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Footballers and Twitter – an ill-advised combination

When footballers first took to twitter, there was widespread jubilation. Well, jubilation from the most hardcore fans of those players at the forefront of social networking and mild pleasure from the rest of us as we clicked follow.

But most people thought it was a good thing.

At last, those millionaire representatives of our favourite football club were vaguely contactable, even if most of us never got a reply to our carefully considered 140 character praise, abuse, or tactical analysis.

At last, we could get regular insight into the fascinating lives of heroes and villains (depending on which club they represented).

Misinterpreted by pesky journalists 

At last, the beautiful game’s superstars could portray themselves as they so wished, without being misinterpreted by those pesky journalists asking them trick questions and then twisting their well-intentioned words.

Well, I’m not sure it’s worked out quite like that. Or was ever likely to.

In the latest episode of footballers typing before thinking, Liverpool’s Nathan Eccleston is being investigated for making some ill-advised comments on how 9/11 attacks were an accident.

For extra sensitivity points, he decided the 10th anniversary of the disaster would be the best time to air these views. “I ain’t going to say attack don’t let the media make u believe that was terrorist that did it. #O.T.I.S.” (OTIS is shorthand for only the Illuminati succeed).

Club investigation 

Apparently, it didn’t occur to Eccleston that it was an emotional day, millions would be offended, and many Liverpool fans are American. As, indeed, are the owners... Whoops. He now faces a club investigation.

His sympathisers will cry: “He’s only young!” and they’re right, he’s 20. Old enough to know better in my view, but the example he’s had from his older, not so wiser, fellow professionals isn’t one to follow.

Joey Barton seemed surprised when his tweets criticising Newcastle weren’t particularly well-received by the Toon board and he was listed for a free transfer. This one should be taken with a pinch of salt though as presumably securing a move was Joey’s intention, as no one could possibly be stupid enough to criticise their employer in a public forum and expect to receive praise if your boss discovers it. Even footballers. Well, their agents anyway.

But then, it was only in January this year that Ryan Babel, then of Liverpool, decided rules about referee criticism don’t apply to the internet. He decided a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt, shortly after United knocked their rivals out of the FA Cup thanks to a dubiously-awarded penalty, was an appropriate response. Funny, yes, photoshop skills...debateable, FA reaction, predictable. £10,000 fine and a warning.

Carlton Cole's jokes 

Carlton Cole’s attempts at jokes weren’t very well received at the FA either during the England friendly with Ghana in April. He tweeted: “Immigration has surrounded the Wembley premises! I knew it was a trap! Hahahaha. The only way to get out safely is to wear an England jersey and paint your face w/ the St. George’s flag!” A £20,000 fine was his reward, as well as an increase in followers.

Even if they escape a fine, embarrassment is a realistic possibility. Another of Liverpool’s young players. Jonjo Shelvey, is likely to be remembered for some to come as “the footballer who tweeted pictures of his penis”. A quick account deletion followed. However, Burnley’s Keith Treacy did not learn from the young man’s mistakes, and changed his picture to one of his genitals. Hacking assumed, although you can never be sure.

But for those who can manage to avoid the obvious pitfalls of controversy, I’ve actually discovered the majority lead catastrophically dull lives. Or at least the bits they’re willing to tweet about should never make the autobiographies.

Unfollow button 

Unable to get a game for Manchester United, he’s filling his timeline with news about horseracing, when most United fans were still excitedly discussing a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton the same afternoon. But to be honest, the previous six months of twitter activity have hardly been riveting reading from Mr Owen either. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to hit the unfollow button.

Other victims of sleep-inducing tweeting include, but are definitely not limited to, Charlie Adam, the king of overusing the retweet button, Cristiano Ronaldo who lets his PR team do the talking, Bacary Sagna informing us he has a day off, Shaun Wright-Phillips discussing his hairdresser and any footballer who has ever told the world he is sat in Nandos.

Rio Ferdinand, when he’s not revealing how poor his music taste is or overusing the phrase Stay on Your feet’ so much he’s created a merchandising opportunity, has hit on a useful feature: to answer fan questions. He’s done his ‘Rio Q&A’ a few times now and the idea seems revolutionary, fans can get the answers to all the questions they most want to know that the media outlets have never bothered to ask.

Sounds great. Until you realise every time one appears, it’s the same dull questions being answered, and most interesting or challenging questions get ignored. There isn’t even a journalist to twist the answers in to something verging on readable.

Back pages

But to be fair to the dullards, if they start tweeting anything vaguely interesting, it’s breaking news on Sky Sports and a slating beckons on the back pages of the tabloids. A (debateable) attempt at humour lands you a fine. I might choose the snooze-inducing path as well.

Controversial or dull, nothing will save a footballer from a barrage of twitter abuse from rival fans. Just like in a football stadium (unless your name is Matthew Simmons and you decide to take on Cantona) anything goes from behind your keyboard. Whether it’s swearing, name slinging, drug allegations or even in Robbie Savage’s case, fending off tweeters making jokes about his father who has Alzheimers.

But most can count on the unwavering love from their own supporters at least. Darron Gibson was not so lucky, quitting twitter in a matter of hours after a barrage of abuse from Manchester United fans apparently under the impression he’s not quite good enough. “I hope you break both your legs” was one of the nicer comments, and also one of the ones with the least spelling mistakes.

Less than satisfied 

Kevin Davies also decided enough was enough after Bolton followers took to the web when they were less than satisfied with his performances. But that seems quite reasonable compared to what his wife, Emma, has had to put up with this week following Kevin’s tackle on Tom Cleverley. Apparently, given Emma is by definition an extension of her husband, some think she must be to blame for the ligament injury Cleverley suffered. No one said football fans were rational.

Ultimately, take out the troublesome controversial tweets, and we’re left with a load of dirge to skim through while we wait for something better to pop up on the timeline. It sounded like a lot of fun, but the reality is rather different. I think I’ll stick to reading their interviews.

However, if a footballer is in need of a quick popularity boost, the Emmanuel Frimpong method of taking to twitter to insult Piers Morgan is always worth a punt.

Story by Alex Porter 

 


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