And with that elephant marched from the room back to its own quarters, Wayne and Andy set about selecting this year’s top street strikers, aged 16-24. Incidentally, no screen time is given over to his other, more recent tabloid splashes. This is all about selling Wayne as the people’s sportsman, not a multi millionaire with dubious priorities and a penchant for ladies of the night. (Now, there’s an idea for a follow up: Wayne Rooney’s Street Walkers).
Open auditions take place in Manchester and Birmingham. Loosely speaking, all contenders have to do kick a ball into a skip while looking like the next item on their to-do list is: rob corner shop or, swap Grandma for some Miaow Miaow. Football-wise, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The ball is dropped from a height (so high it’s out of shot) and needs controlling before being belted at the target. Out of thousands of would be Rooneys, just 100 players impress the judges and, in doing so, book themselves a place in the next round.
Hopefuls include a Norwegian freestyler and Holly, a girl who sobs like an X Factor contestant and claims to be Street Striker’s number one fan. To top up their talent pool, Andy heads to a south London estate where he corners two ladies with serious ball skills. The lads aren’t bad either and 15 boys from the auditions make it into the top 20.
The kids are all pretty great – smart, skilled and enthusiastic – but Wayne is a hopeless host, so much so that most of the heavy presenting is farmed out to Andy (who’s billed as “Football Choreographer”, whatever that is). But the one thing the Man U forward can do is kick a ball about, so they have him take on the show’s most unforgiving challenge--dribbling around rolling tyres then shooting at a stack of oil cans--twice, to emphasise the Spud’s only sellable skill.
Whichever genius decided that the series opener needs two lots of Rooney pulling off the same feat presumably also felt that the audience could cope without seeing the process by which 100 contestants were whittled to 20. As far as I can tell, there’s no competition at this stage, just a cruel cull, which takes place in on a bleak bit of wasteland outside a disused factory. The finalists, however, do get to try out the tyre test in front of a small but noisy audience. Tears and triumphs abound, none of them Rooney’s.