Arise, Sir David — and show us your legs


The Times of London argues, in a lengthy and quite ser­i­ous piece by Matthew Syed, that David Beckham deserves a knight­hood not so much for being a great foot­baller but rather for being ‘the prime cata­lyst in the met­ro­sexual revolution.’

So Becks deserves to be awar­ded the highest hon­our in the land and made a Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter for preen­ing, pos­ing, and sym­bol­ic­ally wav­ing his legs in the air and show­ing an entire gen­er­a­tion how to wave their legs in the air too?

Seems fair enough.

After all, unlike most knights he’ll look great in stockings.

England’s new sporno kit sensation


The new England rugby strip, launched for this year’s World Cup, some­how man­ages to be even tighter than the last, launched just four years ago to massed gasps. Are our lads going to be able to breath in? Are we going to be able to breathe out?

What’s more, it has an added sash/arrow plunging from armpit down to large, firm thigh, as demon­strated by the very lovely young David Strettle, pic­tured left (snapped dan­cing on a spot­lit podium at Heaven nightclub). Is it just me, or does it seem to shout: ‘If You Wanna Score — Flip Me Over!’?

Apparently the new strip’s ‘asym­met­ric’ design will con­fuse oppos­ing play­ers. I could make the obvi­ous joke that they won’t know whether to tackle them or kiss them. But then, why can’t you do both? (I cer­tainly find this a very effect­ive tac­tic with rugby play­ers myself.) The way things are going it can only be a mat­ter of time before this approach becomes compulsory.

So instead I’ll point out that if there’s any truth to the sci­ence of eye-tracking, which sug­gests that most men like to look at other men’s pack­ets rather linger­ingly, our oppon­ents’ main con­fu­sion with that ‘dress­ing to the left’ pen­du­lous arrow will be work­ing out where to actu­ally loc­ate our boys’ tackle.

[See how the mean­ing of ‘rugby shirt’ has changed over the years from ‘baggy beer towel’ to ‘gay disco cock­tail top’.]

Sulking caused England’s World Cup meltdown

david-beckham-11.jpgIt’s offi­cial: foot­ballers really are Spice Girls now.

According to this report, it seems our lads’ dis­astrous World Cup per­form­ance was caused by the green eyed god­dess.  Apparently they were upset that their cap­tain David Beckham was get­ting all the atten­tion — they were so dis­tressed by this ter­rible injustice that they for­got to play foot­ball.  For their country.

Admittedly, thirty-something Becks is a little mutton-dressed-as-lamb now.  

Especially com­pared to some of the other tarty young(er) bucks on the England squad.  Fabulous Frankie ‘Legs’ Lampard, for instance, is more appet­isi­ing, more edible, more melt-in-the-mouth, more pop-tastic.  I’d throw my knick­ers at him anytime.  lampard-legs.jpg

So I can under­stand why some of the boys feel hurt.

All the same, England’s Spice Boys should be patient and accept that in the world of show­biz there has to be one front­man — and Becks has the global fan-base and facial recog­ni­tion.  And he is bet­ter look­ing than Geri.

Besides, every­one agrees that since he left the group England’s foot­balling boy­band have been even more rub­bish live.

Tip: Angophenia

England’s cricketers in snogging shocker!


Yesterday’s Daily Mirror, Britain’s second most pop­u­lar news­pa­per, and sup­posedly the ‘pro­gress­ive’ tab com­pared to The Sun, car­ried a spe­cial treat for its read­ers. On the front page of this­fam­ily paper was a pic­ture of hunky England crick­eters Jon Lewis and Jimmy Anderson mov­ing in for a tasty tongue sandwich.

The huge head­line shrieked ‘CAUGHT’ while the tan­tal­ising bold strap­line below the image announced with his­toric sign­fic­ance: ‘England World Cup Cricketers’ night of shame.’

This just gets hot­ter and hot­ter! God Bless the British tabs! They really know how to work up a man-love story.

So, pulse quick­en­ing, upper lip moisten­ing, I flicked hur­riedly to pages 4 and 5 for the ‘AMAZING EXCLUSIVE PICTURES AND FULL STORY.

STREWTH! Imagine a nation’s dis­ap­point­ment! All the sods offered was a b/w snap of Anderson plant­ing a wet one on Lewis’ cheek and some other snaps of bog-standard drunken lads beha­viour, some involving ran­dom bim­bos. WOT A FLOP!! England’s recent poor peform­ance on the pitch is as noth­ing com­pared to this.

Things were so bad I had to resort to read­ing the copy:

ENGLAND’s boozed-up cricket stars shamed them­selves dur­ing an eight-hour bender just 24 hours before their World Cup match against Canada.

