FRIDAY, JUNE 29
It started, as so many bromances do these days, with a tweet. Spying that Wayne Rooney was on his first ever trip to Los Angeles this week, I sent him a welcome message: ‘If you need a Hollywood guide, I’m here and available.’
I’ve never met Mr Rooney before but we’ve struck up a curious bond on Twitter based on mutual, relentless mickeytaking. (Basically, I tease him about stuff like his hair transplant and he shuts me up by sending missives like, ‘Hi mate, how are you?’ within minutes of Manchester United beating Arsenal 8-2.)
The England striker, nursing his wounds from their disappointing departure from the European Championships, sent me a private message: ‘Let me know if you want some food one night.’
So, I suggested we take our wives to Soho House in West Hollywood, playground to the stars and David Beckham’s favourite watering hole. It has a rooftop terrace restaurant littered with 12ft olive trees. ‘The service should be better than the kind you received in the Euros,’ I reassured him.
At 8pm sharp, the Rooneys arrived. He was smaller than I imagined but stocky and with a handshake like a vice. Coleen, strikingly attractive in the flesh, was immediately warm and friendly. Dinner lasted four hours. Wayne was very funny and very frank.
He told me a few things that would make headlines around the world but they’ll remain, as he requested, between us. (I can be discreet; I just have to really force myself.) His answers to my less contentious, fan-style questions were no less illuminating.
‘ With all the pressure, do you still actually enjoy playing football?’
‘ Oh God, yeah! I love it! There’s nothing better than walking out in front of big crowds to play It’s the biggest buzz you could ever have.’
‘ What would you have done if you hadn’t been a footballer?’
‘I’d have probably ended up a builder or electrician like most of my mates.’
‘Who was the best you ever played against?’
‘Zidane.’ Then he smirked. ‘But I nutmegged him! Best moment of my life!’
‘Who’s your best friend in the game?’ I asked. He smiled. ‘You’re not going to like this…’ ‘Try me…’ ‘Ash.’ ‘Which Ash?’ ‘Ashley Cole.’ Arsenal fans have loathed Cole since he quit on us for Chelsea in a row over a £5,000-a-week pay rise. ‘Are you serious?’ ‘Yes. He’s nothing like what you guys think. Ash is a really sound guy and has been a proper friend to me.’
As I mulled over this shocking revelation, he added: ‘I’d take a bullet for him.’
Coleen nearly choked on her wine. ‘Do behave, Wayne! You wouldn’t take a bullet for him.’
‘I would! And he would for me, too. We’d die for each other!’
‘ I’d be happy to fire the bullet at Ashley to test the theory,’ I suggested. Wayne laughed.
‘I told him I was having dinner with you tonight.’ ‘What did he say?’ ‘He said, “Tell him he’s a **** from me.”’ It was my turn to laugh. Young Ashley is perfectly entitled to feel that way after all the stick I’ve given him.
Wayne’s a surprisingly quiet, softly spoken lad in person. ‘I’m much calmer now than I used to be,’ he said. ‘People see the way I am on the pitch and think I’m like that off it, too, but I’m not.
‘I used to go out all the time, drink too much and get into trouble. I just like a nice, quiet time these days, no bother.’
Coleen agreed: ‘He’s a different man now — he really is.’
‘ What’s been the main reason?’ I asked. ‘She has,’ he said, looking at his wife. Whatever problems they’ve had in the past, let me say this: I’ve rarely seen a married couple more obviously in love than the Rooneys. They first met in Croxteth, Liverpool, when they were 12 and began dating at 16.
‘Our families have been so close for a long time,’ he said. ‘Col’s uncle was my best man and her maid of honour is my cousin.’ As the food arrived, Coleen said: ‘You must have been pleased about the national anthem.’
I’ve campaigned regularly on Twitter for Wayne to sing the British anthem after cameras revealed that he was