Every so often there is a new craze that sweeps through Professional football … pants & t-shirts with messages on, symbolic goal celebrations, snoods (according to Wenger these prevent injury), and this is just on the pitch.
Off the pitch life is different. Players have a lot of time outside of training and playing games where they need to occupy themselves. Dressing room banter used to be about clothing, sports cars, and who has been steaming the classiest WAG. Since those heady days of a year ago footballers have progressed and become so much more cultured … well a little bit.
Now dressing room banter revolves around property deals, music, websites and twitter … and don’t we just know it!
Over the festive period and into the New Year, Twitter has gone crazy. Previously, the occasional notable outburst would be highlighted in the media, but as more and more players join the phenomenon we are seeing a far greater concentration of activity.
Back in August 2009, Darren Bent pretty much sealed his £15m move to Sunderland after ranting on Twitter “do I want to go to Sunderland YES. So stop F*****g around, Levy” (a tweet that he regrets being made public – do you understand what Twitter is Darren?). Bent was one of the first to openly admit that his twitter statement ‘probably served its purpose’. Bent said, “normally, we tend to keep our mouths shut and everyone does the talking around us”. Maybe that’s for the best Darren, or maybe it was refreshing to hear the news from the player himself?
But it’s not just transfers. In October 2010 Rio Ferdinand went on a 5 tweet rant about Nani’s infamous goal against Spurs following a blatant handball that Clattenburg didn’t blow for. Gomes rolled the ball out for a free kick, Nani cheekily stuck it in and to be fair he probably made a valid point, a message that may have been lost if he had relied on post-match interviews alone. He admitted he would have reacted just like the Spurs players and fans did if the boot was on the other foot. This is an insight from a player involved in to a highly controversial incident which highlighted yet another refereeing blunder.
In a less well documented Tweet, head of fitness and conditioning at Liverpool Darren Burgess, accused the England set up of being “completely amateurish” and “disgraceful” after Capello failed to sub Gerrard after an hour during the England game. Perhaps wisely, this was removed within an hour of being posted.
So it is not just the players themselves that want to be heard!
Twitter doesn’t just jeopardise PR relations, but also team tactics. Newcastle full back Jose Enrique tweeted he would miss the Spurs match in December hours before the game and it was all over the press within minutes and all over Pardew’s phone. The newly appointed Newcastle manager then stated that Twitter is “something we need to look at as a club” and threatened to ban the social networking site.
To be fair he did end the interview by saying “Will he be OK for the Wigan game? I’ll check his tweets and see.” Since this incident, Enrique has largely reverted to tweeting in Spanish so we can’t understand him.
So we have had Player tweets, back room staff tweets, and to complete the line-up we have some WAG action … step up David Bentley … or rather step up Kimberley Bentley!
Now yes you’re a hot girl and I am sure you have many attributes that make you a cracking person, but no man likes their lady fighting their battles. Kimberley was all frustrated for her and David tweeting “What’s happening? F*** all and it’s starting to wind me up!! Sort it out Harry for f*** sake.” No official word from Harry on that one … maybe he should get Sandra to reply – oh actually wait, she is too busy scoring headers on the back post that Darren Bent couldn’t (I went there). Unfortunately for Mr Slick DB (not David Beckham), this tweet wins the most embarrassing award.
Well Mr and Mrs B, at least you won something!
Tweeting angry can be a serious matter. Most recently, little known striker ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Morgan went maybe a bit too far … great for us but maybe not for his personal safety. Now I have played against Marvin, I know what this guy is about, I also know Aldershot town very well and what the fans are like.
Now you are probably not going to find too many sets of fans with more passion than those that sit on the East Bank at Aldershot. A hardcore, vocal set of all weather home and away fans. Aldershot have been in steady decline since Waddock was poached by Wycombe last season and the fans are not happy.
During an away game at Hereford, Marvin was subbed and booed off the field, and after the game he tweeted “Like to thank the fans who booed me off the pitch. Where’s that going to get you! I hope you all die.”
Not the most intelligent response. Especially when you consider that you have had a Regi Blinker* and the fans have travelled over 120 miles to see you play. The worst is yet to come. Sadly Julie Beattie, who won the clubs person of the year award at the end of last season had just passed away at just 49 years old.
Now she was no ordinary supporter. She was a club legend who had been involved in the club’s infrastructure as well as being a devoted supporter since her teenage years. After seeing her picture, I even knew who she was, a truly lovely lady. Marvin didn’t know, but this is a lesson to all footballers – don’t tweet angry. Marvin actually did quite well out of it other than the mass offence caused to everyone involved with Aldershot, after he was loaned out to Dagenham & Redbridge who are in League 1.
A major point to take into consideration here is that there is a fundamental flaw in most written forms of communication: it can be very hard, and sometimes impossible for the reader of the communication to pick up on tone. With Twitter, footballers are communicating to a mass audience of people. Very few of which know the player personally. This means that the potential for a player’s Tweet to be taken out of context is far greater still. The recent Ryan Babel saga is testament to this.
Babel posted a link to a picture of Howard Webb’s head superimposed on to a United shirt, accompanied by a tweet that read: “And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke”. To be honest he is right with his tweet, he is only regarded so highly in my opinion because he has an image and personality, but that’s another article.
It was a debateable penalty, but if there is even the slightest contact in the box, a striker’s prerogative is to go down. I digress. Now, because of the lack of tone (and a hint of bitterness/angry tweet) this tweet has come across as more of a personal attack than it was probably intended.
Babel has become the first player charged with improper conduct by the FA for a posting on Twitter – almost a landmark achievement. I don’t think Howard Webb (once described as the most hated man in Poland) would have taken serious offence or anyone else for that matter – it was a joke and fair play to Gordon Taylor for pointing that out.
Now I have missed a couple, but we don’t have all day. The most notable is Glen Johnson biting back at Paul Merson’s comment on Sky Sport’s soccer Saturday show. Fair play to him as well; pundits can sit on TV giving their opinion, so why can’t a player give it back. It’s just banter anyway and that is what football is about.
I think that Football has been gagged too long. You never know the real story. But Twitter gives us a fascinating insight in to a very closed world, a world where there is more gossip on a daily basis than OK or Hello.
For once fans feel they can get close to the players; the excitement of them answering a tweet and a look in to their lives. For once these superstars are a bit more human, at the end of the day they all grew up like we did, all went to school like us, and loved playing and following football just like us.
Players own stupidity means that this new media could be banned or highly regulated. People’s opinions are not strategically timed. You can’t manage emotion. So come on boys, use some common sense! One thing is for sure – the FA fine given to Babel sends out a potent message that both players and clubs will take seriously. If the FA starts dishing out bans then clubs are going to come down hard on Twitter. If the fines are large, players will take note.
Whatever happens, Twitter is now instant big news where no interviews are needed; football and society are evolving again.