Fans watched appalled as Jimmy Anderson, Jon Lewis, Liam Plunkett and Ian Bell downed end­less spir­its and bottles of Piton beer, shouted and screamed, ser­en­aded tour­ists and drunk­enly kissed each other.

The dis­grace­ful antics led to the four play­ers being fined and Freddie Flintoff — who had to be res­cued at sea after cap­siz­ing a ped­alo — being stripped of the vice-captaincy.

Flintoff said last night: “To my team mates and the England sup­port­ers I’m extremely sorry.” Yesterday England put up a feeble per­form­ance against Canada, one of the weak­est teams in the tournament.

No doubt the ‘feeble per­form­ance’ was down to all that snog­ging one another.

andrewflintoffheadshoulders.jpgFreddie, stripped or not, was not seen in the ‘appalling’ and ‘dis­grace­ful’ antics which most pre­oc­cu­pied The Mirror. Which is a shame, because he looks like a good man-snogger to me.

Whether or not Freddie & Co. deserved to be pun­ished for get­ting pissed up on a school night I can’t say, but I think the editor of the Mirror should def­in­itely be fined for being such a shame­less and ‘appalling’ pricktease.

I’m sure they must have snaps of the England crick­eters snog­ging prop­erly and man­fully with tongues and everything, but they didn’t print them. (And if they didn’t snog one another prop­erly then England really is in trouble.) Perhaps they were con­sidered ‘too shock­ing’ for Mirror read­ers. But then, the same paper had no prob­lems with print­ing col­our pic­tures of Madonna implant­ing an Alien baby in Britney’s chest cav­ity at the MTV Awards.

Young English straight men can’t stop snog­ging one another when they get bladdered. It’s one of the main reas­ons for get­ting bladdered in the first place. Trust me, I’ve made a study of these things. I have stood in a bar watch­ing rugby teams French kiss­ing one another in a way that puts the heavy pet­ting in gay bars to shame and won­der­ing when I was going to self-combust. I’ve reg­u­larly seen battle-hardened squad­dies snog one another in pubs in gar­rison towns, eyes closed, for longer than I can hold my breath, often in front of their bored girlfriends.

Next time, I’m tak­ing pic­tures of these shame­ful antics so you too can be appalled.

Beckham the virus goes to Hollywood

So Beckham, the über-metrosexual, the pho­to­genic English ath­lete who trans­figured him­self from mere pro­fes­sional soc­cer player into global me-dia, is leav­ing Real Madrid Football Club, his home for the past three years, and is now head­ing for the City of Signs.


Beckham became a Hollywood foot­baller years ago (around about the time of ‘Beckham the virus’, pos­ted below).  Certainly his bosses at Real Madrid seem to have found Becks more style than substance.

But in a met­ro­sexu­al­ised world style is almost everything now.  Even and espe­cially in the world of men’s sports. This is why his lack-lustre per­form­ance on the pitch dur­ing his time in Spain didn’t pre­vent his agent land­ing him a $1M a week salary at Los Angeles Galaxy — the biggest world sports deal ever.

Galaxy, like Real, have paid a hefty premium for Beckham’s unri­valled mer­chand­ising power. Galaxy also believe, to the tune of a mil­lion bucks a week, that Beckham can seduce America, so long peev­ishly res­ist­ant to the sweaty, clean-limbed — and increas­ingly coquet­tish - charms of soc­cer, and ‘open up’ a spec­tac­u­larly luc­rat­ive new young male mar­ket in the US.

Whether or not he suc­ceeds, America had bet­ter get ready for a little more soc­cer and a lot more met­ro­sexu­al­ity and Sporno. It was back in 2002 that the US was intro­duced to met­ro­sexu­al­ity and its poster-boy, David Beckham (by, erm, me: ‘Meet the met­ro­sexual’), and look what happened then.  With Becks actu­ally resid­ing and play­ing in the US the res­ults could be climactic.


America and Hollywood, so long at the cut­ting edge of com­modi­fy­ing mas­culin­ity, have fallen so far behind much of the rest of the world since the 1990s. Incredible as it may sound, American mas­culin­ity needs some tarty tips on how to tart it out more. Enter Becks, the tarti­est tart in Tart-Town.

This is why Beck’s friend­ship with Hollywood’s box-office king/queen Tom Cruise is more than just another foot­baller going celebrity chum­ming.  Cruise, the all-American Dream-boy gone wrong, needs Becks more than Becks needs Cruise who is now glob­ally rather less pop­u­lar than Becks.  Because this is about media power rather than polit­ical or mil­it­ary power, that’s to say the New Power, it’s the inverse rela­tion­ship of Bush and Blair.

