August 9, 2008
There is a metallic gold leather Jimmy Choo handbag at the back of Suzanne Franklin's wardrobe.
It is called a Riki, it costs 1,000 and is the ultimate in sartorial status symbols.
Yet Suzanne hasn't so much as admired its silk lining for six months because for her, it is no longer an item of beauty but a stark reminder of a life she has left behind.
It was a life that, on the surface, screamed glamour and excess. Dating a 25,000-a-week Premier League footballer, she was sucked into a heady whirlwind of designer clothes, expensive restaurants and celebrity-laden nightclubs.
Yet behind the glittering facade lay a different, and somewhat more squalid, reality - one she found out the full extent of only when her two-year relationship with divorced West Ham midfielder Nigel Quashie came to a sudden, and devastating, end.
Far from being the devoted boyfriend he masqueraded as, he had been two-timing her all along with a woman who had even borne him a child.
And while his infidelity may not come as a surprise to those familiar with sordid tabloid tales of footballers' sexual antics, to Suzanne, then a naive and impressionable young student, it signalled the end of her world.
Slowly, she realised that the life she had been leading was little more than a sham, fuelled by insatiable egos, false promises, treacherous friends and unashamed decadence.
Now she is a trainee teacher, working as an assistant at a school for disadvantaged children - funding her own way and making her own living.
And it is only now that she has distanced herself from the man who broke her heart that she is talking to The Mail on Sunday in the hope that her story will serve as a cautionary tale to other young women seduced by the increasingly prevalent 'WAG' culture permeating our society.
The term WAG - Wives And Girlfriends - was coined during the 2006 World Cup in reference to the players' partners, whose stick-thin figures and savvy fashion sense eclipsed their men's endeavours on the pitch.
Epitomised by celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Cheryl Cole, it has become the pinnacle of ambition for thousands of young women seeking a fast track to fame and fortune.
Yet away from the glossy paparazzi pictures of Victoria et al, there is a distinctly murkier side to the WAG dream. One that, as Suzanne reveals, has degrading and hollow undertones.
'I fell for Nigel instantly,' she says. 'But he betrayed me. He picked me because I was innocent and removed from his industry. He manipulated and moulded me into somebody different. I became obsessed with money and the way I looked. I felt like a doll - an accessoryto look good on his arm.
'I got caught up in a shallow world where everyone backstabs and bitches. The women hate each other and the men just want to sleep around
'I'd say 95 per cent of them were unfaithful, from the household names to the lesser-known players like Nigel.
'They get it into their heads that they're gods and have no idea how to treat women with respect. I want to warn other girls that going out with a footballer is a horrible, lonely experience.'
Sitting in her two-bedroom flat in South-East London, Suzanne, 20, is softly spoken, surprisingly eloquent and devoid of the false eyelashes and fake tan that were once her hallmark.
She was living with her parents - her father is a policeman and her mother a medical counsellor - in Birmingham and studying for her Art A-level in February 2006 when she met Quashie in a club.
'He was with a group of friends who bought my friend and me a vodka and tonic,' she recalls. 'He had a gorgeous smile and cute little ears. We kissed and swapped numbers.'
Quashie, now 30, had just signed for West Bromwich Albion in a 1.2million deal. At Nottingham Forest and Southampton he was known for his deft left foot and was given the nickname 'Quashie-modo'.
Those in the know describe him as a 'journeyman' who is a useful, dependable player but has never managed to set the pitch alight in the style of David Beckham.
However, even his modest status was sufficient to attract the envious glances of other women as they frequented the top nightspots.
'They'd give me evil stares,' says Suzanne. 'One woman poured a glass of red wine over my trousers. Some would kiss him. But Nigel would politely turn them away and say he only had eyes for me.'
Sitting in cordoned-off VIP areas with other team-mates, they'd plough through ten bottles of champagne at a time, running up tabs of thousands of pounds.
'The players loved the attention,' she says. 'The more girls they slept with, the more respect they got from the guys. Most were having affairs.
'There was a code of silence between the players but I knew it went on and that sometimes they paid girls to keep quiet.'
But Suzanne thought her boyfriend was different - despite rumours that continued to surround his behaviour and a 'kiss and tell' that appeared in a Scottish newspaper last year.
'He dismissed it as nonsense. We read about girls being "roasted" by several footballers. He said it was disgusting, he was nothing like that and not all footballers were the same.
'He was tender and conventional in bed. After three months he said he loved me. He said he was still hurting after his recent divorce from his wife Joanna and begged me not to hurt him.'
Quashie, who has a daughter from the ten-year marriage, had reason to be vulnerable.
The couple's son had died just hours after he was born in 1999 and the footballer's mother is ill.
In the players' box and lounge after Quashie's matches, Suzanne became acquainted with his team-mates' partners.
'They wore designer jeans and sunglasses even when it was raining,' she says. 'They weren't interested in football, only fashion.
