Wayne Rooney asked Jamie Vardy if his wife could “calm down” and cut back on her media activities during the Euro 2016 football tournament because it was causing “distractions” for the England team, the high court has heard.
Rooney told the “Wagatha Christie” libel trial that the then-England manager Roy Hodgson and his assistant manager, Gary Neville, were both concerned that Rebekah Vardy’s decision to write a column for the Sun during the contest was disrupting the squad. Jamie Vardy responded outside the court by saying England’s record goalscorer was “talking nonsense”.
Rooney said it was “awkward” that he had to have the chat with his fellow England striker, but the team’s management wanted to find a solution: “They asked me as captain to see if I could speak to Mr Vardy on issues regarding his wife. We all knew that it was an awkward subject so I needed to speak to Mr Vardy and ask him to speak to his wife – and ask him to ask his wife to calm down.”
“Ask his wife to calm down?” asked Vardy’s barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC. “She wasn’t dancing on tables.”
Rooney replied: “No, she wasn’t – as far as I’m aware.”
The pair were part of a squad that was unexpectedly knocked out of the tournament by Iceland. While preparing for one match, Rooney took time to speak to his fellow striker: “I remember the conversation I had with Jamie. It was a bit awkward for me to have to speak with a teammate regarding his wife. I sat down with Jamie Vardy and he had a can of Red Bull and I had a coffee. It was such an awkward moment.”
Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, who has been training and playing for his Premier League club during the rest of the trial, turned up at the high court in central London for the first time. His wife, Rebekah, is suing fellow footballer’s wife Coleen Rooney for libel, after Coleen alleged Rebekah was passing stories from a private Instagram account to the Sun.
The Vardys sat on the frontbench, a metreaway from the Rooneys. The two women occasionally glanced sideways at each other, while their two husbands largely avoided eye contact.
Rooney, now the manager of Derby County, told the court that England’s players attempted to relax in between Euro 2016 matches by playing pool and other games. During this time, Jamie Vardy would regularly be in the room talking to his wife: “Mrs Vardy was almost there with the team, she was on FaceTime a lot.”
In a written witness statement, Rooney said Jamie Vardy had agreed to speak to his wife about the way her media activity was causing a distraction during the tournament.
Rebekah Vardy had previously told the court that her husband denied ever having a conversation with Rooney about her media career causing distractions for the England team at Euro 2016.
Rooney told the court the conversation definitely happened: “I 100% spoke to Mr Vardy about the situation. If he wants to relay that back to his wife, that is entirely his business.”
Rooney said he was surprised to later learn that details of their private conversation were reported in the Sun. The football manager said he would never have spoken to a journalist from the tabloid, as he was from Liverpool, where there is a longstanding boycott of the newspaper: “I never speak to a Sun journalist on a personal level.”
Jamie Vardy, who watched his former teammate give evidence, later issued a statement outside court denying that he ever had a chat with Rooney about his wife’s newspaper column. “Wayne is talking nonsense,” he said. “He must be confused because he never spoke to me about issues concerning Becky’s media work at Euro 2016. There was nothing to speak about, I know this because I discuss everything with Becky.”
Rooney also expressed astonishment at the week-long libel trial, and said he did not read newspapers, and had been totally unaware that his wife was attempting to conduct a sting operation to catch the leaker from her private Instagram account.
“Me sitting in this courtroom is the first time I’m hearing almost everything on this case,” he said. “This week is really the first time I’ve had any understanding of what happened.”
Rooney said the lengthy legal proceedings brought by Vardy had changed his wife: “For me and my wife, we don’t want to be in this court in this situation. I’ve watched my wife over the last two and two-a-half years really struggle with what’s going on. Become a different mother, a different wife. Hopefully, whatever the judgment is on this case, myself, my wife and our children can go on and live our lives.”
Vardy is bringing the libel claim, arguing that while she did not leak stories to the Sun, it is possible that her former agent and close friend Caroline Watt may have done.
Earlier in the day the court heard from the Rooneys’ agent Paul Stretford. In a witness statement he stated that the “rumours” in late 2019 were that Vardy had made a deal with her agent to take the blame. He said the speculation was that Vardy “would look after Caroline Watt behind the scenes in return for Caroline Watt publicly taking the blame for having leaked Coleen’s Instagram stories and posts to the Sun”.
Vardy’s lawyers deny this version of events.
The Vardys, citing illness, left court early on Tuesday. As a result they missed evidence from Rooney’s expert technical witness. He told the court he believed that there had been “deliberately targeted deletion” of potentially relevant WhatsApp messages from Vardy’s phone.
The trial is due to conclude after a day’s break on Thursday.
• This article was amended on 18 May 2022. Wayne Rooney said that Jamie Vardy had a can of Red Bull during an alleged meeting between the two at Euro 2016, not a coffee as an earlier version said.