Vilification of 'rat' king Cole has gone too far

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You’d think we’d be sated by all the revelations about Ashley Cole by now, but I still have one unanswered question: at what point in this whole affair did the Chelsea and England defender change his name by deed poll to Rat Cole?

Everytime I picked up a tabloid last week ‘Rat’ Cole was committing another grievous offence against his soon to be ex-wife Cheryl, the most iconic female martyr Britain has produced since Princess Diana went all panda-eyed on Panorama.

One tabloid front page – apologies for not remembering which but after a while they all become one blur of bold typography, exclamation marks and words like sink, revenge, low or suffer – screamed: “Rat Cole sinks to new low!” This certainly grabbed my attention.

What depths of depravity had the greatest left-back in the game today sunk to now? Had he seduced the Pope? Destroyed a small Spanish holiday resort on a drunken rampage? Or, worst of all, signed up for the new series of Celebrity Love Island?

Ashley consoles himself with a trip to market...

In case you didn’t see the story, I won’t keep you in expense. The lowdown dirty ‘Rat’ Cole had had the unmitigated gall to say that the marriage began to go wrong when his mother-in-law moved in.

I felt a bit cheated at this point. If you’ve had as many extra-marital affairs as ‘Rat’ Cole allegedly has, to truly sink to a historic new low requires more effort than merely complaining about his mother-in-law in a manner that Les Dawson, were he alive today, would thoroughly approve of.

With each revelation, each additional layer of lurid detail, each ‘friend’ interpreting the participants’ true emotions – the real, complex story of a famous marriage gone horribly wrong is reduced to an entertaining, long-running yet utterly predictable cartoon in which the leading characters are a saint and a rat.

Watching this cartoon, the great British public – many of whom struggle to understand the complexities of their own marriages – have passed swift, satisfying and, in many cases, hypocritical judgement.

The public vilification of ‘Rat’ Cole has become so extreme that even his complaint about his mother-in-law’s presence in Hurtmore House, the aptly named Surrey mansion where the Coles lived, merely succeeded in giving mothers-in-law, one of the great pantomime villains of British society, a good name.

Although his lament did seem a tad ingenuous as she only moved in after allegations of the Rat’s first extra-marital affair.

Dawson - not a fan of mother in laws

Stupid, serially unfaithful, selfish, pathetic and deceitful; the Chelsea and England left-back has been all of these. His famous remark that he swerved off the road in anger after ‘only’ being offered £55,000 a week by Arsenal had stereotyped him as an ungrateful mercenary even before he betrayed the most popular woman in Britain.

That business of getting a Chelsea official to cover for him was shabby too although, as Tony Cascarino pointed out, similar shenanigans have been going on in football since time immemorial – especially on pre-season tours where even clean cut, happily married footballers have often behaved as if the old TV industry acronym OLDC (On Location Doesn’t Count) applied to them.

And yet, if we’re honest, who among us thinks that having a live-in mother-in-law is a recipe for a happy marriage? And did the most powerful man in Britain today – Simon Cowell of course, not Gordon Brown – really have to be consulted before the split was announced?

This kind of public scandal is like nuclear war, there are no winners, just survivors.

Right now, Rat Cole’s stock is so low he’d lose a by-election if he was running against a civilian kidnapping Somali pirate, while Cheryl is flying off to America to build a new career (It’s a measure of Britain’s colonial arrogance, or tabloid stupidity, that we assume that all she has to do to ‘conquer’ America is land at JFK airport). 

"I promise I'll never leave your side, darling..."

The scandal may have given Cheryl the intriguing aura of a troubled, martyred icon but she’d probably still rather have her marriage.

If this has been the worst week in the Coles’ lives, it’s hardly been a vintage one for Fabio Capello. The England manager must be appallingly impressed by English football’s ability to self-destruct.

His first choice left-back, who should be focusing on recovering for the World Cup, has been condemned in absentia by the British media. His first choice centre-backs, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, struggle with fitness and form, and if Rio’s back doesn’t recover, Capello may have to appoint a third captain in less than five months.

His first choice right-back Glen Johnson is still out with a knee injury. It looks increasingly unlikely that Owen Hargreaves will anchor England’s midfield in South Africa.

Just when Capello thought things couldn’t get any worse, Gordon Brown has likened his predicament to the England manager’s.

Does that mean England have about as much chance of winning the World Cup as Labour has of winning the next election?

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