Two British footballers’ wives are feuding. It’s the perfect Brexit palate cleanser.

A crowd in a soccer stadium featuring two women who are the wives of two of the players.

Coleen Rooney (bottom left, wearing sunglasses) and Becky Rooney (middle, also wearing sunglasses). | Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Everything you need to know about the Coleen Rooney-Rebekah Vardy scandal, even if you don’t know who they are.

As Britain descends into an increasingly bleak political horror show, today the country is delivering on its most famous export: Shakespearean drama. On the morning of October 9, two famous wives of major football (i.e. soccer) players were embroiled in an epic feud that just so happens to be deliciously suited to the era of Instagram Stories and private accounts. It’s the kind of splashy kerfuffle that forces people who previously had zero knowledge of or interest in a group of people or perhaps an entire sport to eschew all their responsibilities and learn everything they possibly can about it all in the span of a few hours.

This particular English Renaissance play stars two women, Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy (who goes by Becky), both wives of footballers who played for England. Like many WAGs (an acronym for the wives and girlfriends of athletes), the two were friends, and Rooney had trusted Vardy enough to be included on her private Instagram account, where Rooney would post personal updates about her friends and family.

But according to an operatic tweet posted by Rooney on Wednesday morning, which is at once a brutal damnation of Vardy’s actions and a master class in scene-setting and plot building, Vardy was selling those private stories to the press. “For a few years now someone who I trusted to follow me on my personal Instagram account has been consistently informing the Sun newspaper of my private posts and stories,” it begins.

“After a long time of trying to figure out who it could be, for various reasons, I had a suspicion,” Rooney writes. Here’s where it gets good: “To try and prove this, I came up with an idea. I blocked everyone from viewing my Instagram stories except ONE account.”

Coleen Rooney holding a wineglass.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
Coleen Rooney in 2018.

Rooney then writes that, over the last five months, she posted a series of fake pieces of information about her life to see if they ended up in the Sun. They did: On August 15, the Sun published a story about Rooney and her husband traveling to Mexico to seek controversial gender selection treatment. On September 28, the paper published a story about Rooney possibly joining the BBC reality show Strictly Come Dancing; a third piece about a supposed flood at the Rooney’s Cheshire mansion was also published by the Sun. (All these stories published in the Sun have since been taken down.)

Rooney writes that it was difficult to remain silent and refrain from commenting when the false stories spread about her but that it ultimately helped her find the culprit.

“I have saved and screenshotted all the original [Instagram] stories which clearly show just one person has viewed them,” she writes.

“It’s……. Rebekah Vardy’s account.”

By the time Americans were starting to wake up, the news had lit up the British press. That’s not just because the British press is among the thirstiest in the world. It’s because the story had everything: a Notes app-esque manifesto, the genius weaponization of social media, the demonization of a woman named Becky, the exposure of shady tabloid inner workings, and yes, two very rich women fighting with each other, one of whom is widely beloved among football fans for “standing by her man” (Rooney) and one of whom is seen as a fame-hungry money-grubber (that’d be Becky). The Rooney-Vardy feud lets us all feel the kind of vindication of knowing a maybe-bad person is an actually-bad person; it allows us to share in Rooney’s catharsis as she closes her explosive note with the absolute perfect kicker. It’s … really great gossip.

Who are Coleen Rooney and Becky Vardy?

It has not been nearly as fun of a day for Becky Vardy, of course. Shortly after Rooney’s post was made public, she posted her own statement to Instagram denying the allegations, claiming that other people had access to her Instagram account and if only Rooney had called her when she first suspected that Vardy was leaking stories, she could have changed her passwords. “I don’t need the money, what would I gain from selling stories on you?” she wrote. “I liked you a lot Coleen & I’m so upset that you have chosen to do this, especially when I’m heavily pregnant. I’m disgusted that I even have to deny this.” Vardy has also reportedly tasked lawyers to conduct a “forensic investigation” on her Instagram account to find out who has access to it.

