World Cup 2006: When England's WAGS went wild in Baden-Baden – and took the blame for failure
In the early hours of July 2, 2006, in a hotel bar in Baden-Baden, a party of Englishmen came across a German even more upset than them by England’s World Cup elimination to Portugal on penalties.
“It was the head barman from Garibaldi’s bar. He was drunk and weeping uncontrollably,” says journalist Andy Lines. “One of us put an arm around him and told him it wasn’t so bad, but he wasn’t really worried about England. He said, ‘The best three weeks of my life are over. Nothing like this will happen again.’”
The press called them ‘hooligans with credit cards’ but most knew them as the WAGs – an abbreviation of ‘wives and girlfriends’
Eight years on in the sedate resort known by some locals as ‘God’s waiting room’, it’s hard to fault his assessment. A couple of Wayne Rooney photos in Garibaldi’s Bar aside, there is little sign that for the best part of a month in 2006, a town which hosted Queen Victoria, Marlene Dietrich, Charles de Gaulle and Adolf Hitler briefly became world-famous all over again.
That it did had little to do with Rooney and his team-mates, who spent much of their stay at the Schloss Buhlerhohe Hotel, a 20-minute climb into the Black Forest mountains.
The credit belonged to future wife Coleen, a modern Queen Victoria, her friend Cheryl and a group of long, lean, vaguely orange young ladies who went to Baden-Baden to support their partners and have fun with their mates, and ended up being blamed for overshadowing then ruining England’s World Cup. The press called them ‘hooligans with credit cards’ but most knew them as the WAGs – an abbreviation of ‘wives and girlfriends’ coined by the Mail On Sunday.
You might remember the headlines. Victoria Beckham supposedly taking 60 pairs of sunglasses. Bottles of Veuve Cliquot drunk through straws. The £57,000 hour-long shopping trip. Frank Lampard’s girlfriend Elen Rives exchanging honest words with German fans. The pear bellinis. The brief emergence of Joe Cole’s partner Carly Zucker – she of the early-morning jogs in crop tops – as a tabloid star.
Or you might remember the hangover. “We became a bit of a circus,” Rio Ferdinand said in 2008. “Football almost became a secondary element to the main event. People were worrying more about what people were wearing or where people were going than the England football team.”
“Beckham believed wives should be there”
When the FA announced the location of their World Cup base back in December 2005, such criticism seemed unthinkable. Says Brigitte Goertz-Meissener of the Baden-Baden tourist office: “You could not do much better than staying in the magnificent Black Forest, where you can gather up your forces perfectly to be well-prepared for games.”
“We thought it was as secluded as it could be,” says then-FA chairman Brian Barwick. “The hotel and training base were miles out of town. We were up a hill and I thought it was one of the most isolated places I’d ever been. Meanwhile, we knew the players’ wives could stay down in the town in the Brenner’s Park Hotel and see their partners occasionally but generally be free to do what they wanted.”
Of the 23-man squad, only 19-year-old Aaron Lennon didn’t bring a partner
When the base was revealed on December 15 2005, coach Sven-Goran Eriksson gave some idea of what that WAG agenda might be when he praised Baden-Baden’s “marvellous atmosphere, with some wonderful restaurants and cafes”.
The Swede had lobbied hard both for the venue and for England’s players to bring their families along if they wanted to, and they did. Of the 23-man squad, only 19-year-old Aaron Lennon didn’t bring a partner, and all the players were supported by family members. In total, the England entourage numbered 110.
“Sven was close to David Beckham and Beckham believed that the wives should be there,” says journalist Oliver Holt. “You can see how Baden-Baden appealed to Sven as a location. It’s affluent. There’s a very upmarket spa. There’s an opera house. There’s a beautiful river that runs through a park. The equivalent place in Britain would be somewhere like Bath, but smaller and more chi-chi.”
Many harrumphed about the decision to invite WAGs, with former skipper Alan Shearer and former manager Sir Bobby Robson among those who insisted they should have gone only to England’s pre-tournament training camp in the Algarve. However, Eriksson and Beckham – both in the autumns of their England careers – dug in their heels, pointing out that the WAGs would be paying their own way.
Says David Davies, then a high-ranking FA staffer: “We could not go against the captain’s wishes and you have to give the coach what the coach wants. Some managers go the other way and want privacy. Glenn Hoddle had it as a high priority in 1998, as did Fabio Capello in South Africa. It’s horses for courses. Some coaches and managers believe in having wives and girlfriends nowhere near the team.”
As was the case in 1966, when the England squad’s only contact with their wives during the victorious World Cup campaign was a joint outing to the shops in Golders Green. Yet in the intervening 40 years the nation’s relationship with celebrity had moved on, too.
While Tina Moore, Norma Charlton, Judith Hurst & Co. could pass unnoticed at the shops and on their eve-of-the-final theatre trip to The Black And White Minstrel Show, their 2006 counterparts had their every movement recorded by OK! and Closer, Heat and Hello.