Like many of his Premier League peers, West Ham striker Carlton Cole uses Twitter. However, his misuse of the social networking site landed him in hot water with the FA last month, after making comments deemed inappropriate while England hosted a friendly against Ghana. “Immigration has surrounded the Wembley premises! I knew it was a trap! Hahahaha,” tweeted Cole, in reference to the substantial number of Ghanaian fans at Wembley. The burly forward tried to gloss over the remarks as ‘jokes’, but he is the latest in a long line of a footballers that have dug holes for themselves through Twitter. There is no shortage of common pitfalls that players have tumbled into.
Former England captain Rio Ferdinand is a keen Twitter-user, and every time he uses the medium, his comments are transmitted to his 750,000 followers around the world. Elite footballers have never been so far detached from the man in the street – paradoxically though, they have never been so easy to interact with either. The barrier between those the pitch and those in the stands has been demolished.
Rio can be entertaining on Twitter, as can his light-hearted, publically-contested slanging matches with Robbie Savage. However not all footballers are so prudent with the power they wield. Amongst the many offenders, Darren Bent famously manufactured his move away from Spurs two seasons ago by telling the world he wanted to move to Sunderland, and just last year Ryan Babel was fined for posting a mock-up of Howard Webb wearing a Manchester United shirt shortly after Liverpool lost at Old Trafford. Through Twitter, some players exercise their personal influence in ways that can damage their club’s reputation.
This has become a common trend – one poorly thought-out tweet can become viral within minutes. Even the most amicable players run the risk of being misinterpreted when they try to squeeze a message into 140 characters. Some footballers don’t do themselves any favours whatsoever by using Twitter to solely post inane messages about where they’re going for lunch, in snippets that seem actively disdainful of grammar.
Footballers can also often fall foul to spoof accounts. Sam Allardyce recently requested that one Twitter account – in which a user posed as a crude-talking parody of the former Blackburn boss – should be closed, because it was using him as the butt of some rather obscene mockery.
Twitter in football isn’t all bad though – football is for entertainment, after all, and it is refreshing to hear a footballer’s opinions directly rather than via a story-mongering journalist. Many players need to resist the temptation to become embroiled in petty tweeting-arguments with disgruntled fans, and instead use the tool to its best potential by allowing the fans an insight into the lives of the footballing elite. If nothing else, Twitter has given us the opportunity to be kept posted on Kevin Davies’ on-going fracas against his truculent toaster. Sometimes it is just nice to know that footballers, despite their wealth, have lives as mundane as the rest of us.
This article was submitted for publication in Doncaster Rovers’ matchday programme for the npower Football League Championship match against Crystal Palace on Apr 22nd 2011.