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How Twitter changed the rules

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Ben Dirs | 17:00 UK time, Monday, 17 January 2011

My dad tells a story of the time he saw Chelsea's Roy Bentley standing on a crowded Tube platform after a game, firing off autographs for a group of young fans before bidding a hearty farewell and boarding his train. Bentley, bear in mind, was the club's star striker and would skipper them to their first League title only a couple of years later, in 1954-55.

I tell you this not because I thought you might fancy a whimsical skip down Memory Lane but because it is revealing in two ways: first, it demonstrates there was a time when our sporting gods lived among us, not in Versace-themed palaces behind 12-foot gates; second, while the gods of yesteryear were revered and adored, those who revered and adored them kept a dignified distance.

You are more likely to bump into Princess Michael of Kent doing her big shop in Lidl than you are to see current Chelsea captain John Terry riding the 1730 from Fulham Broadway, so other-worldly have today's sporting stars become: buffered by media men and agents, over-marketed and over-branded, and this is where Twitter comes in.

"In the old days, you would see your heroes down the pub or they would live in the same street," says neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis. "Nowadays these people are so well off and hidden behind every conceivable kind of barrier. Twitter is a way of getting near them, or having the illusion of getting near them and how their minds are working. Although sometimes it's not an illusion because they're quite indiscreet in the things they say."

Roy Bentley, Eric Parson and Ken Armstrong
Roy Bentley (left) jogs through Chelsea with team-mates Eric Parsons and Ken Armstrong

An irony for sports journalists is that while it has never been more difficult to pin down sport's biggest names and wring anything vaguely interesting from them, along comes Twitter and all of a sudden they are splattering the minutiae of their lives across the internet for all to see. Not only that, they are letting slip things they would never in a million years reveal in a controlled interview situation.

Last week, we had Liverpool's Ryan Babel posting a mocked-up photo of referee Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt (for which he has been fined £10,000 by the FA), while the cream of QPR were wishing ill things to happen to Blackburn forward El Hadji Diouf - 30-odd years of "sick as a parrot" buried by an avalanche of tweets.

"Sportspeople tend to be very emotional," adds Dr Lewis, who has conducted studies of sportspeople's behaviour. "They take offence, they're very sensitive and they tend to blast off in all directions when they're in an emotional state."

So another irony of Twitter is that while it affords sportspeople an element of control, allowing them to bypass irksome journalists who might twist their message, it also takes control away. Whereas a year ago Babel might have let off steam to a mate or his girlfriend, now he has this very convenient - and very tempting - tool at his fingertips that allows him to sound off to the world. As the comedian Frankie Boyle sagely observed: "Twitter has replaced muttering to yourself on the sofa."

Explains Stade Francais and England rugby star James Haskell (Twitter followers: 11,641; sample tweet: "Sitting in a bank with my old man while my mum is kicking the a** out of my Adidas account on the Champs-Elysées"): "You're not looking anyone in the eye when you write stuff on Twitter.

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Arsene Wenger: "We are thinking about how to use it the best way"

"You're not directly engaging with anyone, so there's no pressure, no embarrassment or control. Twitter is one of the few social mediums you can control yourself. What I say to a journalist might bear very little resemblance to what appears in their paper the next day.

"But what you've got to realise with Twitter is that you can make a comment like 'I love trees' and someone out there will be offended."

Haskell is no stranger to Twitter controversy, having tweeted his disappointment at being omitted by England in 2009 and again after being dropped by Stade last year, and concedes he has had to become more Twitter-savvy. Perhaps he could patent an 'app' whereby he hears Martin Johnson's voice every time his trigger finger starts hovering: "Stay away from the 'tweet' button..."

The raft of Twitter wrecks over the past two years has revealed a technological and philosophical gulf between players and coaches, with the behaviour of players - young, famous, at the cutting edge of society - leaving their coaches - older, often less famous, set in their ways - baffled.

"Twitter does my head in - and you can quote me on that. I could talk about it all day," said QPR boss Neil Warnock when I gave him a call.

"Perfect," I said.

"I don't want to talk about it," he replied.

Meanwhile, England rugby coach Martin Johnson told the BBC that any of his players who stepped out of line, Twitter-wise, "might not be an England player for long". Asked if he would be joining the Twitterati any time soon, Johnson replied: "Don't hold your breath."

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Martin Johnson: "We trust the players to do the right thing"

Of course, while any new technology comes with a health warning, with a hysterical media doing most of the warning, Twitter is largely a positive tool for sportspeople and sports clubs alike. For clubs, it is a great way of getting their brand out there. For sportspeople, it serves the same purpose, while fostering closer relationships with their fans.

"It's a great chance to apologise personally if I've played badly or thank the fans if we've played well and they've been in good voice," says Olly Barkley of Bath Rugby and England (Twitter followers: 5,621; sample tweet: "Trying a sausage cassoulet tonight. Don't be too alarmed if you see the contents on the touchline tomorrow").

"But I also try different things on Twitter. If I wrote about my everyday life, I'd bore myself. I've got quite a big music following now and I post tracks different DJs have sent me, so it's developed a bit for me. It's moved away from sport."

It is this human element that proves so fascinating for many followers - like a suspected Martian being asked to cut himself to prove he bleeds red, the revelation that Rio Ferdinand (Twitter followers: 415,108; sample tweet: "How can they let charlie slater leave the square with a beat up suitcase...at least hook him up with a new fake off the market!") watches EastEnders is all the proof some require that he is indeed one of us.

"It's good to see they're normal," says Sarah Ayub, a sports fanatic and follower of, among many others, Ferdinand and England cricketers Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann, all of them masters of the medium. "Rio wakes up, takes his kids to school, but he also tells his fans if he's had a bad game and hasn't been able to sleep. He's just like everybody else."

