When Wayne Bridge learned of his ex-girlfriend’s relationship with John Terry, his friend and England colleague, the Manchester City defender expressed his hurt via statements to the press. Later, when he was faced by Terry in the team line-ups prior to his club’s Premier League match with Chelsea in February, Bridge declined the customary handshake. Last week, however, Newcastle United’s Andy Carroll allegedly responded to a similar dressing room betrayal in a decidedly different manner. As several sources reported at the time, Carroll’s teammate, Steven Taylor, required hospital treatment for a suspected broken jaw following an argument between the two men supposedly over the attentions of a young woman. Carroll’s former girlfriend is believed to have sent ‘sex text’ messages to Taylor, an insult to the pride of the former that reportedly resulted in injury to the latter.
The respective reactions of the two men appeared to match the reputations they had cultivated thus far in their careers. Bridge’s sense of calm allowed him to emerge from the week or two of tabloid speculation with his dignity intact. He handled a private situation in the public eye in the refined manner that you would hope a media-savvy Premier League footballer to do, and in a manner that complemented his reputation as a steady if unspectacular full back and as an equally level-headed man. In contrast, Carroll’s alleged assault last week was only the most recent example of the player’s anger management issues. He was recently charged with assault following an incident in December 2009 and had a well-publicised bust-up with then-teammate Charles N’Zogbia on the training ground last year. In September 2008, Carroll was also cautioned over an assault on a woman in Newcastle city centre.
If a man is judged by his actions, then, it is quite clear that Bridge and Carroll are very different people. They perform very different roles as footballers too. Unlike Bridge’s understated presence on the pitch at full back, Carroll can enjoy hero status through his performances in attack. The goals he has scored for Newcastle this season, during his first extended run in the team, have helped take the club to the top of the Championship table. There’s not much to warrant hero worship elsewhere in Carroll’s actions, of course, but then such is the dichotomy between fans’ relationship with players as footballers and as individuals. Just as a romantic poet might have a personality that is repellent to the reader, the football fan tries to reserve their judgement for the player’s actions on the pitch alone. Sometimes, however, as with John Terry and Andy Carroll, this stance is mighty hard to maintain.
Setting aside both men’s characters and personal histories, though, perhaps the way in which we, the public, respond in such instances to the respective reactions of Bridge and Carroll can be informed by differences in culture between the Premier League and the Championship. It is arguable that the ability of both Bridge and Terry to attract the attentions of Vanessa Perroncel, a lingerie model, was the result of their status as Premier League footballers. That is not to say that Perroncel was drawn to either man’s money or fame, even if it is unlikely to have been their smouldering good looks or sparkling repartee. Instead, the fact is that neither man would have had the opportunity to enter a relationship with a woman as glamorous as Perroncel had her social life not overlapped with theirs at London’s most exclusive nightclubs, restaurants, and parties. Premier League footballers date models because the two groups move in the same circles. The average fan is more likely to empathise with Carroll’s humdrum predicament, in having an insensitive colleague who acts with machismo rather than discretion when he is the recipient of racy text messages. The average man is likely to want to punch their tormentor in such circumstances too. Committing the act is quite another matter, though, and Carroll deserves no sympathy for his behaviour even if, perversely, we understand his situation better than we do Bridge’s.