Twitter in Football (Reading – NFFC Programme Notes)

My friend Billsy is a notoriously mellow character; cool as a cucumber with a haircut you could set your watch by. This made it all the more strange when I saw him gambolling down my street one late August night. He’d turned the corner at seventy miles an hour and parked diagonally across the length of the street. All manner of thoughts went through my head. Has there been an accident down at the old mill? Has the law finally caught up with him after all these years? After swinging my fragile front door open with his right boot and catching his breath, he finally exclaimed: “Dexter Blackstock has just mentioned you on Twitter!”

A text message would probably have sufficed, although I do understand the root of his excitement.  We live in an age where footballers are completely detached from supporters and social networking sites like Twitter offer a welcome bridge between the two. The football loving demographic are still coming to terms with the previously foreign concept of players being accessible to the general public.

Dexter Blackstock is a shining example of how Twitter can be beneficial to the future of football. Since his cruciate knee ligament injury he has embraced the opportunity to interact freely with his 27,000 followers. The subjects discussed can be as inane as ‘favourite takeaways’ or as politically charged as ‘who should be eliminated from the X Factor.’ The important thing is that Dexter, a skilled member of the Twitterati, has used the site to connect with fans in a manner that has become extinct elsewhere within the game.

Unfortunately there is an ugly side to footballers using Twitter; a side which has further tarnished our beautiful game’s ever diminishing standing within society. When a player writes a message on Twitter he is actually publishing unedited material to the whole world. With this comes a responsibility that a lot of players simply aren’t ready for.

Ishmael Miller recently landed himself in hot water when he reacted angrily to criticism from fans after defeat at Coventry. Had he have walked around Nottingham City Centre shouting abuse at people with a megaphone he’d have drawn less attention to himself than through one ill thought out tweet, thrashed out in the heat of the moment. Therein lays the problem with footballers and their Twitter accounts.

This problem is one that most of us will never personally experience; we can reap the benefits of using Twitter without concern for repercussions.

If you can ignore silly rumours, like the one about there being a 130 foot statue of Jonathan Greening erected in Brazil, then Twitter is by far the fastest way of getting all the latest news and views from the City Ground.

Furthermore it allows fans to interact with each other in a way that was never possible before. A prime example of this mass interaction came last week, when thousands of Forest Fans campaigned to get Steve McClaren appointed as the next Leicester Manager. I think its testament to the philanthropic nature of our fans that even though he failed at Forest, we are investing our precious time in helping Steve get a new job.

Personally, the part of twitter I enjoy most is fine tuning the list of people I’m following. Last week, I got rid of the Dalai Lama to make room for Eugen Bopp. It made me feel extremely powerful … a bit like a young Louis Walsh.

Whilst the world of Twitter can enhance the experience of supporting our beloved Forest, it’s important to realise that supporters, like players, have a responsibility for the material they publish online.

Some of the abuse that players are subjected to is vile and pathetic. If players are to be held responsible for the words they publish on twitter then supporters must be too. Just because they earn huge salaries and are in the public eye, this does not make it right for fans to hurl criminal, hate-ridden words at professional footballers.

Twitter is not an evil in itself; it’s simply an online service that has made the world smaller and subsequently given footballers and supporters a chance to reach out to each other. It’s not Twitter that’s the problem; it’s the way people choose to use it. Whilst I firmly believe social networking sites can do great good within the game, I also accept that, without mechanisms of control in place, it’s a ‘public relations minefield’ for both players and their clubs.

One of the first things Steve Cotterill did, having arrived at Forest, was enforce a compromised solution. Forest players can continue to use Twitter to close the gap between themselves and supporters, but will be reprimanded should they use the opportunity to talk about the club. Though it will disappoint twitter users to learn that our players cannot be as open as they once were, it’s in the interest of the club to protect itself from morale-sapping PR blunders.

In an age where media vultures are constantly waiting to swoop down on juicy raw tweets, Steve Cotterill’s decision to monitor the cyberwaves is most definitely in the interest of Nottingham Forest Football Club and its players.

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