Britain mean­while will envi­ously and resent­fully watch his every move reflec­ted across the pond, and start to feel like it’s miss­ing out.  And then Becks, cur­rently out of favour here, partly because of last year’s World Cup dis­aster but mostly because we don’t for­give him for mov­ing to Spain three years ago, will be back in vogue.

We Brits are fickle like that.



He’s one of the most fam­ous humans who has ever lived — even though he’s not that cute, not that smart and not that great a soc­cer player.

By Mark Simpson

[Originally appeared Salon, June 28, 2003)

It ha(n’t been like this since the death of Diana. Britain has been suf­fer­ing from a national nervous break­down ever since David Beckham, hand­some icon of the Manchester United soc­cer team, announced last week that he was leav­ing to play for Real Madrid.

The Sun, the best-selling UK tabloid, set up a Beckham “grief helpline” and claims it has been swamped with calls from dis­tressed fans. One caller said he was con­sid­er­ing sui­cide, while sev­eral con­fessed that they were so upset they couldn’t per­form in bed. A man who has “Beckham” tat­tooed on his arm threatened to cut if off. “I cried myself to sleep after hear­ing the awful news,” said grand­mother Mary Richards, age 85. A London cabby, ever the voice of reason, asked, “Has the world gone mad? He’s only a foot­baller!” But he was mis­taken. A foot­baller is now the least of what David Beckham is.

In the era of soc­cer that will come to be known as B.B. — Before Beckham — the sport was a team game. What mattered was the club, the team and the player in that order. Then in the mid-1990s, David Beckham — or “Becks” as he is known in that famil­iar, affec­tion­ately fore­shortened form with which the British like to address their work­ing class her­oes — came along, flicked his (then) Diana-style blond fringe and changed the face of soc­cer. It wasn’t his legendary right foot that altered the game, but his pho­to­genic face — and the fact that he used it to become one of the most recog­niz­able, richest and valu­able ath­letes in the world, receiv­ing a salary of $8 mil­lion per year, earn­ing at least $17 mil­lion more in endorse­ments and com­mand­ing a record trans­fer fee for his move to Real Madrid of $41.6 million.

Beckham’s greatest value is his cros­sover appeal — he interests not only those who have no interest in the club for which he plays, but those who have no interest in soc­cer. He is the most recog­nized sports­man in Asia, where soc­cer is still rel­at­ively new. Possibly only Buddha him­self is bet­ter known — though Beckham is catch­ing up there too: In Thailand someone has already fash­ioned a golden “Becks” Buddha. He’s even man­aged to interest Americans, for God’s sakes. The 27-year-old, tongue-tied, sur­pris­ingly shy working-class boy from London’s East End has suc­ceeded in turn­ing the mass, global sport of soc­cer into a mass, global pro­mo­tional vehicle for him­self, repro­du­cing his image in count­less coun­tries. He has turned him­self into a soc­cer virus, one that has infec­ted the media, rep­lic­at­ing him every­where, all over the world, end­lessly, mak­ing him one of the most fam­ous men that has ever lived.

David Beckham, in other words, is a superbrand.

In recog­ni­tion of this, Becks was the first foot­baller ever to receive “image rights” — pay­ment for the earn­ing poten­tial his image provided his club — and got them, to the tune of $33,300 a week. In fact, image rights were the main issue at stake in the record-busting six weeks of con­tract rene­go­ti­ations he had with Manchester United last year; his worth as a player was agreed at $116,500 a week almost imme­di­ately. Then there’s that $17 mil­lion a year for endors­ing such brands as Castrol, Brylcreem, Coca Cola, Vodafone, Marks & Spencer and Adidas. And Becks just keeps get­ting big­ger. His trusty law­yers have already registered his name for products as vari­ous as per­fumes, deodor­ants, jew­elry, purses, dolls and, oh yes, soc­cer jer­seys. Such is the power of the Beckham brand that it’s hoped it can res­cue the for­tunes of Marks & Spencer’s cloth­ing (a high-end British chain that has become a byword for “dowdy”).

But alas, the brand couldn’t save murdered Suffolk girls Holly and Jessica, poignantly pic­tured last year in police posters in match­ing rep­licas of his No. 7 red shirt. When it was still hoped that they might be run­aways, the man him­self made a broad­cast appeal for their return. There was the Becks, eer­ily right at the heart of the nation’s hopes and fears again.

a_becks_festeja_htop.jpgBeckham has even man­aged to brand a numeral — 7 — the num­ber on his soc­cer jer­sey. A clause in his Manchester United con­tract guar­an­teed him No. 7, he has 7 tat­tooed in Roman numer­als on his right fore­arm, his black Ferrari’s regis­tra­tion plate is “D7 DVB,” and his Marks and Spencer’s cloth­ing line is branded “DB07.” He even queues at No. 7 check­out when he goes shop­ping. This is often inter­preted as a sign of his super­sti­tious­ness, but is more an indic­a­tion of his very rational grasp of the magic of brand­ing. (He may, how­ever, have to settle for the num­ber 77 when he moves to Real Madrid, as the coveted 7 is already taken by Spanish super­star Raul.)

