Why Twitter’s Good/Bad For Football

Why Twitter’s Good/Bad For Football

Football has always suffered from tribalism. Since a ball was first kicked and those watching wanted one team to win over another, there have been those that have taken their favouritism too far. Sometimes football is simply used as an excuse for people to behave in a way that is despicable. Hooliganism is a good example of that. You will never convinced me that people who head to a match in order to behave violently towards the opposition are genuine football fans. I remember watching England lose to Germany in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2010 in a bar in London. When my friend and I left, we walked past a large crowd of people smashing the windows of the Haagen-Dazs shop in Leicester square, dragging the flag off the flagpole and setting fire to it. Let’s ignore the fact that the ice-cream was invented in the Bronx and that the name was a tribute to Denmark’s excellent treatment of its Jewish community in the Second World War for a moment, that’s still not how real football fans react to losses.

The real football fans I saw around the city were either disconsolate or else having a party over the fact that England had even made it that far in the first place. Personally I was angry with the officials because I’d have a bet on the Three Lions losing 4-2 and felt like I’d been robbed, but that’s another story. The point is, tribalism is a thing that cannot be denied, yet most of the time the people taking it all too far are not really football supporters, they’re just weird cranks; the sort of people who want to have a fight or an argument and don’t really care who it’s with or what it’s over. There’s definitely an extent to which Twitter has given those people legitimacy, however. No longer are they the crazy people trying to provoke others outside the ground. Now they’re ‘Arsenal supporters’, ‘Liverpool fans’, ‘Evertonians’, all because they’ve got the name of a player in their username or have a club badge as their profile picture. All of which made me wonder, has Twitter been good or bad for football?

Twitter Is Bad For Football

More and more of late I’ve been thinking about the dual-edged nature of Twitter. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that the medium is definitively good or definitively bad. That’s not just for football, either, it’s for every aspect of life. Yes there are some terrible people that use it to air their views, but for all that they exist there are dozens of people who are far more sensible and fair that respond to them and shoot them down. That’s why I’ve decided to write this piece, starting with a look at why Twitter is definitely bad for football…

It Lets People Say Abhorrent Things

Without question, the worst part of Twitter is that it allows people to say some truly abhorrent things that they would almost certainly never say without the cover of anonymity. The tribal nature of football supporting means that rationality can often go out of the window when people are responding to fans of a rival club about something. Never has that been made clearer to me than scrolling through the replies to a tweet that Ste Hoare posted the other day. The tweet was designed to provoke a reaction, suggesting that the Everton fan giving a banning order for hitting a Lyon player whilst holding his child ‘brought shame to our city’ and that the Blues should ‘be more like us’. You can discuss whether Ste should’ve sent the tweet in the first place, given that it was deliberately done to wind people up, but at no point did it say anything overly disgusting. Unlike some of the replies.

A bloke called Garry, who looks to be in his late twenties and has a photo of him with his son on his shoulder as his profile picture, took the bait and made a comment about Liverpool supporters ‘push[ing] walls on people’ and killing them. Think about that for a moment. Someone thought that it was appropriate to use the deaths of thirty-nine innocent people in order to try to win an argument. The victims at Heysel lost their lives. Their families were devastated and communities were destroyed. Yet Garry thought it was ok to bring that up because he’s an Evertonian and a Liverpool supporter had made a joke at his club’s extent. There’s almost certainly no way that that happens in any other walk of life. Twitter allows Garry to behave in a manner that he’s very unlikely to do in real life.

People Can Tweet Players Directly

Garry is representative of the sort of people that see ‘Justice For The 96’ trend around the time of the Hillsborough anniversary and think it’s ok to say ‘What about justice for the 39’, ignoring the fact that people went to jail over Heysel and that it’s utterly disgusting to use the deaths of people to point score over something so trivial as footballing rivalries. That’s an extreme example, but it’s one worth pointing out. Another downside of Twitter is that it allows people to get in touch with players directly and tell them how they feel when something has gone wrong. Unless you’re oblivious to such things, you’ll no doubt have seen a phenomenal number of appalling messages sent to Loris Karius via social media in the wake of the player’s mistakes during the Champions League final.

Some people chose to use the moments in the wake of the final to send him messages hoping that his family dies, that he should ‘f*ck off out of the club’. Would they go up to him in a restaurant and say the same sort of things? I don’t imagine so, no. They wouldn’t stand up in Anfield and scream that they hope a player’s kids ‘get AIDS’, so why is that they feel they can on Twitter? It’s a scourge of the game and one that the site itself does nowhere near enough to curtail. Supporters who get abused because of the colour of their skin can report it, but are regularly told that those sending the tweets have not broken the terms of the site. If that’s the case, the terms are wrong, not the complainers. Not having to show your face let’s people get away with things they’d never dream of trying to do if those they were abusing knew who they were.

Twitter Is Good For Football

As is so often the case with things in life, there are as many good sides to the story as bad ones. For all that some people behave in an unbecoming manner, others will stand up and offer the opposite behaviour. When hooligans attack people outside of a ground, you’ll see good samaritans stepping in to offer protection and help. Here’s a look at the better side of Twitter when it comes to football.

People Can Tweet Players Directly

I can’t even begin to imagine how Loris Karius will have felt in the wake of the Champions League final and, given the tweets I mentioned above, I very much hope that the goalkeeper had his Twitter notifications turned off. Had he had them on, however, he’d have seen thousands of tweets heading his way from Liverpool supporters offering him their support and encouragement. Even in the moments after the final whistle, when millions of people around the world will have absolutely gutted, people thought to jump onto social media and tell the German that they love him and appreciate everything he’d done to get us to the final in the first place. That’s immensely encouraging and the messages of support will have outweighed those of abuse by ten to one.

It’s not just Karius that should be the focus of this, either. His mistakes were high profile and recent and so they spring to mind easily, but other players have had tough moment in their career at the club and supporters have been able to get behind them. Feeling isolated and alone is a terrible thing, so those with the best of intentions being able to get in touch with players can only be a good thing. Similarly, being able to speak to supporters or players from other clubs and let them know that you admire them or enjoy their style of play is the sort of thing that you might not think to do or be able to do without the use of Twitter. Liverpool supporters are unlikely to write a letter to a Manchester City player in real life, for example!

It’s A Platform For Learning

Some people are so arrogant that they’re convinced that they know everything that they need to know about the world. You can’t teach them anything, such is the extent to which their world view is a perfect one. Yet some of us know that we’re not complete, that we still have lots to learn. I can honestly say that I’ve grown as a person since I joined Twitter. Though I’ve always thought of myself as being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community (being an actor I have lots of gay friends), I befriended a bi woman named Nic on here and have learnt so much more thanks to my interactions with her. Likewise, I’ve never thought of myself as a sexist person but I’ve seen through the tweets of strong independent women the ways in which my behaviour can improve immeasurably.

Yet no change has been as great as that regarding my take on the subtle racism that has pervaded football more and more in recent times. For example, I was one of those that always thought that Sol Campbell didn’t get managerial jobs because he seemed like an absolute idiot, yet a brief conversation with Guardian journalist Sachin Nakrani helped me realise that the same thing hasn’t stopped Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce or countless other white managers from getting jobs over and over and over again. I wouldn’t claim to pretend that my eyes are now wide open regarding racial tension in football, but I hope that I’m getting better at it. None of us are perfect, but if you want to keep learning then Twitter can be a brilliant tool for development. Just make sure you learn to use the block button when you’re arguing with idiot…

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