Tiger Woods
The unfathomably famous Tiger Woods is assailed by autograph hunters. Photo: Getty 

"Sportspeople are programmed to say certain things," adds Peter Searles, a follower of cricketers, swimmers and Southend footballers, "but on Twitter they've got free rein to say what they want. It's their own views rather than what someone's told them to say to a man with a microphone."

But if you think this makes Twitter a meritocracy, with the less famous such as Retford United goalkeeper Richard Jeffries (Twitter followers: 20; sample tweet: "Don't chat up girls at airports with GCSE French. 'Tu as un animal?' is not a good ice breaker") vying with the outlandishly famous such as Tiger Woods (Twitter followers: 418,473; sample tweet: "Fun to brainstorm with @nikegolf about creating new products, love their approach") by virtue of the quality of their tweets, then you would be wrong.

And while it is easy to view Twitter as the perfect medium for a celebrity-fixated, narcissistic age - each new follower a little boost to the ego, a reminder of just how famous, and therefore important, you are - for Barkley and Haskell, Twitter serves a deeper purpose, allowing them to paint more flattering self-portraits than the grotesque likenesses churned out by some sections of the media.

"People have their own ideas about me and they're often formed off the back of things they've read or what they hear," says Barkley, who was involved in a couple of well-publicised off-field altercations earlier in his career. "But if you post two or three times a day on Twitter and someone follows you for a couple of months, they'll get a pretty good idea of what you're really like."

Says Haskell: "I suffer from 'Marmite syndrome', people either love me or hate me, but Twitter's allowed me to show a lighter side. That's exactly why I do a lot of the stuff I do on Twitter - whether it's posting funny videos, banter with team-mates, charity stuff - to show fans what I'm really like."

However, there are those who argue this intimacy is largely illusory. "Twitter is a great way of apparently having contact with people and being matey," says Dr Lewis. "Not only are sportspeople keeping their followers at a distance but they're keeping them at a distance within 140 characters. It makes them feel good about themselves but it's low cost in terms of time, emotion and feedback."

In 2009, England all-rounder Tim Bresnan landed himself in hot water after rowing with a follower on Twitter, an episode that led some to question whether the medium was quite the love-in many of us had been led to believe.

Bresnan's angry putdown of a chap who had dared to join in a bit of repartee between the Yorkshireman and a couple of his team-mates demonstrated boundaries still existed and that correct Twitter etiquette had yet to be defined. The follower had no doubt thought to himself, "if Bresnan and Swanny are joshing in public, then why can't I stick my oar in?" Bresnan's take was clearly: "You wouldn't call me fat in the real world, so why should I let you get away with it online?"

"I do get frustrated sometimes because people aren't always the nicest on Twitter," says Haskell. "I recently tweeted saying Jonny Wilkinson was one of the best fly-halves in the world and ended up having an argument with someone I'd never met who thought I was criticising him. I stay away from any of that nonsense now."

The fans I spoke to were realistic, arguing that any contact is better than no contact at all, while it was also pointed out there are an awful lot of fans under a certain age who do not read newspapers or magazines or watch much TV, for whom Twitter is an invaluable source of information in these digital times.

Personally, I couldn't care less whether Rio Ferdinand is an EastEnders buff or not, as long as he's keeping clean sheets for England, just as I'm sure most Chelsea fans back in the 1950s were more interested in Roy Bentley's goals than the quality of his banter. But times have changed, and if Twitter did not exist then some bright spark would have to invent it - the modern fan wouldn't have it any other way.

As well as my blogs, you can follow the minutiae of my life, as well as my narcissistic ramblings, at http://twitter.com/bendirs1 

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Its good to see refs being defended with a big statement, but I think it was wrong to be resulting in a heavity fine for a silly tweet for Ryan. Ive seen managers get away with so much more while talking into a camera!

    We need more consistent handling while defending refs. As for Twitter it is becoming a modern game, where players are celebs. Traditionals will not like it, but football is global and theres many fans who want to know what supermarket Rio went too for breakfast shopping.

  • Comment number 2.

    FA acting like big brother here.
    Babel has a right to say what he thinks.
    It is the ref that should be fined by screwing up a big game with a
    bad decision.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Sportspeople are programmed to say certain things," adds Peter Searles, a follower of cricketers, swimmers and Southend footballers, "but on Twitter they've got free rein to say what they want. It's their own views rather than what someone's told them to say to a man with a microphone."

    And there you have it. Sportspeople with free rein to share their tedious lives in their own tedious vocabulary. I don't want to know what TV programmes footballers watch, I'm only interested in seeing how they justify their over inflated wages on a football pitch.

    As a Liverpool fan I feel that I should be defending Babel, but I wish he put as much effort into his playing as he did with his photoshop tool.

    Am I really going to get too upset about a footballer being fined £10,000 for being a bit of a prat? Probably not.

  • Comment number 4.

    i dont have twitter, but i do usually find out what banter graeme swann and jimmy anderson are having on it! I think its good to see that they are having a laugh whilst doing what they love, rather than being serious and mundane like many other sports people!

  • Comment number 5.

    @1... 'heavily fined'

    10,000?

    Heavily fined?

    To a member of the public yes but that amount of money is like a couple of ten pence pieces in our pocket for them.

  • Comment number 6.

    Babel was having a bit of a dig at a ref. As long as he and others aren't making offensive comments or making statements which could provoke a riot, then there shouldn't be a problem - it's just freedom of speech.

    As for educating players regarding Twitter, what a nonsense - they just need a bit of common sense, and it they can't show that then the club should ban the player from Twitter.

    http://footballfutbolfitba.wordpress.com/

  • Comment number 7.

    It's a SKANK thing to do by the F.A.!! But, not like he cannot afford that fine.. it's under a weeks wages to him! Anyway, if somebody did that in their workplace they'd be fired probably..! So unlucky mate.. with BIG wages, come BIG fines ern'it.!.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    A good post, Ben.

