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‘WAGs’. The acronym paints a picture of leisure and glamour but is life as the wife or girlfriend of a professional athlete isn’t as glamorous as it seems.
Lucy Zelic

17 May 2016 - 5:00 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2016 - 5:00 PM

Inspired by the likes of Victoria Beckham, who was already a global pop sensation in her own right and the wife of footballer David, the world was exposed to a new kind of celebrity simply because they had shacked up with a public figure in sport.

By all accounts, these women looked to have it all.

The biggest names in fashion all clamoured to dress them, they attended the most glamorous events, drove expensive cars, carried handbags equivalent to a down payment on a house and represented a new image of perfection.

So much so, that a reality television series documenting the partners of pro sportsman was spawned in the United States aptly entitled ‘WAGs’.

But is it all it’s cracked up to be?


Lifestyles of the almost rich and famous

Speaking to the former partner of a well-known sportsman, Emily* the glamorous side of dating him only accounted for a small portion in their rocky relationship.

When she first met aspiring footballer Paul* at a young age, the pair developed a strong friendship that blossomed into a full-blown romance.

"There was nothing that Paul wouldn’t do to win me over and when we eventually got together, we were so crazy in love."

After carving out a solid domestic career in Australia, Paul then moved abroad to pursue a career in Europe.

"The stress of being apart for extended periods really took its toll on the relationship and the only option I really had to keep it going was to move to be with him."

With a high-powered career in public relations, Emily was forced to quit her job and move to a city where she didn’t know the language and wasn’t able to work due to visa restrictions.

"I was miserable and so was Paul because he wasn’t playing. I was alone most of the time and I had no friends and family to support me so I spent a lot of the time crying down the phone to my mum."

"The public are kidding themselves if they think that being a WAG is all that it’s cracked up to be. The invitations to parties and events only roll around once in a blue moon and the free things you get sent and designer dresses don’t fill the huge void in your relationship."

After moving countries several times and even becoming engaged at one point, the relationship eventually broke down.

"Paul’s ambitions to succeed superseded any of his desires to fix the problems between us. He wasn’t coping well and ended up in a really dark place." 

Football the downfall

On the flip side of the coin, playing professional sport at the elite level is a challenging and incredibly demanding life to lead and this was made clear when I spoke with retired footballer, *Roman who has been living in France since he hung up his boots in 2012.

After carving out a hugely successful career abroad, Roman reflected on a string of failed relationships which he attributed to the adversity he faced during his time as a footballer.  

"Being a footballer, it’s not a normal life but you don’t realise that, you’re just absorbed in it. I constantly thought about every game, every training session and a lot of times it bothered me when I didn’t train well, it affected me."

After scooping up some of the most coveted awards the world game had to offer, Roman suffered crippling injuries and fell out of favour with club coaches which ultimately threatened to derail his career.

This took a massive toll on his various relationships but only in hindsight did he acknowledge the effect that his profession had on his opportunity to settle down and start a family.

"It was only after I finished that I could see what I was like. When I was playing good and training good and winning games, I was the best to be around. When we were losing or I was out of form, it affected my mood. If that was over a prolonged period of time, it was even worse."

"I was very hard on myself. That pressure I put on myself only later could I see that that came out in negative ways in my character."

Despite having a supportive partner, it did little to quell the demons he battled as his playing days began to wind down and eventually he made the decision to call time on his longterm relationship with girlfriend Yvette*.

"When I broke up with Yvette, it was only then that I saw ‘geez, what an idiot.’ When I finished playing football then I started seeing ‘ok, hold on’, I was so focussed on what I was doing that I was ignoring everything around me."

"She followed me everywhere including one club in Italy and there was nothing to do there, it was terrible. Only later did I realise how much I affected her life. By uprooting her and taking her around, yes it was her choice and I think she had a good life but at the same time, she gave up a lot."

Does he have any regrets?

"Hindsight’s a funny thing. I wish I had known this earlier. I would have relaxed a lot more, not been so tense about every situation because I just wanted things so badly and I wasn’t happy with the way things were going."

His message to aspiring WAGs however is resolute.

