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Posted on 02/23/2002 1:15:50 PM PST by Sir Gawain
Sports stars often sign themselves up for more than an autograph when the request comes from a groupie, reports Jessica Halloran.
This is how easy it is. Stand outside the SCG change rooms, ask an international sportsman for an autograph and have his signature - and phone number - thrust back at you. Ring the phone number and, well, let the night take you from there.
They are derided as "groupies" and "SCG slags", these women who pursue sportsmen, particularly footballers and cricketers, for sex or love or money, or all three.
But you don't have to be a groupie. Just being a female fan can sometimes land you in trouble. On the eve of a one-day international in January, a 16-year-old girl, a 19-year-old woman and her boyfriend pursued Shane Warne and Brett Lee by car on the Gold Coast until the cricketers pulled over their luxury sports car. According to the Australian Cricket Board, the 16-year-old hassled Warne for a kiss. He finally offered his cheek and she tried to kiss him on the mouth.
The ACB claims her 46-year-old uncle saw a chance to extort money and demanded $5000 in cash and season tickets from the ACB for his silence. Although the man was interviewed by police over the blackmail allegations, they have not yet charged anyone.
In the professional sports world, image is money, and brilliance on the field won't necessarily make up for bad behaviour off. A sex scandal can undo the finest batsman, five-eighth or full-forward.
Cricketers sign contracts which oblige them to abide by the ACB's code of conduct: "The players totally understand they are role models ... We have a care and welfare program [which] deals with relationship issues and provides counselling," says a spokesman.
Whatever the contracts say, some players still end up in the headlines. Warne, the 32-year-old Australian leg-spinner, concedes that the unrelenting glare affects his family, especially his wife, Simone. He told England's Sunday Mirror: "It's ... hard for Simone. She's on her own at home and she sees a picture of me in a newspaper signing my autograph on some girl's butt.
"That actually happened in South Africa when a girl came up to the fence after a game and asked for my autograph. When I said, OK, she whipped up her dress and asked me to sign her bum. I thought, 'What do I do?' But I did it and, of course, there was a photographer there to record the moment. Simone opened the paper the next day and quite naturally suspected the worst.
"But if I'd said no to that girl I'd have been branded a spoilsport. So I said yes, and my wife thought I was cheating on her."
Warne is not always the innocent victim. There was the "dirty talk" phone scandal with an English nurse, Donna Wright, 20 months ago. The pair had met in an English nightclub and Wright, 22, claimed Warne later made suggestive phone calls to her. "It made my skin crawl," she said.
Warne countered: "She was talking dirty to me on the phone and I reciprocated ... She was reciprocating and laughing with her friends about it, but now she's decided to come public with it all and just try to crucify me."
ALLISON (not her real name), 29, is an avid cricket fan who followed her heroes on tours to the West Indies in 1995 and 1999. On her first tour she was hanging out with the team at a local drinking spot and "eight vodkas" later found herself in bed with an Australian player.
"There is a code of silence. They are not going to dob in another guy on the team ...," says Allison, adding that players were more likely to stray while on tour. "If you want to bag one, that's the way ... They don't know anybody ... They are away from their wives."
Marat Safin's "unbelievably beautiful bench" at the Australian Open had as much attention from the television cameras and photographers as Thomas Johanssen's grand slam victory. The glammed-up regulars in his supporter box included two Melbourne girls he met at a trendy restaurant and a Moscow model, Katya Bestojeva, 21.
Anna Gorski, 22, a one-time Muscovite model studying marketing at Melbourne's Monash University, who had met Safin on the practice court during the open, had this exchange with journalists:
Gorski: "We met here and got along well and just hang out. We've been seeing Melbourne a bit, but it is not very exciting."
Reporter: "What? Safin had three blondes in tow all week and you didn't have a good time?"
Gorski: "Oh, he had a good time. I am sure he had a very good time."
After losing the final, Safin acknowledged the blonde mob: "I have to say thank you to all my family over there."
