To tweet or not to tweet

A cyber troll, earlier

A cyber troll, earlier

There’s a question that’s been gnawing away at me for a while now: why would a professional sportsperson – or any celebrity for that matter – maintain a Twitter account? A vibrant social media presence seems to be an expected and accepted method of communicating with the public, but when it so often invites negative comment from ‘trolls’, the whole exercise seems to be fraught with too much aggravation.

Twitter, above all other social media sites, seems to attract a disproportionate number and level of vitriolic comments from its users. What drives this is usually a complex mix of jealousy, tribalism, idiocy and the ubiquitousness of the smart phone.

Take the recent example of Lee Westwood. What was notable for this tale of sporting cyber-bullying was that he chose (on the back of a conviction-aiding shandy or two, no doubt) to strike back. When abuse and ridicule is heaped upon star performers in the normally genteel world of golf, then something is badly wrong with society.

Football is often considered to be in the vanguard of advertising society’s ills and, indeed, it is in the cash rich super-stardom, otherworldly plain of the top-flight football where Twitter really gets out of control. For many, following a game via both TV and Twitter is an ingrained pastime. To do this without going bonkers one must choose who they follow very, very carefully. Any deviation from a stringently vetted set of followers into the broader Twittersphere will quickly reinforce the suspicion that the vast majority of football fans should be locked up for their own health.

Some of these people see getting a rise out of a famous, otherwise aloof, footballer as almost as much of a sport as the game itself. Any moron can self-justify their abuse of footballers with the catch all excuse of ‘banter’; that horrible term which encompasses inane, lowest common denominator analysis between experts on the pundits’ sofa as well as spiteful ridicule by a lonely man sitting at home in his boxer shorts typing away on an iPad.

What possible reason could there be to mock this man?

What possible reason could there be to mock this man?

Poor Michael Owen. Who did he hurt? Maybe some Newcastle United fans’ noses were put out of joint by his expensive injury-ravaged time on Tyneside. For sure, Liverpool fans don’t easily forgive a former player turning out for Manchester United. But the mocking tweets he received in response to his retirement genuinely saddened me. This is a man who is behind only Sir Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves in the England goal scoring charts for heaven’s sake.

He must have a thick skin. Certainly thicker than that worn by Darren Gibson, who famously lasted all of four hours on Twitter before the abuse became too much and he sensibly jacked it in.

The Ball Control guide to surviving on Twitter

There appear to be two separate approaches to maintaining a Twitter account in the face of unavoidable hostility. One option is to post anodyne comments along the lines of “great win from the boys today, the fans were brilliant as always, blah, blah, blah” and steadfastly refuse to interact on any other level with followers (other than to block anyone who gets a bit nasty).

The second option is to don the metaphorical Wellingtons and wade into online debate with ill-informed nincompoops. This is the preferred modus operandi of a minority of the blue-tick brigade; the likes of Joey Barton, Piers Morgan (not technically a sportsman, he wishes) and – God love him – David Warner. It obviously takes a particular type of individual to choose this course.

Probably the only sportsperson who successfully navigates a way between these two options is Graeme Swann. He has the wit and brashness to call out ignoramuses while also posting pithily waggish updates.

However, it’s also in @Swannyg66’s Twitter stream that we can most evidently see the reasons why sportsmen and sportswomen put up with all the inevitable hassle. Endorsements of Jaguar cars and high-end golf courses must be a decent little side-earner for a man with over half a million followers. Suddenly I don’t feel so sorry for Michael Owen after all.


Finding Michael a home

Bringing you the big news about Steven N’Zonzi

At the time of typing it’s 6.30am (BST) on Friday 31 August and even the old pro Michael Owen is enraptured by the magic of this special day, tweeting: “Up early, too excited to sleep. Final day of the transfer window and I’m likely to play a part in it!” The prospect of Stoke City and Southampton duking it out for his services isn’t enough to dampen Owen’s enthusiasm. But then if a football club were willing to fund your passion in racehorses and all they asked in return was for you to provide their medical staff with experience in dealing with soft tissue injuries, you’d be overjoyed too.

Since its inception in 2002, the summer Transfer Deadline Day (TDD) has become a momentous national institution, providing fuel for a media industry able to give licence to their most creative urges. It’s the closest the Premier League has to a players draft and preys upon the hopes, delusions and naivety of football fans. Yet we all like to dream of what can be.

Thus, TDDs often fail to live up to the hype. This time last year saw the list of high profile acquisitions headed by Mikel Arteta, Raul Meireles, Craig Bellamy, Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome. Today we might get to see Jermaine Jenas, Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll, Yossi Benayoun and Marouane Chamakh making the headlines. Hardly stellar names. Most of the bigger clubs have already done their business so there’s not a lot left for Sky Sports News to get in a tizz about. It’s now about clearing out the deadwood to the poor sops in the rest of the league (or Championship).

When embarking on a new career on Championship Manager, I would scour the market for free agents to bolster my promotion push from the fourth tier. This year, alongside Owen, there are former England internationals Emile Heskey, Owen Hargreaves, Lee Bowyer (one cap), Darius Vassell, James Beattie and Richard Wright available for nothing. Only Bowyer is over 34.

He’ll have to make do with the Burger King drive-thru today

That these guys are left in the shop window at this late stage suggests that there is less money out there chasing players, driving up wages. Owen has stated he doesn’t want to accept a drop in income. No self-assured footballer would. The proclivity for loan deals also hints at a new-found financial responsibility, while highlighting the previous recklessness of teams like Man City, who have loaned Wayne Bridge to Brighton yet still pay $85k towards his $95k-a-week wages.

It should still be fun. Seeing footballers traded around like cattle demonstrates that they don’t have it all their own way. Daniel Levy should provide his trademark last-ditch drama, proving that sans Harry Redknapp, he is the ultimate wheeler dealer.