"The people that they see if they think that’s the lifestyle, that’s a very small portion. You’re away a lot, you’re changing teams a lot.

"More often than not, the wife or the partner doesn’t have a say in where you’re going. Sometimes not even you as a player have a say.

‘"Even at the higher level, the partners still have to live in bad places where they normally wouldn’t want to live. There’s still challenges of bringing up a family, without your husband around a lot so it’s not all glitz and glamour, it’s certainly not. There are other challenges that come into it that affect the relationship. There’s not many good stories, really."

Cutting a new path

A budding actress, accomplished singer and model, Erin Holland certainly fits the bill of what you would expect a WAG to be like; strikingly beautiful with men and women admiring her from all corners of the globe.

But she’s proven to be so much more than that and managed to turn her brand into something far bigger than just a ‘beauty pageant queen’.

After meeting Brisbane-based cricketer Ben Cutting at an event over a year ago, Holland was initially hesitant about taking their relationship further.  

"I was very wary of it because in our industry, when you do date a sportsman, you do get that WAG tag placed on you. I didn’t know him from a bar of soap and I thought, ‘is this something that is worth risking?’

"Once you date a sportsman, you’ve got that stamped on your record forever."

Not long after their first meeting, the pair began seeing each other and after careful consideration, it would be at least four months before Holland started openly telling people about their relationship.

Living life in the spotlight meant that their union would become public fodder for the tabloids and social media users.  

"I still find it weird that people care at all but it is something that we’re always really mindful of because it is amazing how much those Daily Mail articles and the Telegraph bits and pieces are seen and shared and people pay attention to them."

"They love to slap a WAG tag on anything and it’s not always done in the nicest of ways. It's totally unfair because everyone that I’ve met is wonderful and has their own thing going on. They really don’t deserve the kind of derogatory associations that can come with that title."

Enduring a long-distance relationship is difficult at the best of times least of all when you’re dating a sportsman who is travelling for the majority of the year.

Cutting is currently away on cricketing duties in India and by the time he returns, the couple would have been apart for over two months - the longest period in their relationship to date.

"A lot of our relationship has to be communication in other forms so he is very good at that, otherwise I don’t know how I’d do the long distance. He’s the kind of guy that you’ll always wake up to a message from in the morning and he’ll never go to bed without calling which is really good but otherwise it would be impossible."

For Holland, the effects of Cutting’s career challenges are often felt in their relationship.

"He’s not a big talker at the best of times so sometimes it’s me literally having to sit him down and say ‘right, talk to me, how are we going? We don’t seem very happy’ and that is harder because I don’t live in Brisbane."

Holland also has to juggle her own intense work schedule which can be tricky at times.

"In some ways our industries are pretty similar, I never really know what’s going on with my career, I could be somewhere else tomorrow. I travel a lot and schedules are all over the shop so they might train during the week and play on weekends or play on the weekend and have a few days off during the week."

What becomes immediately clear in all of my discussions with everyone is that it’s not easy to hold down a healthy and even ‘normal’ relationship with a public figure in sport.

As the sister of two former professional footballers, I’ve also seen first-hand what these athletes go through emotionally, physically and mentally. It’s far from glamorous or easy but their hunger to succeed far outweighs any of the negatives and their accomplishments are a testament to that.  

In a study conducted by Professional Footballers Australia in 2015, statistics showed that 22.4% of respondents suffer a marriage or long-term relationship breakdown after they walked away from the game.

57.1% of the cohort acknowledged that their involvement in football contributed to the breakdown - a staggering figure indeed.

Not long after I wrap up my interview with Emily over the phone, she becomes flustered and realises she’s late for another meeting.

Following the breakdown of her relationship with Paul, she returned to Australia to pick-up the pieces and resume her job in PR.

Within a year, a well-known firm in New York scouted her services and she’s now living in SoHo working with celebrity clients on a daily basis.

In even brighter news, she has also been seeing someone for the last two years and the couple are expecting their first child together.

As she says her goodbyes, I ask her one last question which is; would she ever date a sportsman again?

"Not in a billion years," she says laughing.