The women were there for Safin - maybe for his hulking good looks, his money-lined pockets, the way the camera lapped them up because they were Safin girls, or maybe, just maybe, for the tennis.
While Safin and cricket players jet around the world, Australian football and league teams have a steady home base. The buffed-up men are easy to find off the field, as well as on.
Jane, 22, confesses to being a former football groupie but believes she has now moved into the inner sanctum of a Sydney-based club. "It's not about me wanting to sleep with them and kiss them any more, it's about me enjoying their company," says Jane (not her real name).
Jane likes to distinguish between the change-room groupies and the "high-class" girls like herself. "Maybe it is delusional to differentiate between the two, but change-room groupies are only interested in one thing and high-class girls do it for a love of the game."
Women that slick on the make-up and wait outside the change rooms or at nightclubs are "change room" girls. "They hang outside the change-rooms, they wait and wave at them [the players] when they go in and wait for them to come out. They also follow the players after the club functions. They want to go to the [hotel] and wherever they go afterwards," she says. They are the conventional groupies, she says, the ones the players think of as "desperate".
"There are people who are really just there for a screw. They are the team bike. And that's really distasteful to me ... The players are just going to laugh at them the next day. They find them a nuisance. I think those people are in it not because they enjoy the game, but because they want to have sex with a football player."
AT A Sydney Bulldogs' open training session on a week night there are a smattering of women hanging around. Afterwards, some throw their phone numbers at players while others, shy and nervous, hang back. The Bulldogs' public relations officer, Polly McArdle, says, "I've seen women who are old enough to know better lift up their shirts and ask players to sign their breasts. It puts the players in difficult situations sometimes and instead of being directly rude to the offending girl they'll get a mate to tell her to cut it out. Other times I'm sure they jump at the opportunity."
Player Jamie Feeney, who has been with the Bulldogs for several years, says there is a group of women which constantly pursues the players. "Everyone just nicknames them the groupies. Sometimes they annoy you ... They come up and ask you the same questions about the game every week ... Then they ask you where you are going out."
The women know the players' usual nightclub haunts and Feeney says he will lie about where he's going to put them off the scent. "They are fans - they do follow the game and you can't be disrespectful to them. If you want to just chat to your team-mates or family, you don't want girls coming up. But they'll come and talk to you even if you are standing next to your girlfriend. I don't know whether they want to be seen with us, or tell people 'I went out with him' ... maybe because I play first grade, I've been set up with a girl who has been after the money thing before."
One senior Bulldogs player with a long-term partner finds the attention "flattering ... maybe they do it because most footballers are fit and have decent bodies?"
"The players like Brad Fittler and all those are followed around. The average player like myself isn't. It helps ... if you have a big name. If I go to a nightclub with an Australian player, they walk straight past me and go for them."
Some women are smitten by big money and bigger egos. They dream of being among the bevy of blondes around the star as he flies out on tour. They see themselves as one half of the long embrace at the airport. Mrs Sportsman, devoted and exclusive wife. But that's not everyone's dream: "I wouldn't want to marry one," says Jane. "I don't think I would enjoy the lifestyle. It's so on again, off again. When they finish playing footy, what's for them to do? A lot of them don't go to university and don't have qualifications. You want a bit of stability in your 30s. Plus, I think you grow out of the whole thing, and you start looking for something deeper than just a hot body."
A sports psychologist at the NSW Institute of Sport, Dr Michael Martin says, "You mix fandom with hormones and basically this is what you are getting. Some of the higher-profile athletes are already in stable relationships and this thing can be a distraction. Prior and after performance."
But who would want to be a groupie? As the ink still dries, the international cricketer takes to the arm of a woman with a texta, scrawling his number again.
A few boozy boys stumble out from the SCG members' stand. "You're here for the cricketers, aren't ya," drawls one. "Which one are ya waiting for? Are ya a groupie?"
Two of the Safinettes ... Katya Bestoujeva, right, and Anna Gorski, at the final. Photos: Vince Caligiuri and John French
Yep, money, money, money,
money makes the world go around
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