This month, Chelsea and England footballer Ashley Cole became the latest sportsman to fall foul of the FA. Problems started after the Football Association questioned evidence given by the defender in the independent enquiry that found teammate John Terry guilty of racial abuse. Not one to keep quiet, Cole did what any other professional-footballing role model would do in his position; posted a foul mouthed rant on his Twitter page.
He was quick, but not quick enough, to delete his mistake and the sporting world came down hard on him. Ashley Cole is by no means the first footballer to tweet before he thinks; indeed it seems not a week goes by without a Premier League player landing himself in hot water after being let loose with a keyboard.
For football fans and mere mortals, the social networking era is something of a revolution in the way we can now get access to our idols. Until now, the footballer had to ask club, manager, agent and therapist permission to reveal their favourite colour. The footballer was a mystery about whom we knew only stats and carefully selected snippets of information.
Since the advent of Twitter, their carefully crafted images have been shattered; a few pokes from angry fans and they have been unmasked. You are what you tweet. On the one hand we have Rio Ferdinand who despite his £45,000 fine over the ‘choc-ice’ tweet, has upheld his enthusiastic family man image; and on the other we have the likes of Joey Barton.
Joey is possibly the most notorious keyboard warrior but has surprisingly never been fined by a governing body. The outspoken scouser likes to mix his high profile rants on Twitter with some quotes from Nietzsche and a couple of rows with the cast of TOWIE. Yes, the misunderstood Mr Barton doesn’t hold back. His season ended with him being sent off for violent conduct after assaulting three Manchester City Players in May. That night he tuned into Match of the Day with the rest of us and did what he does best – gave the pundits a piece of his mind. When Gary Lineker and his panel read Joey’s tweets live and laughed out loud you’d think he might have learned; five months on and he’s still bashing that keyboard – there really is no stopping this man.
Twitter has allowed footballers to cut out the middleman and give us a direct insight into their world; it’s brought players down to earth and made them accessible. But nothing lasts forever; the FA and its clubs are cracking down on these naughty footballers, introducing social media policies, fines and punishments. They claim that players must remember who employs them and who they therefore represent.
As the fines increase, the Twitter accounts close down; how long will it be before footballers are back to doing PG, football-only interviews or someone sues for defamation on Twitter?
As long as you give them a username and an Internet connection, footballers will continue to use and abuse their power online. Let’s make the most of this priceless entertainment while we can…
By Georgia Sorsky
Image courtesy of michael.kjaer