'They'd look me up and down and I dreaded seeing them. They couldn't have been more different from my student friends. Most of them didn't work and their biggest priority was shopping.
'I remember meeting an Aston Villa player's girlfriend who told me he was cheating on her but she didn't mind as she had grown accustomed to the lifestyle. I was saddened but no longer surprised.'
In January 2007 Quashie transferred to West Ham and in September, after months of commuting, she moved to London, partly staying at her own flat and partly at his home.
Their lives became ever more glamorous. They went out every night to exclusive restaurants and celebrity-laden clubs such as Funky Buddha and Pangea.
When they weren't socialising and Quashie wasn't training, they were shopping. Quashie told Suzanne to put whatever she wanted on his credit card and
she estimates she spent up to 8,000 a week on handbags, dresses and jeans from Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana.
'Of course, I loved it,' she says. 'What girl wouldn't? But it made me feel guilty - as if I was pretending to be someone else.
'But Nigel wanted me to wear designer clothes. He even told me to turn my Prada handbag around so everyone could see the label.
'For my birthday last year he bought me a Tiffany bracelet and the Jimmy Choo handbag.
'I told him I'd rather spend 50 on a bag from Topshop. It was as if I had to fulfil a certain stereotype.
'He liked me to get a French manicure and spray-on St Tropez tan once a week. When we went out he asked me to wear pencil skirts, not miniskirts. I was torn between wanting to look good and wanting to feel like myself.'
But in private, she says, Quashie became more and more depressed. 'I think he was lonely. His friends were DJs and hangers-on who only seemed to want him for his money or car.'
Last year, confined to the substitutes' bench through injury for a long period, he grew increasingly introverted.
'He took out his frustrations on me and snapped. He said I didn't understand what it was like to have a mother who was so ill and would take off to her home in Kent to see her for days on end. I felt powerless.'
It was during an increasingly rare night out last November that Suzanne took a picture of the two of them together on her mobile phone and later emailed
it to Quashie as a memento.
The following month, she received a text from a Birmingham woman called Kerry Clarke, asking why she was emailing her boyfriend.
Uncovering the truth
Suzanne called the mobile number and learned, to her horror, that 22-year-old Kerry had given birth to Quashie's son five months before Suzanne and Quashie had met, and he had been sleeping with Kerry the whole time they were together.
The two women swapped notes and even met up to discuss their lover's betrayal of them both.
Suzanne learned he had been taking Kerry to football matches when she wasn't available and buying her designer clothes. On some of the days he'd said he was visiting his sick mother, he had been in Birmingham with Kerry.
Kerry said there was a string of flirtatious emails from other women as well. When Suzanne confronted Quashie, he cried.
'He said Kerry was a one-night stand and a fat slag,' she remembers. 'I told him I didn't believe him. Then he swore at me. He told me I had to move out.'
She went home to her parents and an increasingly irrational Quashie begged her to take him back. 'He said he'd made a mistake,' she recalls. 'After a week I stupidly agreed to give him another chance.'
When Quashie found out that Suzanne had stayed in contact with Kerry, however, he lost his temper again. 'I knew I didn't want anything more to do with him.' she says.
'He sent me a couple of text messages after that but I didn't reply.'
Distraught, she spent the next couple of months at her parents' home. Unable to sleep or eat, she lost two stone, until, coaxed by her friends and family, she finally felt able to look to the future.
This spring, she moved back to London where she found a job and love in the form of a 25-year-old maths teacher, a colleague at the school where she now works.
She has swapped fancy restaurants for fast food and expensive labels for High Street brands.
Her bitten nails are unpainted and her blonde hair is sporting dark roots. But she is infinitely more fulfilled and says she is slowly learning to trust men again.
'My boyfriend understands why I get paranoid,' she says. 'I have a very different life to the one I led with Nigel but I much prefer it. I don't speak to anyone from the football world any more.
Kept in the dark
The other WAGs must have known he was cheating but didn't tell me.
'Although Nigel won't admit to sleeping with anyone else but Kerry while he was with me, it wouldn't surprise me if he was getting up to any number of the sordid sex games that he told me appalled him.
'He told me he'd had eight sexual partners. Now I think adding two zeros on the end would make that figure more accurate.
'It makes me so sad to read about these girls who are desperate to sleep with a footballer. It's not a fast track to fame and fortune - just a quick way to lose your self-respect.'
Quashie last night admitted having a relationship with Suzanne but denied it was serious. He said: 'I am in a relationship with Kerry. I did have a fling with Suzanne, I can't remember when.
'I haven't spoken to her for a year. It was during a break in my relationship with Kerry, who is the mother of my child.
'Suzanne tried to interfere with our relationship and cause trouble. I am not unfaithful to Kerry.
'I met different people on different [internet] sites but have never been intimate.
'I was generous in terms of the normal places you go to but I wouldn't say I bought her anything. She had her own money. I'm getting old and I am not like those 21-year-olds who are single.'