But some­how, Beckham has not yet become a vic­tim of his own suc­cess and has man­aged to remain offi­cially “cool.” Europe’s largest sur­vey into “cool” recently found that Beckham was the “coolest” male, accord­ing to both young women and men. Beckham’s status can be attrib­uted to his diva-esque ver­sat­il­ity and his super­brand power: “Like Madonna he is very ver­sat­ile and able to rad­ic­ally change his image but not ali­en­ate his audi­ence,” says pro­fessor Carl Rohde, head of the Dutch “cool hunt­ing” firm Signs of the Time. “He remains authen­tic.” Each time he goes to the hairdresser’s and has a restyle — which is alarm­ingly often — he ends up on the cover of every tabloid in Britain. In other words, whatever Becks does, how­ever he wears his hair or his clothes — or, cru­cially, whatever product he endorses — he is say­ing, as Rohde puts it, “this is just another aspect of me, David Beckham. Please love me.” And, it goes without say­ing, buy me. And mil­lions do.

Becks’ greatest sales suc­cess, how­ever, was actu­ally on the foot­ball field — though less with the ball than with the cam­era. He’s the most fam­ous foot­baller in the world, and con­sidered by mil­lions to be one of the greatest foot­ballers of all time, but argu­ably he’s not even a world-class player. A very fine one, to be sure, but not nearly the foot­baller we are sup­posed to think he is — not nearly the foot­baller we want to think he is. Sport, you might ima­gine, is the one area of con­tem­por­ary life where hype can’t win, where res­ults, at the end of the day, are everything. But Beckham has dis­proved that, has van­quished that, and rep­res­ents the tri­umph of P.R. over … well, everything. His con­tri­bu­tion to Manchester United was debat­able. On foot­balling skills alone, he is argu­ably not worthy of play­ing for the English national team, let alone being its cap­tain. However, in the last dec­ade soc­cer has become part of show busi­ness and advertising.

beckham.jpgBeckham is a hybrid of pop music and foot­ball, the Spice Girl of soc­cer — hence his mar­riage to one. He is — indis­put­ably — the cap­tain of a new gen­er­a­tion of pho­to­genic, pop-tastic young foot­balling lad­dies that added boy-band value to the mer­chand­ising and media pro­file of soc­cer clubs in the 1990s.

Beckham’s foot­balling forte is free kicks. This is entirely appro­pri­ate, since these are, after all, among the most indi­vidu­al­istic — and aes­thetic — moments in soc­cer. Unlike a goal, with a free kick there’s no one passing to you, no one to share the glory with. Instead there’s prac­tic­ally a spot­light and a drum roll. And how he kicks! “Goldenballs” (as his wife, Victoria, aka Posh Spice, reportedly likes to call him) has impress­ive accur­acy and his range is breath­tak­ing — along with his fam­ous “bend­ing” tra­ject­ory, his kicks also have style and grace. Long arms out­stretched à la Fred Astaire, wrists bent del­ic­ately upward, for­ward leg angled, and then — con­tact — and a power­ful, pre­cise, eleg­ant thwump! and follow-through. An Englishman shouldn’t kick a ball like this. This is the way that Latins kick the ball. Beckham doesn’t just rep­res­ent the aes­thet­i­ciz­a­tion of soc­cer that has occurred in a media-tised world — he is the aes­thet­i­ciz­a­tion of it. Like his silly hair­dos, like his “arty” tat­toos, like the extraordin­ar­ily elab­or­ate post-goal cel­eb­ra­tions he prac­tices with the crowd, almost everything he does on the field is designed to remind you that No. 7 is any­thing but a number.

Off the soc­cer field Becks is able to use clothes and accessor­ies to draw atten­tion to him­self. And does he. The Versace suits, the sarong, and the sequined track suit that opened the Commonwealth Games dazzled TV audi­ences and con­fused some for­eign view­ers who still thought the queen of England was a middle-aged woman. Essentially, Beckham’s visual style is “glam” — more Suede than Oasis (with a bit of con­tem­por­ary R&B pop promo thrown in). And like glam rock, which was a British working-class style run­ning riot in the dec­ade of his birth, the 1970s, Beckham, the son of Leytonstone pro­let­ari­ans, has a clear image of him­self as working-class roy­alty, the new People’s Princess (though his “super­brand” power has as yet been unable to sell us his wife, who, post-Spice Girls, remains unpop­u­lar and unsuc­cess­ful). Hence his wed­ding took place in a castle; at the recep­tion after­ward Posh and Becks were ensconced in match­ing His ‘n’ Hers thrones, and their Hertfordshire home was dubbed “Beckingham Palace” by the tabloids.

