World Cup 2006: When England's WAGS went wild in Baden-Baden – and took the blame for failure

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After their brief pause for contemplation following the paparazzi-aided death of Princess Diana in 1997, the tabloids were back onside, too, with any new front-page photo of Victoria Beckham guaranteed to raise an individual day’s sale by tens of thousands of copies at a time of circulation decline.

The decision to allow the WAGs into Baden-Baden was manna from heaven for print media. “We knew before we went that it would be big, but we had no idea how hysterical it would get,” says Andy Lines. “It created a beast that could not be controlled and the people we met out there from the FA acknowledged that.”

By the time the WAGs landed on a plane from Stansted, events had begun to take the appearance of a script from Footballers’ Wives. Elen Rives missed her flight after attempting to board with five large pieces of hand luggage. Meanwhile, there was speculation that Mrs Beckham was arriving from Madrid with 30 pairs of jeans.

Both England and the WAGs began the tournament in hesitant fashion. A day after the wives arrived at Brenner’s Park and retired to bed straight after dinner, the team were unconvincing winners against Paraguay. It was here their paths split. While the men stuttered throughout the tournament, their women turned on an impressive display for the duration, shopping, drinking and entertaining the folks back home.

Champion time

The tone was set on the return to Brenners’ Park after the opener. The WAGs found themselves in the sedate hotel bar, where the primary form of entertainment was a pianist named Frederico playing the music of Cole Porter. Then the peach bellinis were ordered and arrived in sugared champagne flutes.

Pizzas and chips arrived on silver platters and were consumed, together with more peach bellinis, wine and beer

They were dispatched, and more requested. A few minutes later, the tinkling ivories were replaced by a high-pitched, giggly and not entirely accurate chorus of Queen’s We Are The Champions. Pizzas and chips arrived on silver platters and were consumed, together with more peach bellinis, wine and beer. While some cried off to bed as midnight struck, a hardy band – Coleen, Elen, Carly, David Beckham’s sister Joanne and Steven Gerrard’s partner Alex Curran among them – headed for one of the town’s few nightclubs, Garibaldi’s, and put away £300 worth of Moet and nine vodka Red Bulls.

The evening concluded at 3am, after Rives leapt on a bench to perform an enthusiastic dance routine. “She didn’t even damage the bench with her stilettos,” marvelled the bar’s owner, Carmine Tortora.

With its unfussy atmosphere, outdoor seating for tan-topping and bar staff who poured with a heavy hand, Garibaldi’s fast became an unofficial WAGs HQ. “We remember them well,” says the woman who answers the bar-restaurant’s phone in halting English. “The wives enjoyed themselves and we never had a problem. It was very exciting.”

Though the nightclub Maxi’s was also popular – especially with Rives, who on one visit silenced a party of Germans who dared to sing “We’re going to win the cup” before herself getting on a table and crooning I Will Survive – the fact that it only opened on weekends meant the WAGs’ biggest sessions were reserved for Garibaldi’s.

One memorable night followed a dinner organised by Nancy Dell’Olio, staged in a 12th-century moated castle. Having picked at lobster salad, raw milk cheese, smoked salmon tagliolini, beef tartare and saddle of lamb, the WAGs returned to Garibaldi’s to rack up an impressive bar tab, including bottles of Legas Grand Cru champagne, numerous vodka Red Bulls and glasses of Moet flavoured with strawberry syrup.

With the singing led by Coleen McLoughlin, the set list that night included a group chorus of “We’re not going home” followed by Three Lions, Rives’ version of “Super Frankie Lampard” and a rendition of God Save The Queen led by none other than Neville Neville, Phil and Gary’s father.

Almost as popular were the WAGs’ shopping trips, and the owners of Baden-Baden’s Gucci and Hermes franchises saw their decision to buy in an extra £200,000 in extra stock quickly vindicated. The Albert sunglasses store – where pairs of £500 designer shades were quickly snapped up – formed part of a circuit with boutiques Monica Scholz, Gero Mure and jeweller Bijou Brigitte.

On June 19, a day before the final group game, £57,000 was spent in just one hour, with Coleen showing off £900 worth of purchases and delightfully telling a reporter, “I just went out for a walk and I’ve come back with a few bits and pieces.” Sniffed the German newspaper Bild: “It has turned into Shopping-Shopping in Baden-Baden.”

A daily pattern had emerged. “Morning coffee or maybe a run in town, shopping, back to the hotel, then on the p**s,” says photographer Andrew Stenning. “It was full-on. They got no rest so neither did we. Our rest days were when we got sent to cover the England matches.”