Oooh he's setting a terrible example there...
“So are we going to the match today then or not Dad”, “It depends Son, it depends”. “Depends on what?! Kick off is less than a hour away!!”, Got to see the starting eleven first lad and if 'he's' playing then you know your Mam won't let you go”. The matriarch of the household appears from the living room with the news this football mad child dreads, “Just heard that the filthy, rotten sex addict is going to start so I'm afraid your Dad is going to have to go to the match alone today Jimmy”. The distraught boy runs to the refuge of his room and once he's certain that no change of heart is forthcoming he carefully procures the signed picture of his icon, the only picture he's got left after all his others were torched on that fateful Sunday afternoon, looks Ryan Giggs in the eye and says “I don't care what they say Giggsy you're still the greatest no matter what”.
To suggest that the off field exploits of Giggs have forced concerned parents into such extreme actions is perhaps facetious but with media intrusion at an all time high it's inevitable that those elevated to the post of 'perfect role model' for children will have that unwanted mantle snatched away from them by those ever hungry for salacious gossip. However when deciding who and who isn't suitable role model material for our poor, delicate offspring there is certain criteria that must be filled. Obviously the said individual must have a certain degree of talent otherwise what child in their right mind is going to take even half an interest in such a wastrel. But the other more defining factors are the ones that must always be adhered to no matter what degree of ability they may possess. Behaviour in public is the biggie, the hopeful candidate must always conduct themselves in manner liable to make the elderly coo softly to themselves in approval whilst ensuring that a certain level of charisma, but not arrogance, is displayed in the process. This criterion is quite often beyond the reach of many of the planet's most famous denizens as they mumble and stutter their way through public appearances or worse still launch into self absorbed soliloquies about just how great they are. Tutting parents hastily turn the volume down and thank the Lord they sent Junior to bed a little early tonight.
In those all too rare occasions when a person is 'taken to the nation's hearts' through a combination of excellency in their field and a personality brimming with humility and deference they must from that point forth be expected to forgo further examination before they can even think of progressing to the level of 'national treasure'. Family life, past and present, must be publicly palatable or this love in will come to a crashing conclusion before it's even begun. A working class background is preferable but not essential and the proud parents must find themselves in a long and lasting union or else the jive's up. Siblings and the family at large had better not have any skeletons clanking around their closets, if so they run the risk of curtailing our heroes chances completely. Any hint of a wrong un' in the gene pool will have the public at large questioning whether that 'dear little boy' may end up corrupted beyond repair.
So having proved themselves to be paragons of virtue it's left to these superior beings to ensure they keep their collective noses clean and not find front page scandals dedicated to their extra curricular activities. With the News of the World now sadly departed many misbehaving celebs breathed a heavy sigh of relief and resumed their drug fuelled sado masochism sessions safe in the knowledge that pictures of them bound and gagged wouldn't be beamed around the world the next day. But for many it was a case of the horse bolting after the gate was locked. The NOTW took it upon themselves to 'expose' as many celebrities as they saw fit. The fact that most of their revelations were brought about through entrapment or that the average man in the street didn't give a toss about [insert random celeb's name here] DRUG SHAME!!! mattered not as they revelled in increasingly tawdry tales until the whole thing came crashing around them much to the delight of anyone with a modicum of sense.
But amidst all this talk of 'setting an example to the children' and 'being a role model to millions' there seems to be one group of people who have as of yet not been consulted. No not The Scientologists, the children themselves. When I was a kid growing up the level of media intrusion was nothing like what it is today but even then the people I chose to base my childhood dreams upon were not without controversy. Anyone that supported Manchester United during the 1980's will be well aware of the club's reputation as a veritable drinking club during that time. Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside will be forever remembered as footballer's who bore the wrath of Sir Alex and in the process found themselves heading towards the first exit door due to an apparent lack of discipline. But what history doesn't tell you is that amongst all the hardcore semi alcoholic footballer's at the club during that time one man reigned supreme. That that man also reigned supreme on the football pitch no matter how much he'd imbibed was his saving grace however and to an eight year old boy Bryan Robson could do no wrong.
United's number seven and right up until his death in 2009 he would have been considered someone whom children would be well advised to steer clear of. Michael Jackson's life was shrouded with intrigue and discord from almost the very start but events only took a sinister turn in the early 1990's when sordid stories regarding his personal life begun to circulate in the media. If ever there was an example of a squeaky clean pop star suddenly 'turning bad' this was it and I'm sure many horrified parents took drastic measures to ensure their children weren't influenced by the music of this monster. But again from a child's perspective I was largely oblivious to these scurrilous rumours surrounding the King of Pop. The only way Jackson had ever influenced me was by scaring the bejesus out of me with his Thriller video and prompting many a night of failed moonwalk attempts.
So do children really care all that much about the private lives of those they aspire to be? At a young age they are more likely to be solely fixated on the public image served up to them and will pick and choose their favourites in the whimsical nature expected of them. Indeed on many an occasion a child will take it upon themselves to select the more unsavoury characters as those they look up to. Wayne Rooney has courted his fair share of tabloid scandals over the years and has been labelled everything from a thug to a granny shagging sex fiend. Definitely not role model material as decreed by the British media but as someone who gives his utmost every time he walks onto the pitch he already has a head start on most of those deemed more suitable for a place in our children's affections. What it comes down to is that kids, despite being seen as impressionable morons incapable of forming their own opinion, have a remarkable ability to separate the wheat from the chaff and decide for themselves who's worthy of their utmost affection. When cameras close in on the histrionics of Cristiano Ronaldo or foul mouthed rants of Ashley Cole we're immediately treated to the well worn line of how they're setting a terrible example to the children as if they plan on immediately heading outside to recreate the scenes they're witnessing. Not only is this is an insult to the children of today but it also casts aspersion on the ability of their parents to tell their offspring what's right or wrong.
As a child progresses through life and treks down the road to becoming a well rounded adult the chances are that those who heavily influenced their pre-pubescent life will become nothing more than a distant memory. Sure they'll still have their sporting, musical, political heroes but with growing maturity comes the realisation that the real role models aren't those that perform their feats to millions of adoring fans. The nurse who maintains an air of cheery stoicism despite being surrounded by those with horrific ailments,, the local shop owner who has had his premises broken into on numerous occasions but refuses to bow to the mindless thugs, the man who steps in when no one else does to stop a group of bullies taunting an elderly woman and perhaps even those that brought them into this world and cared for them every step of the way Because whether they realise it or not their real heroes are those whose lives seem painfully ordinary and mundane but whose exploits are no less spectacular than anyone you care to mention. Not every parent will provide the kind of positive influence that a child needs in their life but many will try their utmost, regardless of the sacrifices involved, and in the process become the most unwittingly effective role model a child could ever have.