It doesn't matter how you balance it, stack it up, compare it to other things; I was, for 12 years, a gossip columnist. I know; it's not something I should be proud of, but, I am, immensely.
Gossip columns are lies, damned lies and statistics. But, depending on just how well versed you might be in your chosen gossip subject, you develop a kind of 'bullshit meter' - something that alerts you to either the plausibility or implausibility of a scenario. In layman's terms - I got a very good nose for a true story, or a story with an element of truth in it.
About four days ago, I received a text message from a mate. He is not someone who you'd immediately connect with serious gossip. In fact, while reading the very long text he sent me, I half expected some cheesy punchline to conclude it. It didn't materialise. This was a text with an undercurrent; one insidiously plausible.
Hopefully I've set the bar. Those of you reading this will be thinking that I've privy to some mind-blowing information. Sadly, it is likely from this point on, to turn off most of you off.
Apparently, since the bleak midwinter, there has been a rumour circulating on the net, claiming that recent England captain - for the World Cup - Steven Gerard, has got a 16 year old girl pregnant. While this is a spurious and potentially libellous piece of gossip, it has been allowed to drift around the net, unchallenged. Then as the inquest into England's first game of the WC with the USA was being conducted, a couple of less salubrious websites began to speculate that Gerard had been involved in another recent extra-marital affair. Depending on what you read, it was either with Alex Curran's sister (Curran is Gerard's wife) or someone else, connected to this collection of WAGs and associates.
By the time the Algeria match came around things were getting incredibly heated in Rustenburg - where England were preparing for their expected humiliating exit from the tournament. According to the text, two days before the Algeria game, Gerard's lawyers asked for and gained a high court injunction against a daily red top to prevent it from running a seriously damaging story about Gerard's possible unofficial play time. The injunction was granted, in a similar vein to John Terry's gagging attempt about his shagging of a team mate's girlfriend. As soon as news of this filtered back to England's training camp, there was an immediate reaction from former captain Terry; who allegedly confronted Fabio Capello and demanded to know why Gerard hadn't been stripped of the captaincy.
Another website spoke of the deep divisions inside the England camp, with the 23 dividing themselves into 3 cliques and the remainder. The groups were the Chelsea crew and associated players; the Liverpool mob and I'm happy to report, the Tottenham connection, that was used by the FA to make the peace and get the team focused on the final match. However, the two opposing camps - Chelsea and Liverpool were pretty much at war. Rumours of Terry and Gerard's apparent hate for each other began to circulate. Statisticians began to show graphs about the number of times Gerard and Terry actually passed the ball to each other during the 4 competitive matches England played (not bothering to check their figures against any of the previous games the two played in; it was no more or less than an average of the previous 20 times they had played together) and soon you were getting newspapers and serious websites speculating that there might be suggestions of a sex scandal that has deeply divided the England camp. But again, it was almost like editors were saying, "we need to put something up, just so when the news finally blows we can say we knew too. But we know there's an injunction."
A second high court injunction was asked for and granted last Monday; which might explain why the normally explosive and highly emotional Fabio Capello seemed to take the news of a two week moratorium on his potential future tenure as England boss remarkably easily; almost like he was told he was being used as a smoke screen for something far worse than his failure to deliver a nation's expectations. Capello's laid back attitude at that press conference didn't seem to bother anyone else; they all seemed really busy speculating on a potential successor. But, even before I received the text that set this column in motion, I thought Don Fabio seemed just a little too comfortable. And if this proves to be a real scandal, then who can blame him? He's got a custom made excuse ready to be rolled out by the FA: it was the players wot done it!
This might also explain why Fabio's two week wait ended up being less than a week. Because, if all of this is true then, in a few days the real truth is going to leak out and his poor performance is going to be overshadowed by a scandal that will cast a massive shadow over Premier League footballers, the high earners and the young men forever being touted as role models for us all.
In a nutshell: Gerard is alleged to have had either one or two affairs, resulting in at least one sprog. He has possibly managed to get a gagging order on the press for what seems to be one month - that month would be up at the weekend. There was a massive bust-up at the training camp forcing Terry into going public with some of the feelings in a hope to win support from the non-partisan members of the team and failing miserably because the majority of them there just wanted to play in a World Cup.
With hindsight, any good writer, with a sense of the devious in him or her can take any story, however unlikely, and make the events around it seem inter-related. Hey, that's how conspiracy theories start! Writing gossip columns is like riding a bike, you get a little rusty, but you don't forget how and this smacks of a cross between wishful thinking and crazy conspiracy theory to give a plausible excuse for England's poor performance.
However; here's where I stick my neck out. The Daily Star had an in-brief news story last week. I can't remember it word for word, but i do remember one specific thing - see if you can from this paraphrase. There is a growing internet rumour about a sex scandal possibly responsible for England's poor performance. And that was essentially it, but a little more flowery. It isn't a news item; it's a statement of fact and a suggestion that this, by law, was the only thing the paper could say without risking much. Yes, it could be the Daily Star covering all angles, so that it could justifiably say they ran something ambiguous just to allow their readers to know that something was possibly afoot... But, you know something? I don't know if it's my desire to want to believe there was some alternative reason why England played so poorly in the tournament, or if it has genuinely tweaked the last of my journalistic instincts.
In this case there's barely any smoke let alone evidence there might be a fire. Sometimes horribly damaging apocryphal stories are invented because they are a good way to ease a collective nation's pain. Heck, even if it isn't true, the nation needs a hate figure, so why not Steven Gerard? I mean, after all, he did get off Scott free from that assault and affray charge last year and it was obvious to everyone apart from the judge and jury at his trial that he was as guilty as I am of obsessing over the weird, wonderful and downright distasteful proto-rumours.
So Brazil, Argentina, France, Italy, England and a host of also-rans are all out of the world cup. We're down to 4 teams now - Holland (my tip), Uruguay (who'd have thunk it?), Spain (the favourites) and Germany (the most impressive team in the tournament). Only Uruguay probably don't stand a realistic chance of winning, but I'm not about to write them off just yet.
Of the beaten quarter-finalists, we have to remember that Ghana were without their only truly world class player - Michael Essien. With him, they might have been in the semis; they might even have ensured that England wouldn't have been paired with the Germans. Brazil and Argentina are both the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters - teams made up of brilliant players who fail to play as a team when it's really needed. Paraguay fought above their station and scored less goals than anyone else, but I'm betting the nation would have taken their performance over England's any day.
In realistic terms, England aren't 8th best in the world, they're closer to 16th, possibly considerably lower. There were teams that didn't qualify for the knockout stages who, on current form, would still beat us despite their own problems - Italy, Serbia, Ivory Coast, Switzerland and even France. Time for Capello and the FA to have a reality check and do something about the future, the way Germany did. Because hate them all you want, they're streets ahead of us at the moment.