Soccer, like pop music, is one of the few ways the British are per­mit­ted any suc­cess — it is, after all, some­thing both manual and aris­to­cratic at the same time. Becks the foot­ball pop star rep­res­ents and advert­ises a mater­i­al­istic aspir­a­tion­al­ism that doesn’t appear bourgeois.

Beckham’s tat­toos — a lit­eral form of brand­ing — seem to epi­tom­ize this. What were once badges of male working-class iden­tity are now ways of advert­ising the unique Becks brand. “Although it hurts to have them done, they’re there forever and so are the feel­ings behind them,” Becks has explained. But these are not the kind of “Mum & Dad Always” tat­toos his plumber dad and his mates might have had. The huge, shaven-headed, open-armed, “guard­ian angel” with an alarm­ingly well-packed loin­cloth on his back looks more than a little like him­self with a Jesus com­plex. Beneath, in gothic let­ter­ing, is his son’s name: Brooklyn. Once his uni­form comes off at the end of a match — as it usu­ally does, and before any­one else’s — the tat­toos help him to stand out instantly, and mean that he is never naked: He’s always wear­ing some­thing designer.

becks-the-virus.jpgBecks clearly enjoys get­ting his tits out for the lads and lasses — and oil­ing them up for the cover of Esquire and other lad­die mags. While he may look strangely under­nour­ished and fra­gile in a soc­cer uni­form, as if his ghoul­ishly skinny wife has been tak­ing away his fries, and all those injur­ies sug­gest he’s some­what brittle, stripped down he looks as lithe and strong as a pan­ther. He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t do drugs. His body is a temple — to his own self-image — which he never ceases worshipping.

There is how­ever a sub­missive pho­to­philia to Becks. A cer­tain passiv­ity or even mas­ochism about his dis­plays for the cam­era, which seem to say “I’m here for you.” Hence per­haps the fond­ness for those Christ-like/James Dean-like poses with arms out­stretched (the cover of Esquire had him “cru­ci­fied” on the Cross of St. George). Even those free kicks seem to have the lop­ing icon­o­graphy of “Giant” or Calvary about them.  Truth be told, Becks is there for him, but it’s a nice thought nonetheless.

To some he is already a god — lit­er­ally. In addi­tion to the Thai Becks Buddha, a pair of Indian artists have painted him as Shiva, the Hindu god of destruc­tion. In the Far East, andro­gyny is seen as a fea­ture of god­head — and so it has here in the West as well since the Rolling Stones. As Becks tells us him­self: “I’m not scared of my fem­in­ine side and I think quite a lot of the things I do come from that side of my char­ac­ter. People have poin­ted that out as if it’s a cri­ti­cism, but it doesn’t bother me.” It’s as if when he was a teen­ager he looked at those grainy black-and-white ‘80s girl­ish bed­room shrine posters of smooth-skinned doe-ish male mod­els hold­ing babies and thought: I’d like to be like that when I grow up. Becks is the poster boy of what I have termed else­where met­ro­sexu­al­ity. His hero/role-model status com­bined with his out-of-the-closet nar­ciss­ism and love of shop­ping and fash­ion and appar­ent indif­fer­ence to being thought of as “fag­goty” means that for cor­por­a­tions he is a price­lessly potent vec­tor for per­suad­ing mil­lions, if not bil­lions, of young men around the world to express them­selves “fear­lessly,” to be “indi­vidu­als” — by wear­ing exactly what he wears. Beckham is the über-metrosexual, not just because he rams met­ro­sexu­al­ity down the throats of those men churl­ish enough to remain ret­ro­sexual and refuse to pluck their eye­brows, but also because he is a sports­man, a man of sub­stance — a “real” man — who wishes to dis­ap­pear into sur­fa­ce­ness in order to become ubi­quit­ous — to become me-dia. Becks is The One, and slightly bet­ter look­ing than Keanu — but, be warned, he’s work­ing for the Matrix.

Ultimately, though, it is his desire that makes him the super­brand that he is. Beckham has suc­ceeded where pre­vi­ous British soc­cer her­oes you’ve never heard of, such as George Best, Alan Shearer and Eric Cantona — a Frenchman who played for Manchester United and is John the Baptist to Beck’s Christ — have failed, and has become a truly global star. Partly because the world has changed but mostly because they didn’t want it as much as he did. Becks is trans­par­ently so much more needy — more needy than almost any of us is. The pub­lic, quite rightly, only lets itself love com­pletely those who clearly depend on that love, because they don’t want to be rejec­ted. Beckham’s need­i­ness is lit­er­ally bot­tom­less. Like his image, it grows with what it feeds on. He’ll never reject our gaze.