    Tweeters come in all shapes and sizes, it's up to others to decide whether they'll become "followers" or not. It's soon obvious which celebs tweet via professional marketing companies and which are putting at least something of themselves into it.

  • Comment number 10.

    Sadly I am afraid, many football players seem to lack this 'common sense' people have been talking about. After some particularly poor performances for Bristol Rovers this season one well known defender thought it appropriate to offer any fans questioning his commitment out for a fight in the club car park after the next game via Twitter!

  • Comment number 11.

    I think its a disgrace that footballers and even managers cant speak out about referee's or they get a fine or banned from touchline ,if the referees themselves havent got the guts to comeout for a 5min interview after the game & give their opinion on any decisions made, why cant players and managers do it for them, but the FA have to look further into this because it is a part of the game and like others have said its freedom of speech being taking from these professionals

  • Comment number 12.

    I think social network sites like Twitter are only good for football. They allow, for bad or worse, players to say what they actually mean, to be as they are. Listen to any post-match interview and it's always the same tosh, talking a lot without actually saying anything whatsoever. And as mentioned the media always twist the words that people say in interviews, you say one thing and they print something completely different so no doubt many players are wondering what's the point of talking to them. This isn't a problem on twitter.

    And that photo of Woods is a perfect example of why I can't blame any footballer who rather stays at his mansion with his WAG than comes outside where he has to fear for his life in the middle of a riot.

  • Comment number 13.

    Twitter is in the public domain. When you twitter things about a ref you will be dealt with the same as you would in an interview. In some ways its better because you haven't been misquoted. In that sense Babel was right to be hauled up. These players are very well paid and should be coached in what they can and cannot tweet and should be expected to hold to that constraint.

  • Comment number 14.

    It is ridiculous. It's good to see these guys are human and enjoy a bit of fun and banter, its pathetic of the FA to charge him. What happened to people being able to express themselves? Its fine for these guys to joke around, we, as the public, appreciate it and find it humorous. It doesn't matter if people (ie, Howard Webb and the FA) disagree, its his own opinion and he's joking.
    Its pathetic how PC the FA has become, as has everything.

  • Comment number 15.

    Poor from the FA..That fine will definitely have hurt him..not! It was a pathetic act from Babel and the FA should have made an example of him for bringing the game into disrepute and for smearing the integrity of a referee who many would argue got both decisions RIGHT!

  • Comment number 16.

    Disgusting.... whatever happened to freedom of speech and lets be fair, he only said what we were all thinking, It was never a penalty, if Gerrard deserved to go, and he did, then so did Rafael for the same sort of challenge just moments before. once again the curse of the dodgy refereeing at Old Trafford raises its ugly head, and as for Man United.. win at all costs, even if it means blatant cheating.... so shame on you F.A and Mr. Webb and well done to Ryan Babel for standing up for what you belive in.....

  • Comment number 17.

    I too got Roy Bentley's autograph.
    I went to school near Chelsea's ground and we used to go and hang around outside at lunchtime and get the autographs of anyone who went in and out of the ground.
    I got Johnny Haynes's (the David Beckham of his day, only better) as he WALKED into Stamford Bridge.
    In those days you could also walk into Downing Street any time.

  • Comment number 18.

    Twitter can also used be used to carefully craft a false manufactured image of yourself in much the same way that 'celebrities' do elsewhere.

  • Comment number 19.

    So a funny if misguided photo costs ten grand, interested to see what the going rate is for screaming obscenities at a referee. Or have I misunderstood the concept of disrepute??

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    Interesting piece. Funnily enough, I've just written my own: http://blackandwhiteandreadallover.blogspot.com/2011/01/tweet-nothings.html

    The phenomenon fascinates me in the way it's subtly changing relations between footballers, clubs, the authorities, the media and fans - though, as a Newcastle fan who's trawled through Wayne Routledge's stream of gibberish and Nile Ranger's tweets about an overwhelming desire for hot wings, I can fully appreciate there's a danger of overstating Twitter's significance...

  • Comment number 22.

    This is not about freedom of speech, but about a player breaching the rules of the body that governs his professional conduct.

    There is a big difference between saying a referee made a mistake and suggesting that he was biassed.

  • Comment number 23.

    You do have to question the sanity of the FA that within one hour of Babel posting the comment/photo, they were already set to launch an inquiry.

    I much rather see them spend this time and effort into actually improving the sport in this country. I wonder how much Football Association money and time was wasted in dragging through the hoards of tweets to find something offensive.

  • Comment number 24.

    The FA fined Babel for 'improper conduct'
    Is a twitter post mocking a referee improper conduct?
    Debatable.

    What about the referee who screwed up a very important match with poor judgement ( it happens too much)
    Do you think think he should be reprimanded?
    Definitely.

  • Comment number 25.

    As many other posters have said, FA money and resources better focused elsewhere. The clubs - all of whom like to present themselves as media savvy - should do more to advise players about possible pitfalls of posting on social networking sites.

    The reason Twitter's so popular with footballers is that, like the text message, it's a crutch for the inarticulate, the egomaniacal and those with an attention span of seven seconds.

  • Comment number 26.

    Nobody uses Twitter apart from gits.

    Surprising then, that the BBC has been overly promoting it across its entire network for the last couple of years.

    Almost like advertising.

  • Comment number 27.

    The F.A. fined Babel £10,000.
    A football association depended on the Premier League, when it comes to money, finds a silly way to get some money out of a football player.

    The right way, I would say. Employ a dozen people, searching Twitter and every other communicational internet tool, while at match day observng with a telescope every single match. At £10,000 p.h. (as in per head), they will soon be financially stable.

