The Times, the goalie, his girlfriend and the politician's wife

It has all the ingredients of press manna from heaven: a major international sporting event, a beautiful Spanish sports journalist, a top Spanish sports star, a sniping British newspaper and a top British politician's pissed-off Spanish wife. OK, so it's not earth-shatteringly significant in the grand scheme of things (compared to the state of the Spanish economy, for example), I admit, but it is highly entertaining nonetheless.

Here's what happened: after Spain lost to Switzerland in the first round of the World Cup (remember, what you spent the last month watching and talking about?), Telecinco sports journalist - the one who collars the poor sods outside the changing room, when all they want to do is go and have a shower - Sara Carbonero, she of the unfeasibly green eyes, grilled the Spanish team's captain, Iker Casillas, about the match. So far, so normal. But she's his girlfriend, and The Times saw an opportunity to have a dig at the competition's favourites. The following day, on their front page they ran photos of the interview with the caption, "Goalie's girlfriend starts the Spanish Inquisition." Tabloidy, or what?

But they also claimed that Spanish fans were blaming Carbonero for "distracting" Casillas, the team's goalkeeper, by reporting from behind his goal, an accusation then taken up by The Guardian among others. Well forgive the irony, but talk about a red rag to a bull. The Spanish media laid right into The Times, chiefly El Pais, El Mundo, and the Spanish sports paper Marca, addressing the journalists by name. Nothing like an inter-media slanging match - this is the best thing since the Germaine Greer-Salman Rushdie spat.

El Pais said The Times's story was more suited to the infamous British tabloids (The Sun and The Daily Mail also mentioned that she'd been voted World's Sexiest Reporter, quelle surprise), going on to comment that the paper's reporters bordered on "machismo lacking in objectivity."

Carbonero defended herself on the popular late-night discussion programme La Noria, asking if she was capable of destabilising the team. "I think it's ridiculous," was her answer.

Then, of course, came the final, and that kiss. The gobsmacker (OK, I admit, I've been dying to use that word, it just seemed so totally appropriate) that has been much imitated on Spanish TV, and watched by half a million people online.

On Monday, day of celebrations the like of which Madrid has never seen, the victorious team arrived home from South Africa, met the king and president, rode through the streets cheered by a million ecstatic fans, did the conga on stage and sang with Manolo Escobar and David Bisbal. The next day, The Times published a letter from the wife of British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Miriam Gonzalez makes Cherie, her outspokenness, and her various media debacles pale into insignificance against the Spanish lawyer's ballsiness.

"Sir, Now that Spain has won the World Cup and Iker Casillas demonstrated on Sunday that he is an outstanding goalkeeper regardless of whether his girlfriend, Sara Carbonero, watches him from the touchline or not, it may be time for you to eat a bit of humble pie," she said. "Trying to blame Sara for Spain's initial lacklustre performance while she was simple doing her job was not worthy of a newspaper that should treat women for who they are and not simply what their male partners do." Well that told 'em.

The Times replied, standing by its original story and saying that it had done nothing wrong by reporting Spanish fans' reactions. It went on to congratulate the Spanish team for their victory, saying "You in particular will be glad to know that we scrupulously recognise women for what they are and not what their partners do".

In the closest thing to an apology Ms Gonzalez will ever get, the paper went on, "We are not over fond of humble pie, but if you, Sara Carbonero or Iker Casillas are ever passing, please do drop by for a slice of tortilla." Kind of pompous, if you ask me.

Most annoyingly, you have to pay to read the original Times reports, as the august journal now charges for the privilege of perusing its pages. Spoilsports. Gonzalez has already been quoted in a rare interview describing the media coverage of the leaders' wives during the election campaign, and focus on their fashion tastes rather than cerebral capacities, as patronising, "putting it diplomatically".

"I like to be called clever", she said. Something Carbonero probably wouldn't sniff at, either. I can't see much in common between the corporate hotshot and mother of three, and the undeniably good-looking reporter. But Spanish women stick together, it seems. Watch out, British media, Spanish women have a champion of their interests now. I wonder what would happen if The Sun had a go at Belen Esteban, Spain's answer to Katie Price? Would Ms Gonzalez give 'em hell? No, I don't reckon she would either.

Blog published on 15 July 2010