Twitter has become one of the most prominent forms of social media in recent times, hitting the headlines time and time again, as great news stories of our time, are played out in real time with a stream of updates and photos or even broken first through Twitter. Over the last two years in particular, Twitter and the world of football have had a somewhat turbulent relationship, with the social network firmly in the headlines for a variety of reasons. The use of Twitter amongst the football world has certainly grown with more and more footballers at all levels setting up personal profiles, as well as a myriad of football agents, press officers, and journalists all tweeting regular updates to provide the average football fan with an unrivalled access to all the best up to date news from their club, it seems on the face of it that it’s a great development and Twitter certainly does have its perks for football fans.
Then, there’s the real time aspect of the service, where often transfer news and speculation is seen first on Twitter, certainly on transfer deadline day, Twitter was as much of an invaluable source to those seduced by the drama, as Jim White was. Indeed even to Sky Sports themselves, with ‘sources’ actually being attributed to Twitter ‘in the know’ accounts in many cases, and Yossi Benayoun answered the question of just where he was signing, by tweeting a big clue.
With so many footballers opting to set up a profile, there can be no doubt that the service has brought fans closer to those they idolise, than ever before. Arguably, it gets us too close, as we discover that actually a footballer’s life isn’t as exciting as we were led to believe after endless tweets about watching TV, and how amazing they are on computer games. For the most prolific of the football tweeters, like Rio Ferdinand, with over a million followers you can expect his inane comments to be retweeted thousands of times, grammar mistakes and all. In addition to football tweets being an endless source of amusement for fans as players banter between themselves and occasionally other tweeting celebrities, (the ongoing ‘battle’ between Manchester United striker Michael Owen and Arsenal ‘fan’ Piers Morgan being a prime example), it has become an invaluable resource for the media. Journalists can create whole stories based on just one or two tweets. Recently, Joey Barton’s tweets drew inspiration with quotes from the likes of Che Guevara and that was enough to fill an entire week’s news stories on Sky Sports News, with the channel monitoring Barton’s account like a hawk in case they missed something juicy. This was all much to Barton’s amusement, just how could Sky Sports News and tabloids, like The Sun, manage to create entire articles based on his tweets? Is it really news? It also presents the question, is Twitter helping to promote lazy journalism? After all if newspapers are stuck for something to fill space all they need to do is hop on Twitter, look for anything interesting and run with it. Case in point here being Wayne Rooney, after arriving on Twitter to much fanfare and excitement, it didn’t take Rooney long before he was courting controversy, responding to taunts from a Liverpool fan by telling him ‘he would put him to sleep in 10 seconds’. Unsurprisingly, given Rooney’s high profile, the tweets were printed in most newspapers, clearly only banter it was still unwise for Rooney to post such comments and prompted his manager Sir Alex Ferguson to certainly consider monitoring the output of his player’s messages, lamenting they have a responsibility and that he didn’t really understand it.
Of course Rooney is not the first footballer to get into hot water on the social networking site, with a succession of players courting controversy, the most high profiled of which was Ryan Babel’s infamous tweet in the wake of Liverpool’s defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. The resulting ‘twitpic’ Babel posted of match referee, Howard Webb mocked up in a Manchester United kit led to a new landmark as Babel was the first footballer to be charged with improper conduct and fined by the FA over a remark made on Twitter.
Prior to Babel, we saw then Tottenham Hotspurs’ Darren Bent use the site to voice without a doubt where he wanted to go in the transfer window, urging Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, “Do I wanna go Hull City NO. Do I wanna go Stoke NO do I wanna go sunderland YES so stop f***ing around levy’. Bent did eventually get his wish and then upped sticks to go to Aston Villa not long after, so obviously wasn’t that desperate to move to Sunderland in the end.