    Utterly ridiculous and I don't even support Liverpool - I'm a Manchester United fan.

  • Comment number 28.

    Real sportsmen have a laugh with the fans, you tweet a rugby league player more often than not they will reply and have a laugh

  • Comment number 29.

    The whole Babel thing is a very thorny situation indeed. On the one hand, and as somebody has already pointed out, by sticking Webb in a Man U shirt he wasn't just accusing him of making a mistake, he was publicly accusing him of cheating. Then again, what about the right to free speech in a democratic society? Not to mention fun. Also, and again as has been pointed out already, how is it right for Babel to be slapped with a 10 grand fine (peanuts for him, I'll admit) when players get away with calling refs every name under the sun (yes Wayne, we can lip-read) week in, week out?

    bigrossy1966 - I think it's a bit more complicated than that to be honest - you say people who post on Twitter are egomaniacal, but you're on here giving your opinion for everyone to see, so presumably you think you've got something interesting to say - so does that make you an egomaniac, too? For the record, I'm a journalist, it goes without saying I'm an egomaniac...

  • Comment number 30.

    Babel accused Howard Webb of being biased and a cheat and in my book that demands punishment,of course £10K is nothing to an overpaid EPL prima donna so really he has not been punished.

    As far as Twitter itself goes so many footballers are getting into trouble because they lack the intelligence to moderate their posts and as such we will have a regular conveyor belt of sportsmen and especially footballers dropping themselves in it via cyberspace

  • Comment number 31.

    Football_UK: With a sports media that will report an off-form Aldershot Town striker's tweets, I don't think any expense is necessary.

  • Comment number 32.

    I'm sorry, last time I checked we lived in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Ryan is entitled to his opinions.

  • Comment number 33.

    5. At 5:58pm on 17 Jan 2011, andy1005 wrote:
    @1... 'heavily fined'

    10,000?

    Heavily fined?

    To a member of the public yes but that amount of money is like a couple of ten pence pieces in our pocket for them.

    I could not agree more..

    1. What WERE his intentions..apart from suggesting that the referee was biased..impugning his integrity..reputation and future employment prospects.. actionable libel I would have thought..

    2. £10,000 fine..disastrous to most of us normal people..but totally derisory in terms of his pay packet

    3. I'm all in favour of 'free speech'..as long as it is fairmindedly accountable.. just imagine if Wenger or Ferguson has done this.. the storm of protest from many of the bloggers above would have been deafening and the F.A. would have gone ballistic

  • Comment number 34.

    benw - Read your article, nice job - I suggest you all do, too for some different takes on Twitter: http://blackandwhiteandreadallover.blogspot.com/2011/01/tweet-nothings.html

  • Comment number 35.

    Surely is Babel is charged with improper conduct then so should the Aldershot player and QPR players for their tweets (all of which are offensive and not jokes - even if you don't find Babel's funny)?

    The lack of consistency from the FA on this is pathetic - clearly one rule for big clubs and one for small clubs...

  • Comment number 36.

    Who gets the 10G, that's what I want to know. And is this "fine" legal?

    And what about the "crime"? If that's a crime then 90% of Internet users should be locked up.

  • Comment number 37.

    @Ben "by sticking Webb in a Man U shirt he wasn't just accusing him of making a mistake, he was publicly accusing him of cheating."

    1. He didn't stick him in the shirt, he just posted a mock up that was on Facebook within minutes of te match finishing.

    2. I think it was accusing him of (possibly subconcious) bias or favouritism rather than cheating. It might be semantics but I think even the most ardent MU fan would admit he has given some soft decisions United's wasy over the last couple of years (v Spurs, v Arsenal)

  • Comment number 38.

    If the FA REALLY wanted to make a point, they'd make Babel publicly clean the ref's boots at a local U16 game.

    Then we'd know the FA aren't just thinking of their own Easter hampers first.

  • Comment number 39.

    Spamburger - Well, I don't think anyone's saying Babel has committed a 'crime', the FA are merely saying he's disobeyed their rules, and every organisation in the world has rules you must abide by, whether it's the FA or your local bowls club.

  • Comment number 40.

    My favourite sporting tweet was earlier this year when an NFL player (Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson) used Twitter to blame God for dropping what would have been a game-winning catch! It's this kind of ill-judged comment, straight from the horse's mouth, which makes Twitter so entertaining... hopefully, it will take a while before it becomes sanitized, predictable and dull like TV interviews with athletes usually are.

  • Comment number 41.

    As a lifelong Liverpool fan all I can say is the FA have really punished the club by not banning Babel for life !I sincerely hope he pursues his interest in technology by establishing a new career for himself as soon as possible.

  • Comment number 42.

    £10k to Babel is not a fine. It's well worth it. What is £10k to him; a day, 2 days pay??

    Where does the money go?? To charity?? Probs not. I would hate to think it went in to topping up the FA's expenses funds.

    Babel should be able to say what he likes on or offline.

    I thought it was the Crown (as in the State) who were the only entity that could impose a fine in the UK. If I was Babel I'd refuse to pay it and see them in Court....just for the hell of it.

  • Comment number 43.

    John Sinnott wrote a better piece than this on the same subject just last week. Why another?

  • Comment number 44.

    ironcow2103 - Not sure how important it is whether it was Babel who stuck him in the Manu U shirt or not, the point is by sticking it on his Twitter page he was endorsing an opinion. I take your point on whether he was accusing him of cheating or favouritism, although I imagine an awful lot of fans consider them to be pretty much the same thing.

  • Comment number 45.

    "The FA fined Babel for 'improper conduct'
    Is a twitter post mocking a referee improper conduct?"

    Yes. It is unprofessional.


    "What about the referee who screwed up a very important match with poor judgement ( it happens too much)
    Do you think think he should be reprimanded?"

