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Usually my posts are about SEO, but as it is the start of the football season this coming weekend I thought I’d dip my toes into the waters of Social Media and bring the two subjects together in the wake of recent events.
There has been a lot of controversy recently as footballers have become more active on Twitter. Footballers have never really needed a way to cause trouble for themselves and their clubs, but usually they would need to go through journalists and a web of PR people to get their message out.
With Twitter however, they can simply post whatever they want directly to the world without anybody vetting it…which can be a positive thing, however it can also lead to problems, as evidenced recently at Newcastle United:
Joey BartonJoey Barton was last week disciplined in the heaviest possible way when, on Twitter, he took a very public swipe at Newcastle United’s board and the way in which they run the club, more than just hinting that something was seriously wrong:
”If only we as players could tell the fans exactly how it is, without them above fining us lots of money. There will be a time and a place.”
“And again it would be left to those magnificent fans to pick up the remnants of their once great football club. #hadenoughofcertainpeople”
The club’s response was to promptly tell him he can leave on a free transfer, which is the closest a football club can really go to simply sacking a player.Barton of course is no stranger to controversy, as a look at his Wikipedia page shows, it is not the first time he has been in trouble by a long way. However he has become a brilliant case study for both the positive and negative aspects of footballers being active on Twitter.
Positive Aspects of Twitter
Human Side of PlayersTaking away his ill-judged comments (though his heart was probably in the right place – with the fans), his Twitter use has been exactly what he intended it to be – showing the human side to a player whose reputation is that of a thug who doesn’t deserve the privilege of playing professional football. He was tweeting about music and politics before this row started, which a lot of people can relate to, including myself. Seeing him tweet a picture of himself with Morrissey at Glastonbury helped endear him to me as it is common ground.
Direct Access to PlayersHe also responded directly to fans which is another big positive factor. You hear about players in the old days going straight to the pub with the fans after a match, but in recent years the gulf between supporter and player has widened, with the only real communication being via heavily edited or spun newspaper articles. Twitter narrows that gap, meaning that players can communicate directly with fans.
Also, for the fans, it can be fascinating watching players communicate with each other. For example the Everton players Phil Neville (@Fizzer18) and Seamus Coleman (@seamiecoleman23) have been hilarious throughout the summer, with Coleman making fun of the fact Neville was a regular substitute at Man United back when he played for them, and Neville jesting back at Coleman about his young age…to which Coleman then comes back with a jab about Neville’s advancing years. Fans find it funny and they feel it brings them closer to the team as a whole, showing the team spirit in the camp. (did you really think I could get through a post on football without mentioning Everton?!)
ConclusionIn the wake of the Barton issue, many players and managers have been weighing in on the debate, with Leeds United manager Simon Grayson banning his players from it entirely, Man United, West Ham and Newcastle have implemented Twitter guidelines stopping players from discussing the football clubs, and presumably others have done the same but less publicly.
In essence, this sort of policy should mean that the fans still get their direct access, still get a window into the seemingly fantasy lives of footballers and see that they are really just like us – they watch TV, listen to the same music and read the same newspapers – it just happens without them causing problems for their clubs.
My take on it is that clubs, the FA and anybody else relevant to the decision making need to really understand the medium, what it's for and how people use it – if they don’t then there is likely to be a knee-jerk reaction from people who don’t understand it and it’ll just get banned across the board. That would be a real shame for those people who get excited when their hero re-tweets their message or replies to them.
With Twitter becoming more and more ingrained in modern culture, it should definitely be something that is embraced and made a part of football culture as it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon!