Manchester United WAGs : the hierarchy

Henning Berg played for Blackburn, Manchester United and Blackburn again.

His biography was written in Norwegian with Joachim Forsund.

Parts of the book were later translated into English by P.J. Bakke and sent to my friend Ken Early, a Dublin sports journalist.

Ken thought I would appreciate this stuff & I did. To me it’s more interesting than transfer speculation, which is a discredited art form. 

This material is probably not as easy to read as most of what I put on ANR, since something has been lost in translation, but I thought our readers might enjoy it too.

 


 

There’s a passage in the book where the author talks to HB’s wife Line, whom he met after the 98 World Cup and left his wife and two small kids for. At first she almost sounds apologetic and goes out of her way to try and convince the author that she’s not really like the typical footballers’ wives cliché. It becomes quite clear though, that she really enjoys the lifestyle and that shopping expensive stuff she doesn’t need is her main hobby. Anyway, she offers some interesting insight into that particular world.

 

(She’s taken him for some shopping and to the exclusive gym where she has an expensive personal trainer. Now they’re sitting in the bar with a drink).

 It’s obvious that she has a certain need to distance herself a bit from the picture that’s developing. It’s not all nightclubs and champagne. It’s not just spinning and shopping. It’s not just shoes and diamonds. It’s also pregnancies. Evenings and nights spent alone. And constant moving.

-And the difficult part for me, she says, was that I was put in a situation I had no control over. I couldn’t make any decisions myself. I couldn’t choose my friends. Not which city to live in. Not how my day-to-day life should be.

I had planned to start working.

And then I told Nicola, Teddy Sheringham’s wife.
“You must be fucking joking,” she said. Footballers wives didn’t work, that much was clear.So what did they do?
– They went shopping. Dieted. Dressed up. Tried to look attractive.

(She then tells the story of the first match she went to. It was February, so she put on an old pair of jeans, a woollen jacket and some old trainers. It was cold and she wanted to keep warm. She didn’t put on any make-up. It was, after all, just a football game. She is then shocked as she realizes she’s on display with footballers wives from all around the world competing for attention. Girls I didn’t know, who were very pretty and almost naked. So there I was, in a thick woollen jacket, trainers and ten year old jeans.

Anyway, she learns fast. Buys the jewellery and designer clothes, finds her place in the hierarchy.

Then she goes on her first Champions League trip….

They were a regular bunch who always travelled to the away games in Europe. Giggs’ mum, Beckham’s parents, Posh’s parents, the Neville brothers’ parents, one of the Neville’s mother-in-law, and Butt’s parents. Some of the wives, of course, and some sponsors and agents. They were usually around 20 or 30, with a hard core of around 15. They always did the same thing. They would fly down the day before the match in a plane chartered by Man Utd. The players flew in their own plane. They would check into one of the best hotels in town. The players had their own hotel. The women would get right down to the reception. They would ask where the various designer stores were, and get a taxi there. The stores were more or less identical to those in Manchester, but that didn’t matter. The men would go down to the reception and ask where the nearest Irish pub was, and then take a taxi there. The pubs were more or less identical to those in Manchester, but that didn’t matter. They shopped and drank beer respectively, for a day and half, and then they went to the match. The players flew home right after the game to prepare for the next one, but their families stayed one more night.

Line’s first meeting with United’s Europe took place in Bordeaux.She sat in the hotel bar with Phil Neville’s wife Julie and her mother. Line was starting to get tipsy. She hardly knew anyone, didn’t say much and so sat drinking wine instead. After a while she decided to tell a joke to loosen the atmosphere a bit. It was a classic dirty joke, about two horny gay men. The type you can tell if you know your audience. Line told the joke enthusiastically and an eccentric gay nightclub owner from Manchester, who also belonged to the inner circle, gave her encouragement along the way. She didn’t notice that he was the only one. When she joke was finished, she leant forward and laughed, but when she got back up again it was completely quiet. The gay nightclub owner giggled from his deep chair, but that was it. The others looked at her. None of them laughed. After a while they started talking about other stuff. Only Phil Neville’s mother-in-law fixed her stare at Line.
You can’t say dirty words like that. You’re a lady, she said.

– The funny thing is, says Line, is that the status among us wives depended on our husbands success on the pitch. Climbing the social hierarchy didn’t really help, because if Henning was out of the side or played a few bad games, I plummeted right down to the bottom.

For Victoria Beckham things were different. She was the undisputed boss at any time. David’s status was constant, and thus VB’s status was constant too. The same applied to the local girls. Phil and Gary Neville’s girlfriends for example. And in a way Ole Gunnar’s girlfriend had a consistently high status I think. OGS was a forward and loved by the fans and all that, while Ronny and Henning were defenders who rarely grabbed the headlines.

Line explains the hierarchy. Beckham was the world’s biggest footballing celebrity, and Victoria the world’s most glamorous footballers wife. But as VB just made her appearance for the major and important games, her throne was free for the more everyday occasions. And then, Sheringham’s wife Nicola Smith would take her place.

She was followed by Andy Cole’s wife Shirley, Giggs’ Emma, OGS’s Silje and Scholes’ Claire. For a short period of time, Dwight Yorke was seeing the famous model Jordan, and she rose quickly to the top of the hierarchy, but one day she arrived at the Players’ Lounge at OT, and Victoria Beckham whispered to her allies ”who let the dog out”, and the poor Jordan plummeted right down to the bottom again.

(She then says that everyone was much friendlier to her after the games against Inter when Henning cleared the ball off the line. They were even invited for dinner by Andy Cole and Shirley, which she doubts would’ve happened if HB had been on the bench)

 Did Henning tell you about the Christmas party?
– No.
– No, I suppose he hasn’t. And when I tell you about it, he’ll say that there’s nothing strange about it at all, but there is. It’s crazy ! My god !

It’s December 1999, and the Gary Neville, Roy Keane and Dwight Yorke are organizing the Christmas bash.

They rented a nightclub in downtown Manchester called Reform. They got DJs, food, champagne, the next day off, and security guards to keep away City supporters.

 But do you think they invited us? She says. Oh no! The wives couldn’t come!
This was a Christmas party for the employees. The whole point was to get drunk with your colleagues and let family life sail its own sea for an evening.

The difference between ManU and other workplaces, says Line, was that all the employees were men. There were 25 players, some coaches and that was it. In a huge nightclub.

So what do you think the organizing committee did? They invited other ladies! A bunch of other women. It was Yorkie who arranged it. Of course it was Yorkie. He called around to modelling agencies and strip clubs and invited them. Only in Manchester there are thousands of girls who would die to get into a party like that.

These girls are called ”slappers”, she explains. They go to the clubs the players frequent. They dress as lightly as humanly possible, hang around the bar and drink their drinks with a straw. They lure like sharks, waiting for the right moment. Some of them are pros. They’ve got their own websites where they list the players they’ve gone to bed with. They make fortunes selling their stories to the tabloids. Kiss and tell, it’s called. The girls are celebrities. There’s reason to believe that Dwight Yorke is on plenty of lists.

And then you have the working class daughters who go out to find a husband. They are sent on their way with good luck wishes from their mother, and return home with a professional footballer and Louis Vutton handbags for the whole family. The weird thing is that those who succeed and go from being slappers to being footballers’ wives are well respected in England.

– Do you think the girls were enthusiastic when Dwight Yorke called and asked if the wanted to come to the party? A Christmas party with no footballers’ wives!
– So what did you do?
– We arranged our own party. A footballers’ wives Christmas party. We were at a place called the Sugar Lounge. Not all the wives. Some of them didn’t want to demean themselves choosing the second best option. Victoria want’s there, that would be sinking too deep. I guess there were ten of us. I don’t remember what we talked about. I suppose we just sat there, thinking about the other party. It wasn’t the greatest party, I can tell you that. At first we toasted, to unite against the boys, kind of. We joked a bit about the weird situation we found ourselves in.

And as we drank more, some of us got a bit agitated. They couldn’t joke away the bitterness and the jealousy. Not many English girls trust their boyfriends. And for good reason. Teddy’s wife in particular started cursing the other Christmas party. Nicola started speculating as to what was happening there and after working herself into a state she grabbed her purse and said “Come on girls, We’re going! Now!”

Nicola Sheringham ordered three taxis. Line wasn’t sure about this. It wasn’t even midnight and they were about to invade the Reform nightclub and tell all the models and strippers who the first ladies of Manchester were. Here they came. The women behind the men. They were strong. They were many. And they were, at this point, getting drunk. The cars stopped outside. Nicola counted her troops, drew her breath and stormed in. Line didn’t see exactly what happened. She never got into the club itself. On her way up the stairs, she met Sheringham and Bosnich. They had been standing with a young girl each when the wives entered the club. Now they were being pulled by their collars down the stairs. Bosnich and Sheringham were cursing and telling the women to calm down. The wives were screaming and said that enough was enough. ”We’re going home! And you’ve been out for the last time! You hear? For the last time?”

The leader of the organizing committee, Dwight Yorke, was left standing in the bar with his arms outstretched and a cluster of women around him. Was everyone leaving? The party had just started.

Ronny Johnsen and HB got their coats and joined their, in the circumstances, calm wives. They got in a black cab. Ronny and Henning said nothing special had gone on in there. It was just a normal party. The cab headed south.

”Oi” said the driver all of a sudden. “Look!”

He had pulled alongside another cab. In the back were two people facing each other. A man and a woman. The were gesticulating wildly. They were screaming. The woman was in tears. The man was pissed off.

”That must be Teddy Sheringham,” said the driver.
He laughed.
”I wonder what he’s been up to tonight. “