The obvious worry about Simon Cowell’s paternity drama is that it has caused him to pay insufficient attention to the insurance arrangements at the Keepmoat Stadium. How else to explain the fact that one fifth of One Direction – his crack global heartbreaking/moneycrapping unit – is about to turn out for Doncaster Rovers reserves in a game against Scunthorpe reserves on 18 September?
Of course, we know how the programme notes will explain it: before he was famous, Louis Tomlinson worked at the Keepmoat on match days, and last month he signed for the club as a non-contract player in an admirable joint fundraising stunt for the club and a children’s hospice. The inevitable charity game was announced – but news he is to play in a competitive match comes as something of a surprise.
By a neat coincidence, the most notable non-contract player to take part in a Doncaster-Scunthorpe reserves tie hitherto was Beefy Botham, who scored the winner for Scunthorpe in a North Midlands League match in 1980. Botham, one feels, was probably slightly more robust than the One Direction star. All of which brings us back to those intriguing insurance arrangements. Perhaps the Central League game is being underwritten by one of the giants, and a bunch of unwitting investors are about to lose their shirts when some irrepressibly mischievous part-time pipe fitter on 280 quid a week plays the man and not the ball.
But with bar stools regarded as hopelessly outdated props in the boyband stage armoury, it is clear that Louis will need both legs in order to carry on breaking hearts and banks for Cowell. And only the sportingly naive would assume that the gentle souls of the Scunthorpe reserves are so made up that the millionaire popstar is doing something for charity that they will decline to lay so much as a diamante-studded glove on Tomlinson, perhaps even preferring simply to give up the ball out of deference should they find themselves in a one-on-one with him. (On reflection, that should technically be termed a one-on-One-Direction. Or rather, a one-on-one-of-One-Direction).
Yes, I think we must have words for anyone imagining that the charity association will act as some sort of force field around Tomlinson, causing his usually vigorous opponents to stand aside while humming an appreciative burst of What Makes You Beautiful. And those words are: Soccer Aid 2012.
Say what you like about Teddy Sheringham – and most of us have, over the years – I will adore him for ever for that staggering tackle on Gordon Ramsay at Soccer Aid 2012, in a match which saw teams of celebrities and ex-players take each other on in aid of Unicef. If you don’t recall the tackle, it came from behind, and displayed such a clattering lack of interest in getting the ball that Sheringham should obviously have been sent off (or knighted, obviously). The upshot? TV’s hardest chef was given oxygen on the pitch, before being carried off and taken to hospital for assessment.
Sheringham subsequently felt moved to gloss over the incident, and I insist on reading between his tweet characters to imagine a putdown to Ramsay for all those years of implying he should have been out there on the pitch. “Never set out to hurt Rammer,” Sheringham claimed. “But football is a contact sport, these things happen.” He added that he’d “just got my timing wrong”, which somehow failed to tally with the footage of him in the immediate aftermath of the incident, in which he could be seen patting the cheek of the prone Ramsay, before smearing his hand across the chef’s face in a gesture that said nothing quite so clearly as “cop that, Mrs Beeton”.
Of course, it wasn’t a career-ending tackle – it didn’t affect Ramsay’s ability to swear showily at people on low incomes – but you’ll note he hasn’t banged on and on about football in interviews ever since.
In many ways, then, Sheringham’s clatter performed a valuable public service. There really is little so irksome as the celebrity who feels the incessant need to assert their footballing credentials in interviews plugging the latest installment of their glittering “second choice” career, into which they always claim to have been dumped by injury as opposed to not being good enough. For years, Ramsay insisted he’d played first-team football for Rangers before an ankle injury forced him out, until some Ibrox archivist finally had enough and produced evidence that he had only ever been a triallist in a testimonial.
Only a slightly different kettle of fish are the likes of erstwhile Doctor Who Matt Smith, about whose curtailed footballing career I have heard enough, for all the obvious tragedy that it consigned him to a life of great acting gigs and garlands. Alas, the unedifying posturing is not even limited to entertainment – Ed Balls appears desperate to be pictured playing football, ideally tackling some weedy thing from the Lobby to show what a hardman he is, while Alastair Campbell actually had an on-pitch scrap with a member of One Direction’s sub-rivals The Wanted, in which they pushed and shoved each other during a charity match.
But in the annals of celebrity footballing, we cannot fairly bracket Tomlinson with such poseurs. They are celebrities playing other celebrities, or sublebrities, or at least retired players the wrong side of 40. They are not turning out against Scunthorpe reserves on what will doubtless be a wet Wednesday night, and we can only wish our plucky One Directioner all the best.
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