It’s there in his hungry face. He isn’t actu­ally that attract­ive. Blasphemy! No really, his face doesn’t have a proper sym­metry. His mouth is frog­like and bash­fully off-center. But what is attract­ive, or at least hyp­not­iz­ing in a demo­cratic kinda way, which is to say media­genic, is his neurotic-but-ordinary desire to be beau­ti­ful, and to use all the tech­no­logy and voo­doo of con­sumer cul­ture and fame to achieve this. His appar­ent lack of an inner life, his sub­missive, high-pitched 14-year-old-boy voice that no one listens to, his beguil­ing blank­ness, only emphas­ize his suc­cess, his power­ful­ness in a world of super­fi­ci­al­ity. That oddly flat-but-friendly gaze that peers out from bill­boards and behind Police sunglasses looks to beckham-g.jpgmil­lions like the nearest thing to god­li­ness in a god­less world. People fall in love not with him — who knows what Beckham is really like, or cares — but with his mul­ti­me­dia need­i­ness, his trans­mit­ted “viral” desire, which seems to spread and rep­lic­ate itself every­where, endors­ing mul­tiple products. Becks’ desire, via the giant shared toi­let handle of advert­ising, infects us, inhab­its us and becomes our own.

The British for their part, even those call­ing tabloid papers in tears to declare their lives ruined now that Beckham is mov­ing to Real Madrid, will sur­vive shar­ing him with the Spanish for a few years. After all, they’re already proudly shar­ing him with most of the rest of the world — and bask­ing in his reflec­ted glory. No one buys our pop music any more; our “Britpop” prime min­is­ter, Tony Blair, post-Iraq, is widely regarded abroad as a scoun­drel; our roy­als, post Diana, are a dreary bunch of sods (even her sainted son William is begin­ning to lose some of his Spencer spark and glow to the tired, horsey blood of his “German” dad and grandmama); and our national soc­cer squad has dif­fi­culty beat­ing coun­tries with a pop­u­la­tion smal­ler than Southampton.

But “our Becks” on the other, per­fectly man­i­cured hand, is some­thing British the world seems to actu­ally want. Badly.


Copyright Mark Simpson 2003

This essay is col­lec­ted in Metrosexy: A 21st Century Self-Love Story.


We’re Better at Everything, Mate: Australia’s Sports Complex

By Mark Simpson, Independent on Sunday (December 3, 2006)

We all know that Australians are bet­ter than us. Better look­ing, bet­ter at sport, bet­ter at party­ing, bet­ter at sex, bet­ter at real­ity TV shows. Mostly because they told us so. Very loudly.

Little won­der recent Government fig­ures showed half the pop­u­la­tion of the UK is giv­ing up on Britain and mov­ing to Australia – while the other half is try­ing to become Australian by watch­ing Neighbours or Kath and Kim or by wear­ing shorts and flip flops and drink­ing lager until they hurl. Even the UK’s ver­sion of Big Brother is clearly just a bunch of Brits pre­tend­ing to be Australians liv­ing in a shared house in Willesden.  In this topsy-turvy, anti­podean world, The Mother Country now wants noth­ing more than to be the Lucky Country. Mate.

But not every­one is com­pletely open about their Ozspirations.  Richard Beard’s Manly Pursuits: beat­ing the Australians (Yellow Jersey Press) is clearly about a nice, middle-class sport­ing Englishman’s quest to stop being English and become Australian – while pre­tend­ing to research a book about why the Australians are so much bet­ter at sports than we are. But he doesn’t say this.  Instead he says he wants find out why the fifty-third most pop­u­lated coun­try is fourth in the medals table at the Athens Olympics – and always spank­ing our much more pop­u­lous country’s puny, pale not-very-sporting bot­tom with a big, firm, sun-tanned hand.

So he travels to Manly, Australia (so named by Captain Arthur Philips because, Beard explains, of the man­li­ness of the naked abori­gines on the shore shout­ing ‘Go home whinge­ing Poms!’) and takes on the loc­als at bowls, shoot­ing, golf, swim­ming, surf­ing, run­ning and… pub quiz trivia. He mostly gets thrashed.  Even by pen­sion­ers and ladies. In between thrash­ings, he waxes lyr­ical about the strength and beauty of the sport­ing Australian male, com­pares and con­trasts Oz and Brit cul­ture (they’re great; we’re rub­bish), and dips into some colo­nial his­tory (they’re plucky; we’re just guilty). He of course, like most people, isn’t really inter­ested in beat­ing the Australians so much as join­ing them. Even if he hasn’t quite admit­ted it to himself.

