Bringing the beautiful game closer to the fans

Managing Partner David Atkinson (@AtkoAtco) discusses how Twitter has at last given football fans a voice and how the Tweetings of football celebrities is breaking down barriers and creating an ‘over the garden fence’ relationship with their followers.

Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere and Michael Owen – one time inaccessible heroes of the football field – now in an intimate dialogue with thousands of fans on Twitter.  Football is the highest trending topic most weeks and these infamous Tweeters don’t just have hoarding followers, they actually follow them back. It’s a strategy that’s starting to change the nation’s relationship with football and footballers alike. 

Twitter and Premiership footballers may seem like dangerous bedfellows given the recent indiscretions and copy exhaustion dedicated to the trysts of a certain Welsh model and footballer combo.  Against this stream, however, is a veritable ark of footballing names committing their hourly, daily and weekly musings to Twitter follows the world over.  Journalists build reputations and newspapers outsell competitors thanks to convenient manipulation of the truth from the inspired mouths of footballers.

And like royalty, rock stars and all supremely famous people, footballers have become jaundiced by the curse of the misquote.  So cutting out the middle man and going direct to your adoring public in 140 characters could be seen as a Utopian way to show “the public face of a footballer”.  But the need to take the good with the bad and ugly is just another by-product of the proximity to the views of Joe Public.

Just a couple of years ago, I lamented the chasm between the Spice Boy Ashley Cole footballer playboy stereotype and the ordinary man on the street football fan.  A gap that was only set to widen.  I hear of football fans waiting at the gates of training grounds up and down the country waiting for autographs, only to observe blackened out Range Rover windows stay wound down and remote controlled gates opening secretively for the arrival of the highly prized contraband.

And yet with the might of the Tweet, that gap can be bridged and fear of misquote eliminated.  Wayne Rooney meet bigwayne10.  Whilst football stars may have the most eloquent feet, they are less renowned for the poetry of their post match dialogue or the gravity of their interviews in Match magazine.  So the perfectly formed 140 character boundary is a win-win-win for all parties.

Of course Twitterers such as I battle with the value of Tweets such as “going to training” or “eating tea” (real tweets).  But the inside track and dressing room banter, often between team mates, can be an expectedly rich experience that gives never seen before behind the scenes perspectives. Let’s look at some of the more established football Twitterati in a little more detail:

Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) has 1,242,846 followers at the time of checking.  Tweeting during a live Ray Wilkins commentary over a Real Madrid v Barcelona match in the Champions League, Ferdinand spotted Wilkins repetition of the phrase “stay on your feet” which he then picked up on and repeated to the point where thousands of followers were joining in the banter. 

The “movement” grew to the point where Ferdinand tipped his cap to his Twitter followers in the post-match interview the following night when Manchester United beat Chelsea, adding an immeasurable bond between him and the close posse of Twitter followers rewarded for following him.  The same phrase was trotted out upon winning the Barclays Premiership title, showing Ferdinand’s acute sense of humour, likeability and understanding of commercial opportunities, linking followers to his digital magazine #5.

Rio might well be king of the Premiership Twitterati, but on a global scale Kaka (@kaka) the Brazilian and Real Madrid creative playmaker puts the rest to shame with 4,708,407 followers.  Reaching out to the football-mad Latin communities in his home country and adopted cities of Madrid and Milan, Kaka averages a dedicated 4 tweets a day to open up access to his privileged lifestyle.
Of course this comes at a price for both fan and footballer. 

Man United D List midfielder Darron Gibson reportedly put his ahead above the Twitter parapet for a matter of hours and speedily withdrew his account having been offended by the volleys of abuse hurled in his direction.  Teammates will say that “Gibbo” just didn’t get what all the fuss was about, but perhaps a first sign of malaise with the two-way nature of the communication. 

Everton captain and one half of the dynamic Neville Brothers duo, Phil Neville (fizzer18) was recently embroiled in an intense stand off with team mate, Seamus Coleman (seamiecoleman23).  What probably started as friendly banter, perhaps fuelled by some summer holiday poolside cocktails, escalated into below the belt blows from both sides.  The PLC PRs would traditionally bury this kind of this dirty washing, and yet, in spite of what the football world would brush off as “handbags”, the exposure of the fact that not every Premiership football team is filled with saccharine gettogethers is a refreshing and amazing inside view.

Such examples cause concern for how long it will take for clubs to take over and restrict or even refuse their highly paid employees to Tweet.  We might see a return to the anodyne “we’ll take each match as it comes” or “the boys are gutted” catchphrases of Match of the Day and Super Sunday. 

But for now, player fines for illicit Twitter comments seem a small price to pay for the wealth of access those who can wade past the mundane can be rewarded with.



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