    That is a separate issue.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think all of you should know that the picture that Ryan Babel posted up was made after Webb gave a penalty against Tottenham in that infamous Old Trafford clash which ended 5-2. I'm bemused that some of you have only just seen it.

    On another matter, just with the referees it's funny how United players get away with tweeting about referees yet the rest of the world does not.

    A great tweet from Ferdinand last October about how incompetant the referee was got no press coverage at all. Suprising? No, United are the establishment club, we all know that, hence why 4 United 'legends' have been given lifetime achievement awards by the BBC in the past decade, whilst notable legends of football such as Kenny Daglish, Sir Bobby, et al never were, despite doing more for the game than let's say Senor Beckham of LA.

  • Comment number 47.

    Oh dear, a complete over reaction from the gin drinkers at the FA. I thought we had a right to free speech in this country? So what if a footballer made a comment about the ineptitude of a senior referee?
    Ridiculous, the FA needs to look closer to home for problems in the game.....

    A bunch of incompetants!!

  • Comment number 48.

    21. At 7:29pm on 17 Jan 2011, benw wrote:

    Interesting piece. Funnily enough, I've just written my own: http://blackandwhiteandreadallover.blogspot.com/2011/01/tweet-nothings.html

    Wow. A few more & you'll have your own book! Can't believe I got all the way down to your Twitter link ;-).


    @42: Yeah, the Crown/State & the Mob. In Sicily anyway.

  • Comment number 49.

    "An irony for sports journalists is that while it has never been more difficult to pin down sport's biggest names and wring anything vaguely interesting from them, along comes Twitter..."
    I think I hear the loud sound of a hammer hitting a nail on the head.

  • Comment number 50.

    akaTommySmith - Well, the fact this blog has only been up three hours and we already have 50 comments rather answers your question. Also, Sinno's piece, excellent as it is, is focused purely on football and the ramifications for that sport, whereas this blog, with its interviews with players, coaches, a psychologist and fans (as well as media people who were not quoted directly) takes a broader view. Plus, this one provides you with the opportunity to express your displeasure!

  • Comment number 51.

    if making silly remarks and talking gibberish on twitter cost Ryan Babel 10k, then Sir Ian Holloway will be paying his fines off waaaaaayyyyy after im pushing up daisies.....

  • Comment number 52.

    Whilst it was wrong for Babel to post the picture and his comments, he apologised soon afterwards and admitted he was wrong for his tweet. That should have been sufficient enough. There was really no need for the FA to get involved and issue such a pointless and overbearing fine. Its PC gone mad.

    Am sure Howard Webb wouldn't have taken it too seriously, he's probably heard and seen worse in his day job, and Babel was just frustrated and not actually indicating he cheated. If that had been the case then the FA would have had a definite reason to act, but otherwise there was no reason to get involved.

    As has been said, managers and players say worse into cameras every week to no sanction from the FA, whilst other players have made comments about refs viz twitter before Babel with no reaction. The FA are clearly trying to make an example against Babel.

    Babel had one error in judgement, made a clear mistake and apologised, and has now been reidiculously fined. He did more than Webb, who also made a mistake that weekend, yet doesn't apologise and will feel no reaction to his errors, like most refs. I know they aren't allowed to give interviews, but i think this issue needs to be looked at, so that the fans, and clearly the players, are given a reason for decisions made. It would also be nice to see refs punished more clearly for their mistakes like players are. Most will still referee a big match the week after making a wrong decision. That's something the FA should look at.

  • Comment number 53.

    Any ref will tell you, there's no problem saying he got something wrong.

    But questioning his integrity and saying he's biased is completely out of order.

    And other posters are right, I imagine Babel laughed himself silly in in Shaquille O'Neal style at the petty amount (to him) that he was fined

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NAmlj3tWx0

    As for tweeting, seems to be an awful lot more trouble than it's worth. I'm far more interested in what sportspeople do, than what they say

  • Comment number 54.

    Twitter seems to be making the news so often these days, mainly thanks to the controversial situations it has produced!

    A good blog post! I wish I'd lived in the times where you'd see players down the pub or jogging the streets. They do seem almost untouchable now,

    I recently wrote a blog (at http://inbedwithmaradona.com/faking-it/) about those who set up false accounts and who is benefiting from it.

  • Comment number 55.

    #53 "Any ref will tell you, there's no problem saying he got something wrong".

    Unfortunately they never seem able, or are allowed, to come out and say "Hey, I'm only a human being, not a robot and it does appear I got that one wrong...sorry....but I will make mistakes and can only give what I believe I saw at the time".

    If they would then kudos to them.

    I am all for protecting referees, particularly at amatuer level, and I don't like when a player or manager tries to blame referees for a result that happened because the manager and players made mistakes, but Refs don't always help themselves.

  • Comment number 56.

    TWITTER ..as some may be aware (?) got its name/acronym from..

    Tits Will Indicate Their Totally Excruciating Rubbish

    ..given their mindless self importance..as far as too many are concerned of course

  • Comment number 57.

    My previous comment was moderated out by my use of the word TW ..AT..so I rephrased it..despite its loss of accuracy..

    Stone the crows (is that ok?)..what about the eff word I see published so often..

  • Comment number 58.

    Martin Johnson -- "Don't hold your breath." Legend. Once again he proves he's hewn from the right stuff.

    Nice blog Ben. I'm still not going to follow you or anyone else on Twitter.

  • Comment number 59.

    babel's picture was funny but when i first saw the story i thought that his comment was a push too far

  • Comment number 60.

    While I think that footballers should be able to express their opinion, you can't go around essentially accusing referees of being cheats. Some have suggested clubs mediate the comments but it is a sad day when a grown man can't decide whether a comment is suitable or not. "I thought the ref got the big decisions wrong" - OK, "the ref is clearly favouring Man Utd" - not OK.

    www.feeling-football.blogspot.com

  • Comment number 61.