I have to say that while Mr Beard is a good, thought­ful writer, and his book is cer­tainly more fun than a game of rugby against Australians on ster­oids, I didn’t find his shame­less Oz-worship some­thing to smile about. But then, I’m very pecu­liar. You see, I don’t believe Australians are ‘bet­ter’ than us and cer­tainly don’t want to become one.

Oh yes, I once shared Beard’s – and every­one else’s – enthu­si­asm for all things Australian. Raised on Skippy, Rolf Harris and swim­wear cata­logues I too yearned for a coun­try where the sun shone all day every­day, where every­one was your mate, kangaroos could talk and ‘Speedos’ meant ‘Y-fronts’.

And then I vis­ited Australia. And it quickly dawned on me that Australia, like Australian skin, is much bet­ter in long-shot. Australia is much more Australian from a dis­tance. Close up, it’s just not really worth 24 hours of recir­cu­lated flu vir­uses, deep-vein throm­bosis and Love Actually. It’s been left out in the sun too long.

There is though one thing that Australians are indubit­ably good at: selling Australia. Perhaps this shouldn’t be so sur­pris­ing since they run the world’s media. Oh, and, sorry, all the best-looking Australians we’ve seen already – either in their vis­it­ing rugby teams, their TV soaps, the Hollywood movies they hog, or in the Escort sec­tion at the back of gay mags. Leaving behind those hit with the ugly didgeri­doo to mind the Barbie.

OK, so they are actu­ally bet­ter at sport. Beard comes up with some reas­ons why. These are: the weather, booze (if you’re an Australian social club the easi­est way to get a license is to organ­ise ‘sport­ing activ­it­ies’ – so play­ing sport in Oz is quite lit­er­ally a way to get drunk), the weather again, all that meat in the diet, and the German Democratic Republic. Apparently Australia slav­ishly copied the GDR’s hugely suc­cess­ful cent­ral­ised approach to Olympic sports in the 1970s. And, I’d like to think, for much the same reason: both were tiny coun­tries that every­one was leav­ing that des­per­ately needed some good PR.

Oh, and: homo­sexu­al­ity. ‘Sport allows men to stare, in detail, without homo­sexu­al­ity alleged or feared,’ Beard explains. ‘Especially in swim­ming, where in this all-male club bod­ies are strain­ing, on their fronts, but­tocks up, naked, except for tiny lycra Speedos. It’s surely noth­ing but coin­cid­ence that everyone’s favour­ite words are “mate” and “fuck”.’

Now, I’ve always wanted to believe that Australian sports­men and their Speedo-clad butts are gag­ging for it – or rather me – but now I can cite Beard, someone I pre­sume is hap­pily het­ero­sexual, in case any Oz sports­man dares to disagree.

I though have a crazy hunch that, lycra fet­ish­ism aside, the main reason why Australians are bet­ter than us at sport is because they don’t hate themselves.

Beard’s oh-so-English self-deprecation, amus­ing for a while, does end up sound­ing like self-hatred (though when he really lets rip, as he does at the cringe­worthy Mike Atherton for example, he can rise to dazzlingly spite­ful poetry). On the per­en­nial Republican cam­paigns to redesign, i.e. de-Brit, the Australian flag he offers: ‘My own idea is to shrink the Union Jack in the corner of the exist­ing flag by half a cen­ti­metre each year. No one will notice, and in twenty years it’ll be gone.’

This seems to be Beard’s and much of today’s English middle-class’ atti­tude towards their own iden­tity. They hope their embar­rass­ing, awk­ward, damp, guilt-ridden Englishness will just wither away unnoticed and one day they’ll wake up some­thing inno­cent, tanned, laid-back and ath­letic with a swim­ming pool and actu­ally be able to bar­be­cue meat without send­ing people to hospital.

Sorry cob­bers, it ain’t gonna hap­pen. Australians have got not use for self-hating whinge­ing poms and their whim­sical self-mutilating sense of humour.  They’re too busy telling the world how great it is to be Australian. And con­quer­ing it.

Copyright Mark Simpson 2008

Sporno wins the World Cup


You might think that it was Italy’s greater ball-skills or stam­ina or team-spirit that won them the World Cup in the final against France last night.

But you’d be wrong.

Cleary, indubit­ably — as the pic­tures ‘expli­citly’ show - what won it for the Italians was not so much their sport­ing spirt as their sporno spirit. 

Earlier this year some play­ers from the Italian team recruited Dolce & Gabbana (or was it the other way around?) to pro­duce a spor­no­graphic fash­ion shoot of them all oiled up and ready for action in the locker-room.  In hind­sight we can see that the world was theirs for the asking/at their feet (etc. etc.) from that moment on.

