| Victoria Beckham in Germany. (AP)
London, July 9: The wives and girlfriends of England footballers, known as “WAGs”, may not be allowed by the Football Association to gather en masse at future tournaments because it is alleged they distracted the men with their shopping and drinking antics in Germany.
As the FA meets to conduct its post-mortem on England’s quarter-final exit from the World Cup, there is a widespread feeling that the headlines the women attracted may have encouraged the men to focus on issues other than football.
The FA’s policy on WAGs was discussed last week by Steve McClaren, who has taken over from Sven-Goran Eriksson as the new England coach, and Brian Barwick, the FA chief executive.
“The WAGs and all the hangers-on were definitely a problem in Germany,” admitted an FA board member.
British media outlets, notably tabloid newspapers, assigned a crew of photographers solely to the WAGs. The result was extensive coverage of the women as they swooped collectively on shops selling expensive designer brands in Baden-Baden, where the England team was based, followed by late-night binges in local restaurants and clubs.
The FA apparently believes it might have been an error getting a block booking for the women at the five-star Park Hotel in Bremner and allowing them access to the men in their retreat 20 miles away.
On their shopping expeditions, the WAGs snapped up Armani, Prada and Gucci gear along with Marni and Diane von Furstenberg dresses, Chloe handbags and pairs of designer shoes.
Cheryl Tweedy, a singer from Girls Aloud pop band who is engaged to Ashley Cole, was voted “hottest WAG” by readers of The Sun, beating David Beckham’s wife, Victoria, the former Posh Spice who came to be known as Queen WAG.
After knocking back champagne and cocktails in the bars of Baden-Baden, the women are said to have made drunken phone calls to their partners, some as late as 4 am despite the policy of lights out by 10.30 pm on pre-match nights and midnight on others.
Between them the WAGs ran up a hotel bill of more than '250,000 for their husbands or boyfriends.
After England’s draw with Sweden, reported one observer, “there was a big party and Nancy (Dell’Olio, Eriksson’s girlfriend) held a dinner in a posh hotel. After that the younger elements went on to Garibaldi, an upmarket restaurant and bar, where they consumed tequila slammers, tequila sunrises and bottles of champagne. They were dancing around the tables with England fans.”
The WAGs then sang their battle song, “We’re not going home”, until 4 am.
The policy of allowing women to tour overseas with their men is a concession that has crept into all sports over the past decade or so. In a more enlightened age, administrators have concluded that it does more harm than good to keep men away from their women, especially during extended cricket tours.
But there is no denying that occasionally this can prove disruptive. For example, on the unsuccessful 1996 tour of England by the Indian cricket team, the captain, Mohammed Azharuddin, did no favours for team morale by flaunting his mistress, Sangeeta Bijlani, before his fellow players.
Until a decade ago, England cricketers were encouraged to bond more with their team-mates, especially on long tours, than with their own families.
“The strain took an inevitable toll as the marriages of Darren Gough, Graham Thorpe, Dominic Cork and Mark Butcher all ended in divorce while they were on active service,” one commentator has pointed out.
Today, the Australian cricket authorities actually pay for partners to travel with their men.
With Indians, most of the travel tends to be family orientated, as for example with the Dravids who were seen loading a pram before the team’s last tour of Pakistan.
In London, no announcement on banning the WAGs has been made officially by the FA. Its spokesman would only say: “We have made no decision on it whatsoever.”
Behind this noncommittal statement, though, there is concern in the FA and England’s large fan following that “the WAGs of sin is death”, at least in footballing terms.