    What a sad world we live in when we have to have a need to tweet to strangers,it's the perfect medium for social missfits,ranters and pompous self opinionated oafs. I can't be bothered with twitter,facebook,you tube and the like,i'm enjoying life, i'm high on life so i don't need the comments of every fool and his dog,i just carry on with everyday living,get a life you bigots and tools.

  • Comment number 62.

    I think that as long as sportsmen use it properly then it is very advantageous as it shows the public that they are real people. I think the amount of times that some sportsmen put into replying to fans is very commendable. Then again, use it wrongly and your breaking the governing body's rules..

    http://jackbradshaw.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 63.

    valedictory - The irony of your post is so piquant I've just had to gargle some water... quite brilliant!

  • Comment number 64.

    As a man utd fan i must say that if the fa is to fine players for insulting referees they need to enforce it wholly. Im a big fan of Rooney but i think he sometimes holds no regard for the referees at all. Babel had no right to taint Webb's reputation like that but i think the fa will have to extend such sort of punishment to all other players to justify it. I doubt they will for some players though. I think Freedom of speech shouldnt be at the expense of someones right to be respected. Its always easy when you are other side of the banter.

  • Comment number 65.

    thanks ben. i use a computer as a tool not as a social exercise,if i want to talk to someone i'll pick the phone up,i don't feel the need to bare my soul to all and sundry,probably because i'm getting on a bit and twittering is more of a younger persons thing.By the way i aint got a tv either or buy newspapers,Rupert Murdoch eat your heart out.

  • Comment number 66.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 67.

    Hi Ben, just wondering if you could give me your thoughts on something.

    Recently I somehow found my way into the vip section of the Barmy Army and England team's afterparty for the ashes in Sydney (albeit dressed as a moose - you may have seen me on tv) where 4 or 5 of the players turned up and it highlighted to me just exactly how the English cricket team are definitely becoming closer with their fans. I'll give you the example of Billy Cooper having a chat on the balcony with Swann as if they were old friends and had been for years. Go back to your original first point about footballers not being seen anywhere near the 17:30 from Fulham Broadway and I can't help thinking that the boundary between players and fans, no matter what the sport or the popularity of the player does vastly depend on a) the social context of the sport and b)the fans. You wouldn't see RVP down the Red Lion after a game, and yet he's just as happy to tweet as Freddie Flintoff or Tim Bresnan, who you definitely could see in the pub after a game. If you ask me, footballers are becoming more and more physically detached from the outside (and some would say "real") world (money, great fame etc.) but more attached to the blogosphere and twittersphere, whilst it seems that in other major popular sports like rugby and cricket, the players are actually coming closer to those who appreicate their sporting contributions from a spectatorial point of view. Why is this? The obvious answer is safety, but can't help thinking that the over luxurious lifestyles that they're living is impacting more and more on the way they view their devoted fans.

  • Comment number 68.

    "bigrossy1966 - I think it's a bit more complicated than that to be honest - you say people who post on Twitter are egomaniacal, but you're on here giving your opinion for everyone to see, so presumably you think you've got something interesting to say"

    It's not that complicated really, Ben. This blog and its comments was something started by you, which others have been invited to discuss. So how can it be egomaniacal to do something you've been invited to do?

    Tweeting on the other hand, is something that is done without invitation. Tweets are unsolicited and often, not requested but something that someone chooses to do off their own back without being invited to do so.

    A subtle difference I know, but a difference all the same.

  • Comment number 69.

    In other words, this blog is inviting people to share their opinions. Which means someone (in this case, you) has made it clear that they are interested in hearing the opinions of others. In that case, its not egomaniacal to offer an opinion.

    When you tweet and give your opinion that way, you are just assuming that others want to know what you are thinking.

  • Comment number 70.

    Twitter - a medium for people who don't have the balls to say something to someones face. What a sad bunch. You lot should grow some!

  • Comment number 71.

    More free advertising for Twitter on the BBC. This product would have died long ago but for the constant stream of publicity from our supposedly independent national broadcaster. Isn't there something in your charter about this?

  • Comment number 72.

    #50..."this blog, with its interviews with players, coaches, a psychologist and fans". Are the interviews with Martin Johnson, Haskell and Bresnan new though? I certainly saw that interview with MJ on the BBC last week

  • Comment number 73.

    Horses for courses I think Ben. I was told off by a friend last year for not staying in touch and told to get myself on Facebook, which I duly did, and was duly recyberunited with my not always memorable past, some of it quite distant. It's increasingly evident to me that a lot of it wasn't your imagination and that many of your old friends/acquaintances don't change. They may need to tell you they've just been upstairs to read The Sun on the toilet before eventually coming back downstairs for an evening of Eastenders, Dancing on Ice, X Factor, Big Brother, etc, but this represents a side of English life I try to avoid, which I'm partly able to do, as I live abroad now.

    Like you, I'm an egomaniac, in that I want to speak and be heard on particular issues, which very kindly the BBC allows me to do to a wide audience, but personally speaking, the 'bottom' line, excuse the pun, as far as sportsmen, politicians, actors/actresses, etc, goes is their performances in their professions, not in someone else's bathroom! I'm not interested in whose baked beans they eat, I'm interested in the game, social policy or movie plot.

  • Comment number 74.

    THere are alot of perks to Twitter, mostly it is as you say a way to identify with our idols. However, as anyone who follows any Arsenal player will tell you, players such as Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas and RVP have all run competitions via their twitter pages for fans to win signed shirts. Which is not something you would see without mediums such as twitter.

  • Comment number 75.

    footballfutbolfitba wrote:

    Babel was having a bit of a dig at a ref.
    ----------------------------------------
    Not quite, he was insinuating that the referee was biased and a cheat and as such was bringing the game into disrepute.