Sporno, the post-metrosexual porno aes­thetic that sports and advert­ising are using to sell us the male body is, well, irres­ist­ible.  Even for the French — who were, let’s face it, a much uglier bunch.  First Portugal defeat England because Ronaldo is tartier than Becks and swoon­ier than Rooney, then Italy defeat France because the punters would much rather cel­eb­rate with them in the locker-room than the French. 

Italian21.jpgIt’s no longer enough for the male body to be presen­ted to us as desir­able, or desir­ing to be desired, as it was in the early days of met­ro­sexu­al­ity.  This doesn’t prof­fer an intense enough image.  It’s not shock­ing or arous­ing enough any more.  In fact, it’s just too… nor­mal.  Now the male body has to prom­ise us an (immacu­lately groomed, waxed and pumped) gang-bang in the showers.

Though of course, because this is sporno and not actual por­no­graphy, it remains just that: a prom­ise.  Advertising offers us not just a fet­ish of the spo/urting male body but also of his… under­wear.  Commodity fet­ish­ism is usu­ally the name of the sporno game, just as it was for met­ro­sexu­al­ity.  However, the homo­pro­voc­at­ive nature of sporno is much less easy to dis­avow than it was in metrosexuality. 

I mean, just look at the pic­tures.

One of the espe­cially pecu­liar — and frus­trat­ing — effects of a spor­no­graphic world how­ever is that more and more men at the gym tend to wear their under­wear or trunks in the showers .

Which seems to me to be really dirty. 



Ronaldo says ‘sorry’ to Rooney — and swallows his pride

ronaldosorry.jpgIf a pic­ture can paint a thou­sand words then why can’t I paint Roo?’

Someone today kindly emailed me this pic­ture of Ronaldo ‘mak­ing up’ with Manchester United team-mate Roo after the World Cup hissy fit.  I’m not sure whether the old cliché is always true but spor­no­graphic images are always more elo­quent - or just hot­ter - than words.  Certainly it renders yesterday’s post­ing some­what redundant. 

And it makes me warm all over to think that Ronaldo can put that big, pout­ing, ref-pestering Portugese gob of his to a use­ful, paci­fy­ing pur­pose (defus­ing the boner Roo had to pick with him without get­ting split in two).  I only wish the apo­logy were a little more expli­cit.  Not to men­tion convincing. 

But, alas, even Photoshop has its lim­its.  This amus­ing example of homemade sporno cur­rently over­heat­ing tens of thou­sands of Inbox’s around the world does at least prove some­thing: when it comes to young sport­ing bucks, I’m def­in­itely not the only one with a dirty mind.


That’s Roo-d! Eurotwink Ronaldo meets scallyboy Rooney and has a sore time of it

Christiano Ronaldo.jpg

rooneystoryget15.jpgDoes England and Manchester United foot­baller Wayne Rooney (in the white) read Out on the sly, per­haps hid­den inside a copy of Zoo?  He seems to be tak­ing ‘Sporno’ to new extremes.

British tabloid The Sun claims today that bit-of-rough Roo has con­fided in ‘talks with pals’ ‘over break­fast’ that ‘pretty boy’ Manchester United team mate Christiano Ronaldo has finally tor­men­ted the scouse scally­boy too much.  I know how he feels.

A frus­trated Wayne is now sup­posedly vow­ing to ‘split him in two’ next time they meet in the locker rooms of Old Trafford.

The Sun describes Christiano as a ‘slip­pery winker’ – so it sounds as if he’ll be ready for Roo.

Either way, I sin­cerely hope one of them remem­bers to switch their camphones on.  This his­toric encounter should be recor­ded for, erm, posteriority. 

(And in case you think my report is slanted and fant­ast­ical, you should have a look at The Sun’s.)



Sporno: where sport and porn meet and produce a spectacular money shot

Just in time for the World Cup the July issue of the re-launched OUT fea­tures an essay by yours truly on the post-metrosexual pornoliz­a­tion of sport — or what I dub ‘sporno’.  Here’s a (breath­less) taster:

Sportsmen on this side of the Atlantic are increas­ingly openly acknow­ledging and flirt­ing with their gay fans, à la David Beckham and Freddie Ljunberg (the man who actu­ally looks the way Beckham thinks he looks). Both these thor­ough­breds have posed for spreads in gay magazines and both have wel­comed the atten­tion of gay fans because they “have great taste”.

More than this, they and a whole new gen­er­a­tion of young bucks, from twinky soc­cer play­ers like Manchester United’s Alan Smith and Cristiano Ronaldo, to rougher pro­spects like Chelsea’s Joe Cole and AC Milan’s Kaka, keen to emu­late their suc­cess, are act­ively pur­su­ing sex-object status in a post-metrosexual, increas­ingly pornolized world.

In other words: they’re not just sports stars, but sporno stars’

You can read the full essay here.