of the assembled would probably see themselves as liberals, cool and “correct”. So why espouse such careless idiocy? Is this what they secretly think of the working class?

“All that money for kicking a ball about!” observes a woman of searing insight.

Rooney is calm, articulate and honest. Yes, he was a bit of a rascal. Yes, he did blaspheme copiously, when I saw him at the Arsenal. Yes, the red mist descended a little too often. But that passion, those swashbuckling tackles, those sublime defence-shredding passes, that overhead volley against City, that 60-yarder against West Ham, the sheer pleasure he’s given to millions. He’s an artist. Arsene Wenger doesn’t call the game “the poetry of time and space” for nothing.

Rooney continues making quiet, esoteric sense – much of it rather lost on the assembled.

Dear me. Why do footballers – and our working class pupils – attract these dismal expectations? Frank Lampard called it long ago.

“It’s a lazy thing to say. They look at him, the fact he is a footballer and looks tough. How can you call someone thick who you have never met?” Easily, apparently. You just put your brain in neutral. Can they do their job as well as Rooney does his?

Okay, football is not academia, thank goodness! I don’t expect a critique of Cartesian Dualism or R D Laing’s Ontological Insecurity – that’s a step too far for most of us – as Rooney’s analysis seems to be for most of these nattering, chattering clots around me. Retaliation? What’s the point?

A working class hero is still something to be.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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