It has been a busy week for the so-called footie idiot, writes Tommy Martin.
The pithy term was coined by The Sun in a 2016 story headlined ‘The Fall of Sterling: Life and Times of Three Lions footie idiot Raheem Sterling’, a rather grandiosely-titled hatchet job on the then embattled England star.
The undertones — racial, class or otherwise — of that particular strand of tabloid reportage have been well debated elsewhere, but the concept of the footie idiot has since gone from strength to strength.
A true footie idiot story is not simply about a footballer appearing to be a bit stupid — a misspelled tweet, a tense-mangling post-match interview or footage of our hero wandering out of a nightclub in a state of dishevelment.
No, there must be an element of the bizarre or the comedic in a proper footie idiot story, and ideally it should work as a moral fable, illustrating in some way that this lot are overpaid and off their heads. The original Sterling story — sparked by the player ‘flaunting’ a crystal-encrusted toilet sink in the mansion he’d bought for his Mum JUST DAYS after England’s Euro 2016 exit — is a case in point.
The genre existed long before that however, perhaps born the day that David Beckham wore a sarong in the full glare of the paparazzi, and today a high percentage of journalism consists of newsrooms scouring footballers’ social media platforms for suitable examples of perceived idiocy.
Franck Ribery is the footie idiot du jour after his well-publicised misadventure with a gold flake-dusted tomahawk steak in Dubai last week.
Ribery received a ‘hefty fine’ from Bayern Munich for his potty-mouthed response to critics of his visit to the Dubai restaurant owned by Nusret Gokce, better known as Salt Bae.
Salt Bae, in case you are unfamiliar with his work, is a muscular Turkish celebrity chef who earned fame by posting online clips of himself stylishly slicing and seasoning large chunks of meat. He does this while sporting slicked-back hair, sunglasses and skin-tight white t-shirts, a look best described as ‘unnamed baddie in a Jean Claude Van Damme movie’.
Salt Bae’s elaborate meat-carving ritual is a big hit with celebrity customers, whose number has included Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba and Ribery’s Bayern Munich teammate Robert Lewandowski.
The videos of these encounters put one in mind of that old Robin Williams quote about cocaine: Having a strange Turkish man cut your gigantic golden steak is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.
Ribery posted a Twitter clip showing Salt Bae at work, provoking accusations of tasteless extravagance and insensitivity to those less fortunate, as if diverting oversized gold-plated rib-eyes to famine-stricken regions might solve global hunger.
Ribery was having none of the haters.
“Let’s start with the envious,” he tweeted, “the hateful, who have surely come through a condom with a hole. Fuck your mothers, your grandmothers and even your ancestors.”
It’s not clear if was actually angry at his detractors or just suffering bad indigestion.
Other footie idiots on show this week were: Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, in the dock with the FA for an Instagram photo which appears to show him enacting a pose that might once have been described as Comedy Hitler; Andres Iniesta, posing happily with two men in blackface while celebrating the Spanish Epiphany festival, Three Kings Day (there were four kings in the picture, but that’s not what people are mad about); and, posing less happily, Wayne Rooney, recidivist footie idiot, whose mugshot was released after he staggered drunkenly off a flight at Washington Dulles Airport and was arrested for swearing at ground staff.
Obviously the main characteristic of the footie idiot story is the existence of social media, without which most of these public debasements would be impossible. The Hennessey incident brings to mind a story a friend tells about a 1980s Irish celebrity who his parents briefly befriended. The star’s party piece in those carefree, pre-Instagram days was using the ash from a burnt wine cork to make a moustache and slicking his hair to the side, then performing an energetic impression of Der Fuhrer. Good times.
But the enduring appeal of the footie idiot trope lies in the desire to show just how weirdly money has warped these poor, uneducated creatures and how out of touch they seem with normality. People hark back to the days when a footballer was called Stan, earned little more than the man on the street, drove a Ford Escort and cut his own damn steak.
On the contrary — in truth, few people embody the broader spirit of their times more than the footie idiot. If footballers were once working class heroes, in the age of the idiot, the footie idiot is king.
“Life…is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” said Macbeth, presumably after scrolling through Twitter one evening, and our footballer brethren are merely a product of their environment.
We live in a time when King of the Jungle is a more prestigious position than Poet Laureate; when YouTuber and influencer are smarter career choices than medicine or the law; when the leader of the free world is, well, an actual idiot. These days, it would really weird not to post a video of yourself being served a gigantic gold-dusted steak for everyone to see.
Take Salt Bae himself. He was a poor Kurdish kid who left school early to work in an Istanbul butcher’s shop.
Success, however, came not just through hard work and learning how to cook really good steak, but also required him to prance ridiculously around the steak on the internet, thereby transforming himself into that sacred thing: A meme.
In an era when everything must be recorded and shared, it is only possible to stand out if one is either particularly brilliant or particularly idiotic. The latter is much easier to do, and it is the genius of the footie idiot story that the player involved is able to shed themselves of the actual real life brilliant thing that they do, and fully inhabit their idiocy for that brief moment in time.
They truly are role models for us all.