IT’S not often that a three-week-old article in the Doncaster Star gets me thinking. But then it’s not often that the Chancellor openly admits that the economy is in meltdown. These are mysterious times, as Tina Cousins once sang.
What I’ve been thinking about is this: What does the term WAG actually mean? OK, I know it means ‘wives and girlfriends’. But that’s not what it really means, is it?
That much is obvious from reading that Star article from August 8, written by a chap called Paul Mayfield to celebrate Doncaster Rovers’ first match in the Championship.
Mayfield wrote: “With the signings of Matt Mills and Darren [Byfield], the club will be labelled the WAGs team of the Championship – with Darren’s wife being pop diva Jamelia, and Matt’s girlfriend Hannah from Hollyoaks. What other celebs will we attract this season?”
Now if WAGs really meant just ‘wives and girlfriends’, then every side in the Championship could be known as the WAGs team, on the basis that a lot of their players have a wife and/or a girlfriend.
But WAG means more than that. The term has come to signify a certain type of woman: one who is glamorous and slightly famous, as much for who she is dating as what she does. And I’m not entirely convinced it’s a term of affection. Does Jamelia ever think to herself: ‘Yes! I’m a WAG! Great!’
Perhaps not. Still, if the number of players in the team with celebrity girlfriends can be counted as a sign of progress, then Doncaster are moving up in the world.
Considering that they were still in the Conference six seasons ago, their progress has been astonishing. Chairman John Ryan (who used to own the cosmetic surgery company which performed Melinda Messenger’s breast enlargement – so there’s another celebrity connection) has overseen three promotions and a move to a shiny new stadium. Donny are at their highest level for 50 years, and have looked pretty comfortable in the Championship so far.
Rovers are bringing plenty of cheer to a town which has received a bit of a kicking in the last week. Two separate surveys have shown Doncaster to be not only the third fattest town in England, but also the seventh most miserable town in Britain. The first statistic was discovered as a result of surveys of GPs across the country; the second is presumably a show of collective guilt at being the town responsible for producing Jeremy Clarkson.
You know those road signs you get when you enter a town? The ones that welcome you and point out an historic local tourist attraction or beauty spot? Well, the signs in Doncaster say: ‘Discover the spirit.’ If I’m not mistaken, this is another way of saying: “Aye, our town may be crap, but we don’t let it get us down.”
I’ll be honest with you. I wouldn’t go to Doncaster on my holidays. (I’m equally sure that no one from Doncaster would spend a week in the town where I live, either.) But those in charge of regenerating the town do appear to be making an effort. There’s a new shopping centre that I’m sure wasn’t there when I first visited Donny four years ago. And the new football stadium is a massive improvement on the old one.
Oh, I know there are people who enjoyed the character of Belle Vue. And I’m sure there are people who didn’t mind the fact that both ends were uncovered and the car park was full of potholes. But I wasn’t one of them. The Keepmoat Stadium is tidy, compact and has a great atmosphere. And I suspect that, deep down, for all that tradition plays a part in football, Donny’s fans prefer the new ground too.
The team aren’t bad, either. Doncaster won’t be the seventh-most miserable town in Britain for long if Rovers keep playing the neat passing football that stretched Coventry all over the place today.
And yet, despite that wonderful football, they couldn’t get anywhere near the Coventry goal in the opening half-an-hour. Then, out of nowhere, Richie Wellens hit a 30-yard right-footed shot which flew into the top corner.
It was enough to win the game against a weirdly lethargic Coventry side. Their fans kept themselves going with a rendition of the Sky Blue Song – the one that Jimmy Hill is supposed to have written the lyrics to in the 1960s when he was their manager. It didn’t raise their team. And afterwards, manager Chris Coleman let rip.
“We have to go into games much sharper than that,” he said. “We’re not good enough to win a game at half-tilt.
“We won the first two games in the league, we put in a great performance against Newcastle, and there was almost a little bit of a swagger there. We’re not good enough to have a swagger.”
If Coleman is one of the Championship’s more forthright managers, then his Doncaster counterpart Sean O’Driscoll is surely the quietest. His press conferences make Whispering Ted Lowe sound like Motorhead. But he seemed pleased enough.
“You’ve got to be grateful for any win in this league,” he said. “It’s been a good beginning for us. We’ll know more about where we’re going after 10 games.”
Press conferences over, the journalist who had been sitting next to me during the match went off to collect his wife, who had spent the afternoon shopping in Doncaster. Now here’s a story. She had accompanied him on his last trip to cover a game in the town, spent the afternoon in town doing some shopping, and had enjoyed herself so much that she insisted on coming again.
That’s not exactly WAG behaviour, I know. But if Doncaster’s shopping centre can attract outsiders, and the football team can keep on impressing the rest of the Championship, surely the town is on the up?