A game of better halves

HERE COME the WAGs.

A game of better halves

The wives and girlfriends of the Irish soccer team can join the fun, supporting their men at Euro 2012 and glancing at their female competition — the international WAGs.

After a 10-year absence from an international tournament, the Irish WAGS will be out in force, led by Claudine Keane, model and wife of the Irish captain, Robbie.

Claudine, 28, will cheer on the Irish team with her son, Robbie, two, mother Joan, and other relatives.

“It is a once-in-a-life opportunity,” Claudine says.

For Claudine, the Euro 2012 celebrations have begun, as this week it was announced she has reached the semi-finals in a competition to be crowned top WAG by the Italian fan magazine, La Gazzetta dello Sport.

Although Claudine looks every inch the glamorous footballer’s wife, with her long blonde hair and slim figure, she says she is not a typical WAG.

“I take it all with a pinch of salt, because that is just life,” she told one interviewer. “But, yes, it can be frustrating because when I first met Rob, all the hype was around boy bands, not football players. It was all about 5ive and Westlife. It wasn’t like it is now with footballers.”

Indeed, the WAGs first came to prominence during the 2006 World Cup in South Africa, thanks to the styling and shopping habits of Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole, Coleen Rooney and the rest of the England soccer team’s wives and girlfriends.

The English media followed the WAGs’ every move in Baden Baden, and commented on every aspect of their lifestyle, from their hair extensions and fake tans to their short shorts and their Christian Louboutin shoes.

“It was a circus,” said Rio Ferdinand, the English centre-back. The England team’s defeat in the quarter-finals, on penalties to Portugal, was blamed on them being distracted by their WAGs.

For the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the then England manager Fabio Capello famously banned the WAGs from attending. But with disastrous results. England was beaten 4-1 by Germany in the second stage of the competition.

So, not surprisingly, the subject of partners and families attending major championships has been a difficult issue for national managers. Are they a distraction for the players? Or do the players miss their families, and are so bored it affects their game?

Ireland’s manager, Giovanni Trapattoni, has agreed that the WAGs can come, but under strict conditions.

“It is trying to get a balance,” says an FAI spokesman. “The players spend a long time in camp together, around five weeks or so, so it is good for the players to have some time to relax themselves, switch their minds off a little bit, so that they can recharge the batteries. But they are expected to be ready for the football, that is why they are there, to be in perfect shape to play football. So while they will have time to relax, they are expected to concentrate on their games. After all, it is ten years since we were in a major tournament.

“The players will be given some free time, which they will be allowed to spend with their families. But it will only be a few hours, it is not to go off for the night, or anything like that.”

Although some national managers have imposed sex bans before matches, there has been no mention of it for the Irish squad.

“I was a player, I know what it is like, but they must be sensible,” says Trapattoni. “It is like food, if you eat, eat, eat you will end up dead from food.”

So while the Irish team are staying at the luxurious five-star Sheraton Hotel in Sopot, Poland, enjoying their own private games room, dining room and a floor to themselves, their families will have to make their accommodation arrangements.

Joining Claudine Keane will be another high-profile WAG, Jane Given, the wife of goalkeeper Shay, and their two children, Shayne and Sienna.

Again, Jane epitomises the style and life of a WAG. Tall, blonde and beautiful, she is best friends with the Westlife wives and has long since given up her job as a primary school teacher.

She is also involved in charity work, raising millions for their cancer charity, Fashion Kicks.

Although Jane has also criticised her WAG label, claiming she “just happens to be married to a footballer”, there is no doubt the cameras will also focus on her, and the column inches will be written.

Stephen Ward, the Irish left back, is delighted his partner and children will be able to enjoy “this special moment” and praises Trapattoni for understanding his players.

“Some managers don’t want wives or girlfriends staying, but I think it is great. Football will always come first, but you can’t lock yourself away for 24 hours a day kicking a ball.

“Players need to be able to switch off and relax, at some point, and most would want to spend their afternoons with their families,” he says.

And what about that ‘other’ competition — how will our WAGs compete in the style stakes on such a large international stage?

Although the queen of WAGs, Victoria Beckham, will not be attending Euro 2012 — David wasn’t picked for the England team and her under-study, Cheryl, is now divorced from her errant ex-husband, Ashley — England will still be well-represented by Coleen Rooney, Steven Gerrard’s wife Alex Curran, and Frank Lampard’s fiancée, TV presenter Christine Bleakley.

But the strongest country for WAGs is Spain. Sara Carbonero, the sports journalist girlfriend of the Spanish goalkeeper, has just been voted the sexiest TV reporter in the world by FHM magazine.

The Spanish central defender, Gerard Pique’s girlfriend is, famously, the popstar Shakira. She has boasted that she has never missed any of his games, and can’t wait for Euro 2012 to start.

So, on June 10, when the whistle blows at 7.45pm, and our World Cup campaign begins against Croatia, enjoy the football, but take a peak and see what our WAGs are wearing. Let’s hope the boys in green, or their WAGs, don’t let us down.

Style stakes

Above, a selection of the t-shirts and hoodies available from Matchjunkie.com featuring the slogans for rugby — “You’ve Been ROGered”; soccer — “Ireland’s Finest” and “Trapattoni”; below, soccer — “I’m A Keeper”.

Addicted to sport? Better look the part. With Ireland’s Euro 2012 bid only days away, not to mention summer’s GAA fixtures in full swing, there’s never been a better time to get kitted out. Yet the prospect of a shiny replica jersey doesn’t exactly say ‘stylish Irish’; especially when paired with an oversized leprechaun hat and braided yarn necklace. Not a good look. So what’s the alternative?

Enter Matchjunkie.com — the latest style solutions for pitch-side statement-wear. Started in 2011 by three Kerry entrepreneurs, the website offers a wide selection of humorous t-shirts and hoodies for soccer nuts, GAA disciples and rugby buffs alike. So if you ‘Fancy A Ruck’, ‘Tackle From Behind’ or have a fondness for ‘Small Balls’, now’s the time to log on.

Co-founder Simon Benner says: “We are already inundated with requests for our Ireland soccer range showing our support for the boys in green at Euro 2012. New items are being added to the range on a weekly basis. We also have a children’s range coming out called MatchMunkies.”

The price to be paid for fashionable fan regalia is a reasonable one: €19.99 for organic cotton t-shirts and €39.99 for hoodies, available for men and women in sizes small to extra large. Not sure which one to choose? Slogans range from the cheeky ‘Hookers Rule’ to the bawdier ‘I Love KY’; while ‘Tommy Beau’ and ‘God Save Our Keane’ are worth a try. Still in doubt? Why not avail of the online wish list facility; or purchase a MatchJunkie gift certificate for your favourite fan? Delivery (1-2 working days) is €4.50 within Ireland; with international shipping also available.

Time is ticking match junkies, so get ready to feed that addiction.

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