But for many who have followed both Vardy and Rooney for years, the two statements were vindication that their opinions about each woman were correct all along. “Becky Vardy has always been shady,” says SB Nation soccer writer Kim McCauley. “It’s very obvious she wants to take down Coleen because Coleen has always been the media’s favorite WAG, who got all the best TV spots, and Becky wants to take her place.”

Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Jamie and Becky Vardy in 2018.

“The Vardys are … not nice people,” agrees Nicolle Zamora, who writes for the soccer site Unusual Efforts. She points to a series of racist statements both Becky and her husband Jamie Vardy have made in the past: Jamie has been caught on camera multiple times calling a person of East Asian descent a “jap”; in 2014, Becky tweeted “Getting followed at 3am from work to your car by a weird black man has to be up there with one of the scariest moments ever!”

Becky in particular is also widely considered inappropriately fame-hungry — she was a cast member on the reality series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here and regularly appears on talk shows like Loose Women, Good Morning Britain, and This Morning. Many have long suspected her of being the writer behind the Sun’s “Secret WAG” column, which covers football gossip from an anonymous WAG, which would solidify the link between Vardy and the Sun’s coverage of Rooney.

What adds insult to injury, Zamora adds, is that the Sun has a long and bitter history with the city of Liverpool, where both Coleen and her husband Wayne Rooney were born and raised (the Rooneys now live in the US, where Wayne plays for DC United). Since 1989, the people of Liverpool have boycotted the Sun for its false reporting on the horrific Hillsborough disaster, where 96 people were killed at an FA cup football game due to overcrowding inside the stadium.

Meanwhile, Coleen Rooney has long been royalty among football WAGs, once a part of the original queen WAG Victoria Beckham’s crew in the mid-aughts and now most known for being a mother and loyal wife during her husband’s various reported infidelities. People like her because, as London-based football fan Scott Perdue tells me over DM, she has a “humble background, stuck by her man, tries to stay out of the headlines.

“Coleen Rooney has absolutely bossed Rebekah Vardy,” he adds.

Why the Coleen Rooney-Becky Vardy feud is irresistible

But there is also something more universal going on with the Rooney-Vardy feud that’s pulling in even people totally unfamiliar with British WAG culture. Humans love stories about celebrities acting as investigative reporters of their own lives, and Rooney isn’t the first person to weaponize her social media accounts: Kim Kardashian has reportedly sent her friends fake photos of her newborn children to find out who is leaking information to the press. Fans, meanwhile, have started referring to Rooney as “Wagatha Christie” in admiration.

It might also simply be more banal than that: It’s refreshing, for once, to have a clear winner and a clear loser, to be able to root for one team without feeling sorry for the other. Ironically, this is also what can be so appealing about being a sports fan.

Charlotte Wilder of Sports Illustrated draws this parallel: “I’ve always said that sports are the greatest reality show,” she says. “Even on reality TV, we assume that everything’s edited or manipulated. [But] you can’t have spoilers for a game, and there’s something really pure about that. And when the athletes’ lives mirror that unexpectedness, it’s thrilling to me.”

Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images
Wayne, Coleen, and son Kai Rooney in 2013.

Often, when we see athletes’ or celebrities’ lives play out in the press or on social media, there’s a tendency to assume what we’re seeing is in some way fabricated. The Rooney-Vardy feud, meanwhile, feels pure in its messiness. “A lot of times these athletes are very calculated because they know people are paying attention,” Wilder says. “And when done well, it becomes a master class in public relations. With something like this, [Rooney] knows she’s bulletproof, so she can take a risk. You don’t do this unless you’re pretty sure it’s not gonna backfire.”

Ultimately, what we’re talking about is leaked personal interest stories about the lives of famous people. “It’s still fairly petty,” Wilder laughs. “It’s not that there’s some horrible crime at the center of this, so it makes it a little more harmless to enjoy something like this. If it were really ugly and messy I would feel sad, but at this point, we can enjoy it.”

All of which makes Coleen Rooney and Becky Vardy the perfect distraction from literally everything else happening in the UK right now: A feud so neat and perfect it can be tied up with a bow, a Twelfth Night-style comedy of errors that writes itself where the good guy gets all the faves and the bad guy gets canceled. If nothing else, it beats talking about Brexit.

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