    £10,000 fine? it's loose change to him but probably about right, we have to remember he's only a little kid and will learn a bit of sense as he gets older.

  • Comment number 76.

    It's interesting the amount of mainstream media attention twitter has been getting of late. It seems to me as though many written media outlets feel threatened by it's emergence.

    For as long as i remember the British media have taken sporting (and other) figures comments, and twisted, used out of context, or edited in order to fit the agenda of the moment, and ultimately profit in some way.

    Is it really a surprise that these people are taking the opportunity to get their intended message across without the sensasionalist 'spin' added in? Is it a surprise they don't wish to talk to certain journalists after the way their comments and views are misrepresented?









  • Comment number 77.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 78.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 79.

    It is a sad day when a childish joke which deserved a reprimand receives a fine of £10000.
    It is also rather ironic that in the largest showpiece of the game, the World Cup final the game was almost brought into disrepute and the federations of Holland and Spain were fined a mere £9080 and £6053 respectively for the behaviour of their players by FIFA.
    Also when Emile Heskey was Ratially abused by the Croatian fans the federation of Croatia was fined £15000, again by FIFA.

    Also it is a further statement of the weakness of the FA when a player who says something stupid gets fined for one comment. Yet the top manager in the Land, Sir Alex Ferguson weekly 'refuses' to talk to the BBC and is fined only £1000 per week and by his continued refusal is surely a prevelent offender and is snubbing the FA and their rules. Maybe they should be stronger here than actually detering someone for speaking.
    I hope that footballers learn from the Babel incident and do not just clam up and refrain from sharing their comments in the future.

  • Comment number 80.


    You're overanalysing...

    Sportspeople have too much time spare time on their hands so twitter's just another thing to do after they've played a round of golf and checked their emails...

    If you bother to read their 'tweets' 99% of the time it's just a tedious cliched comment 'we played well today' or 'I'm knackered after the match' or an attempt at a little joke (see Ryan Babel)

    End of meaningful discussion

  • Comment number 81.

    46 - I assume you mean Sir Bobby Robson? He won the lifetime award relatively recently (2006 ort 2007?) Beckham & Charlton clearly won it as much for their England achievements as their Manchester United ones. Nobody in their respective eras won as many caps. The fact they happened to also win a European cup apeice obviously helped. I agree Giggs winning the main award was a strange one but that one is voted for by the general public and there's more people out there who hate Manchester United than love them so it's hardly an example of establishment bias!

  • Comment number 82.

    all this will go away very soon when a player is then assigned a Twitter monitor by the club who will make sure nothing interesting come out of their mouths. i for one am looking forward to tweets such as 'i know i scored a hat trick but the most important thing is that the team wins' or 'credit to the lads and the gaffer'

  • Comment number 83.

    To all those saying that the fine is anti-freedom of speech, I suggest you tweet a similar picture/comment of your boss, colleague or someone you have a working relationship with and see how well it goes down wiyh your employers

  • Comment number 84.

    Hi Ben
    Good article, and is thought provoking about the merits of use of twitter by certain people. This does beg the question though of what is acceptable for footballers / celebs to say, if Babel would have written on Twitter that the ref got a couple of decisions wrong (as most managers constantly do on TV) would that have been ok ?
    Seems that all Babel did was portray, rather than say what most people thought, and was fined for saying it.
    But what's £10,000 pounds to a footballer now, a token fine, wonder what will happen to that money.
    As a side line you wonder though how many of the followers of footballers / celebs are people in the media just waiting to pounce on any indiscrection that may happen.

  • Comment number 85.

    The FA should have charged Babel long ago.

    Not for anything he's done on twitter, but for impersonating a professional footballer and bringing the word "effort" into disrepute.

  • Comment number 86.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 87.

    Can anyone tell me why any player would want to do this crapola? Other than sanctimony of course. they have the best job in the world darn it. Bloody gen Y.


    I've no doubt that the brilliant old amatuer Sir Haworth 'shinpads' McSowerbutt would be reaching straight for the Captain Morgan & ready rubbed, on hearing of this nonsense.

    I LOATHE GEN Y, they need constant feedback, constant bloody attention, Hey Ryan, here's a tweet for you;

    SCORE A GOAL YOU OVERPAID WALLY - is it a diversionary tactic do we think?

    Does anyone on here think its good that people like Babel do this? There must be someone - I'm itching for a reasoned debate / arguement / scrap / punch up / riot / insurrection etc


    Jimmy Melia, annoyed in Hove

  • Comment number 88.

    @jonahmona

    Actually yes, I think it is good.

    Lets take the individual out of the equation and just go to the point that a footballer or in fact any 'celebrity' can post comments and their 'fans' / followers can read it and feel they are getting something from the celebrity then that is fine by me.
    As the main blog says, it is not too long ago when celebrities such as footballers lived amongst us and chatted down the local. They can't do that anymore due to the press and their intrusions but in the evolving society, blogs / twitter / facebook etc are no more than a modern equivalent of going down the pub. They are after all classed as 'social networking' tools.
    It is a good thing, though some people need to be educated and grown up on how they use it but isn't that the same for everyone. How many people have posted a comment, sent an email and then thought, oh bugger... that was rash of me, I shouldn't have said that... it can be taken out of context. It is so hard to express feelings or demeanour in words and quite often things are misconstrued.

  • Comment number 89.

    Lou Macari etc....if it aint done during work hours, and you work for a large enough company, they simply cannot prove it Sir. Trust me, all you gotta say is "wasn't me, could have been anyone I reckon"

    If Babel really wanted to fight the paltry fine by taking it all the way to the European Court of Arbitration for Sport (unlikley i know), he would win easy cos you simply cannot prove it was him who said/typed/communicated it. As I know all too well, the law is ill equipped for the medium - slander, defamation, libel laws are not up to covering tweets etc

  • Comment number 90.

