Chris Waddle has angered people with his opinions again. The recently retired David Beckham, England’s Rose, has been the subject of a savage broadside from this former yeoman of the mullet, who has declared that the former Preston North End winger wouldn’t make his list of the top 1,000 Premiership players of all time.
Waddle has form for this, having once angered Arsenal fans for suggesting that Theo Walcott has no footballing brain. He will only continue to dispense such savage barbs as he persistently throws himself elbow-first into the most fragile of footballing discourse, in the vain hope that it will divert attention from an underwhelming media career. His greatest contribution to the world of football analysis thus far has been his consistent mispronunciation of the word penalty as ‘pelanty’. Does he do this because he’s melanty ill? No. Like everything provocative he ever says, he does it for a good reason, and I must confess – I suspect I am that reason. You see, on some cosmic level, though he may not realise it, Waddle has a point to prove to me.
As a child discovering football, the first thing I ever learnt about him was that he once missed a penalty (perhaps this was the psychological trigger for his tragic speech impediment?) in pretty much the worst way possible. The second thing I learnt about him was that he had an amusing name, thanks to The Fast Show reducing it to a comic staple. The third thing was that he had an electrifying screen presence in that Pizza Hut advert he did with Stuart Pearce and Gareth Southgate. In my mind, these factors had rendered him a laughing stock, and anything he had ever done would forever be viewed through the prism of my relative youth and my perception of his flaws. For me, he was never a good player and never could be considered as such. This was before I’d even heard of Diamond Lights. It’s a harsh system, but that’s just the way it works.
So it’s no wonder that Waddle continues to court controversy. He’s a former lothario frustrated by his own impotence, a man whose former relevance is brought into sharper relief with the passing of time, no longer capable of captivating interest as he once did. He knows he’s a joke to people like me, people too young to truly acknowledge his former glories. According to the man himself in this interview, he may have been one game away from winning the 1991 Ballon D’Or. Now he is a joke, a relic of the past, a dull fart squeaking through the slack buttocks of a slumbering geriatric. The anti-Beckham invective is his way of reminding the world of football that he once used to be one if it’s leading dramatis personae. He is the embodiment of every 40-something Sunday league footballer who boasts of his former relevance, deluding himself by boring those around him with sad tales of what should’ve been, if only the world had taken greater notice of their majesty.
Everyone has a player like this, a player for whom it’s inconceivable that he ever once possessed divine talent. There are some children who are yet to be born who will one day see a washed-up, clapped-out Lionel Messi sluggishly going through the motions for Atletico Madrid and laugh at the fact that if this clown can win a Ballon D’or, then even QPR’s Brooklyn Beckham must surely have a shot of winning it eventually.
Every football fan has a Chris Waddle. We all identify a former great by the schadenfreude-tinged footnotes that have appended themselves to an erstwhile glittering career. Waddle may have been idolised at Tottenham, and excelled abroad in a way that so few Englishmen have before or since, and been a match away from being the world’s best in his heyday. To me, he will always be some unfortunate, Frank Spencerish footballing harlequin, stumbling and bumbling from missed penalty to comedy sketch to Pizza Hut advert, always and forever, irrevocably trapped in the role my adolescent brain prescribed him. Nothing he can ever do or say will ever change that. Ulmitately he has paid the pelanty. Chris Waddle will always be my ‘Chris Waddle’. Who is yours?