By far the most controversial Twitter and football related story occurred this year when Imogen Thomas was named by a court as having had an affair with a footballer. The footballer of course was not named, but unlike scandalous ‘mystery footballer’ stories of the past where the identities were rarely confirmed, in this day and age of social media, it didn’t take long for Twitter to make a mockery of the so called ‘super injunction’ that prevented the superstar footballer from being identified with a name spreading like wildfire, and re-tweeted by thousands, weeks before he was finally officially named, prompting a widescale “I know something you don’t know” situation. The whole unsalacious episode raised many issues with regards to censorship on Twitter and how courts were powerless to prevent users flaunting the injunction on the US based site.
Recently, there was a lot of sadness and then later bewilderment as fans tweeted the same sad message about ex Sunderland ace Steed Malbranque. For all of Saturday and much of Sunday, fans commiserated about the terrible situation that had led to Mabranque quitting football, and many prayers were said as well as sympathetic tweets sent from a number of footballers including Ferdinand and Rooney. On Monday Malbranque’s solicitors confirmed that the message amounted to little more than a hoax. In this case, it doesn’t look like the hoax itself originated on Twitter, like a few other Twitter rumours about misfortunate celebrities.
For me though, the number one major issue I have with football fans having easy access to players on Twitter, is abuse. I mentioned the tweets to Wayne Rooney earlier that provoked a reaction in the United star but this isn’t even scratching the surface when it comes to footballers and dealing with abusive comments on their personal Twitter profile. Rooney’s United team mate Darron Gibson set up a profile and was hit with such a torrent of abuse from his own team’s fans that he promptly deleted his account within a couple of hours. Getting ‘stick’ from fans is part and parcel of football and prominent football tweeters like Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore have taken their fair share of criticism, but in the case of Gibson and others, there are times when it’s taken too far. Last weekend, I was horrified to see one of the players of my team, having to defend himself against a string of abusive tweets after one fan was more than disgruntled by what he thought was a lack of effort on the pitch. It was the kind of criticism you hear week in and week out on radio phone ins and on club message-boards, but there’s a big difference between voicing your unhappiness on a phone in or even from the stands and deliberately targeting a player on his personal twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I made disappointed comments to a friend, on leaving the ground about the player concerned but I wouldn’t dream of voicing my comments directly to him via Twitter. The comments were of a very personal nature and although there’s an argument to be made as fans that ‘we pay their wages’ and have the right to criticise, then surely through a player’s personal Twitter account is not the way to do so, especially if you couldn’t do it without resorting to hurtful, personal insults.
In my opinion, Twitter hit a new low yesterday when a small minority of so called Manchester United fans bombarded an account with hateful and disgusting comments after a player was injured in a game at the weekend. The target of their abuse however was not the player, Bolton’s Kevin Davies whose challenge put Tom Cleverley out of the game with a feared lengthy injury lay off (later confirmed to be as not as bad as expected) but sickeningly Davies’ wife. Somewhat ironically, Davies himself closed down his own Twitter account following personal abuse in the wake of Bolton’s FA Cup semi final humiliation and some other comments that he deemed as “abuse that nobody needs really”. Wife Emma was yesterday subjected to some incredibly vile and unnecessary tweets as she defended her husband. No matter what people may think of players, and even Mr Ferguson was vocal in his criticism of Davies, there is something seriously wrong when fans are using the easy access Twitter gives them, to abuse players wives.
Overall, I still think players on Twitter is quite a good thing, bringing fans closer to the players they love than ever before, the chance to interact or get a message from their idols. It’s also an opportunity to see the really good things players do in their spare time, Liverpool’s Charlie Adam is constantly running Twitter competitions for his followers, and without Twitter I never would have known about Jack Wilshere’s amazing and unselfish relationship with a terminally ill little boy in my town. The players do however remain an easy target, and I think we will see more players leave Twitter as a result of abuse, and who could blame them, there’s only so much that players can take, as for the fans, it’s clearly easy to tap out a hate filled tweet to a player and sit back in the comfort of their own home, would they be so brave to confront them in person and tell a player he was lazy or fat? In most cases, I think the answer would be no.
By Nicola Kilmore – Scunthorpe United fan – @Footychick25