The Wags are back – but I miss the carefree days of Posh and Coleen | Zoe Williams

It raises all kinds of sad questions to hear that the England footballers’ wives and girlfriends are heading to Euro 24 with £100,000 worth of private security. The whole point of the Wags was that they occupied a timeless place, untouched by current affairs or the pace of change. They never had to justify themselves with good works or decorum. Not even the gristliest, dungaree-clad feminist (me, let’s say) minded their self-fashioning as pure adornments for their celebrated menfolk. They could have careers of their own, or not have careers; drink WKD or drink kale juice; they could have been poets or they could have been fools. In the modern business of perpetual censure, they were (as the management consultants would put it) outside scope.

And perhaps they still are, and the German government is overreacting in its perception of a terrorist threat from Islamic State Khorasan Province, the IS offshoot thought to be behind the Moscow attack last month. But the caution is probably warranted. Nothing is sacred to a terrorist, and the random sanctity of a Wag – the vanishingly rare social agreement to just enjoy the sight of them living their best lives – must be like a red rag to a bull, when you’re a misogynist death cult.

The acronym was coined in the Telegraph in 2002, but the original Wag preceded it by some time, with Victoria marrying David Beckham in 1999 and setting the terms; she was astronomically successful in her own right, but that wasn’t the standard she set. You didn’t need a pop career to go out with a footballer after that, but you did need a layer of nonchalance. I never used to like Posh Spice, finding her chilly from a distance, and the one time I interviewed her, against all the laws of physics, even chillier. It was ages before I realised: that’s the whole point, dumbass. Never try to suck up to the media, or anyone else; they’ll eat you alive.

And multiple attempts by the globe’s media were made to eat the Wags alive, however unbowed they came across. When I said the Wags were culturally sacred, immune to attack, I was of course ignoring leagues of haters who called them vacuous, vulgar, delinquent, unfeminine, a stain on Britain’s reputation, and – the ultimate rebuke of the 00s and 10s – bad role models. That’s because the Wags themselves seemed to ignore it all; nothing could take the shine off. They were carried through on pure solidarity, with a pear bellini chaser.

From left: Cheryl Tweedy (as she then was), with Victoria Beckham and her son Romeo at a World Cup match in 2006. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

By the time of the famous 2006 tour to Baden-Baden, Posh’s aloofness and self-possession had mutated into as many forms as there were girlfriends (and wives). Was their true spirit animal Elen Rives, Frank Lampard’s then girlfriend, who missed a plane because she had five items of hand luggage? Or was it Cheryl Tweedy (later Cole), who sang We Are the Champions in the hotel bar, and was – I believe remains – the prettiest person ever to ceremonially, diligently, give photographers the middle finger? Posh, that year, was said to have packed 60 pairs of sunglasses. Rives eventually did arrive in Baden-Baden; perhaps unsurprisingly, she met some Germans and sang “we’re going to win the World Cup” in their faces. That turned out not to be true.

Coleen Rooney, years away from her courtroom triumph over Rebekah Vardy, was living like the avatar of every 16-year-old’s fantasy. On one shopping trip, during which the group spent £57,000 in less than an hour, she told a reporter that she’d only gone out for a walk and “come back with a few bits and pieces”. One Spanish journalist called them “hooligans with Visas”. All journalists who cared one way or the other about the football (unlike those of us who had legitimately forgotten there was sport attached to these capers) blamed the Wags for England – what do they call it? – crashing out of the World Cup. This was disproved at the next tournament in 2010, when the Wags were banned from hanging out with the players, except in very short intervals, and the team was eliminated much sooner. It’s pleasing when that happens.

And now a new generation of Wags heads back to Germany in much more serious times, and maybe the party years are over. Or maybe they’ll do it all again, this time with Chippendales – sorry, bodyguards.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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