    Does anyone else see the irony in getting moderated in a discussion which is ultimately about freedom of speech?

    No? Just me again.

  • Comment number 91.

    #71 The _Moog.

    Do you SERIOUSLY believe that Twitter wouldn't exist if it was never mentioned on the BBC? REALLY?

    Anyway, moving on, a very interesting blog Ben. I have a Twitter account, but have never used it, not really sure why I did get it, just in case I ever needed it, I suppose. I can't see the point in it, maybe in a business environment, but even then it is a bit contrived, in my opinion. I have tried, but I really don't see any value in it, apart from those who have a voyeuristic side, and who seemingly need to know what their heroes are doing every waking minute of the day.

    Interesting you say about difficulty in getting access to sports stars and "proper" stories. As a journalist and magazine editor, it pains me to see mainstream newspapers and websites report stories that are based on what a celeb/sportsperson/person in the public eye has "tweeted". It is lazy and horrible journalism.

    But, like you say it is the way things are going, and, given its popularity, there is clearly a demand for it out there.

    Me? I'm happy not knowing Rio's opinions on Eastenders, or what Robbie Savage has for breakfast. I do think, however, that Babel crossed the line. If he had given that quote in a post-match interview (which of course he wouldn't ever do), he would be fined, so what's the difference?

  • Comment number 92.

    Lets take the individual out of the equation and just go to the point that a footballer or in fact any 'celebrity' can post comments and their 'fans' / followers can read it and feel they are getting something from the celebrity then that is fine by me.
    As the main blog says, it is not too long ago when celebrities such as footballers lived amongst us and chatted down the local. They can't do that anymore due to the press and their intrusions but in the evolving society, blogs / twitter / facebook etc are no more than a modern equivalent of going down the pub. They are after all classed as 'social networking' tools.
    It is a good thing in my opinion, though some people need to be educated and grown up on how they use it but isn't that the same for everyone. How many people have posted a comment, sent an email and then thought, oh blast... that was rash of me, I shouldn't have said that... it can be taken out of context.
    It is so hard to express feelings or demeanour in words and quite often things are misconstrued.

    (like my posts apparently) :-)

  • Comment number 93.

    I don't follow the sportspeople, instead the sports journalists like you, Caroline Cheese, Niel Reynolds, & Piers Newbury. Way more interesting ;)

  • Comment number 94.

    Sports stars are mainly dull these days, they have to be I suppose.

    I wish the famous amatuer athlete Francis Morgan Ayodele "Daley" Thompson had twitter in LA 1984 - now he was imaginative, with no twitter he used T-shirts. especially T-shirts with a vague reference to Carl Lewis. Pure class.

    Guys like Daley would probably be too busy rogerring tho.

    I love daley thompson.

  • Comment number 95.

    Since the ECB academy opened in Loughborough, you can't throw a bag of jelly babies in my local Sainsburys without hitting a whole squad of England cricketers. So nice to see them pushing their own trolleys! Can't imagine many international footballers doing the same.

  • Comment number 96.

    Not read all the comments so this point may have already been made. Those suggesting that Babel has the right to say what he wants on his twitter page are slightly misguided in this instance.

    This isn't a free speech issue, what he did and said was potentially libelous. This is why the comment was removed and he apologised ithin an hour. The FA also acted to appease the situation between player and the referee.

    He obviously has no proof whatsoever that on a balance of probabilities Howard Webb is either a Man Utd fan or biased in any way towards that club in particular.

  • Comment number 97.

    If the FA were going to fine him, then they should set the bar at 1 week or 1 month wages - not 1 day (although not sure that would be possible). This isn't going to act as a deterrent - although at £10k it probably stops Babel checking with his lawyers if what the FA are doing is actually legal.

    The FA have a "respect" campaign which players should have to adhere to.

    I think the FA are far too soft. Stamping out disrespect to referees is simple. Only the captain can talk to the ref, and politely. Make the ref's mike public. Rooney should have been sent off for the way he screamed at the ref on Sunday - regardless if whether the ref was wrong or not. And large fines for yellows, larger for reds. Fine the player AND the club. Believe me, that would stamp out the behaviour in a weekend. Do you think they care that they've accumulated 5 yellows and then miss a game??

    If they can do it in rugby where there is far more testosterone kicking about, they can easily do it here.

  • Comment number 98.

    #89 - considering he probably did it from his mobile or his house then i'd say there would be proof enough really.

  • Comment number 99.

    So where is Theo Walcott's fine for admitting he effectively cheated against Leeds?

  • Comment number 100.

    A lot of people defending Babel on here are clearly Liverpool supporters or Man Utd haters. They may say he was expressing freedom of speech. But if the decisions on the day had gone the other way and a Man Utd player had put Webb in a Liverpool shirt, would the same people have found the funny side? Or would they say it was defamation of character? I would say the latter. There's no proof written or spoken that proves Webb was pro-Man United. Hence Babel was very quick to apologise and take down the comment.

    Of the actual photo itself I thought it was funny. I would love to see more football banter like that. But in the current footballing climate there a blur between what is funny and what is offensive. Too many people crossing the line of what is acceptable and unacceptable (Here's a clue to what is and isn't. If you wouldn't like it said about your player or fans, then you've crossed the line).

    As for the Walcott admission on Twitter. Plenty of players have admitted going down easy on camera and nothing has been done to them. UEFA fined and banned Eduardo, then lifted it because it would've been a yellow card offence if he had been caught. Walcott didn't benefit from the dive as the penalty was overturned (he said it was the first one he dived, not the 2nd incident which he got a penalty for).

    My advice to players is just get a diary or electronic journal. Putting your comment on a social networking site (especially when you've got thousands of followers you don't know) isn't worth the bother.

 

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