Thursday, January 27, 2011

I often wonder what a lot of the old footballing legends make of the current crop of players and the game in general today.

Not with regards to the talent and skill on display, as you can argue till you're blue in the face as to whether your side's 1950's legend was better than the 1990's one with no conclusive answer. No, it's more their behaviour off the pitch and just how they conduct themselves and communicate with the fans and the world these days.

Many aspects of modern day football will be unrecognisable to the game that they were involved in and that's certainly not all bad. Far from it. There's no doubting that football's changed in all regards and many of the changes are for the better.

The internet changed the game hugely. It beggars belief as to how I managed to produce 38 printed issues of the AFTN fanzine without having the host of material available to resource at my fingertips that I have today. Now, AFTN as a website is the resource to all things East Fife itself.

The internet killed much of the importance of the printed media due to the quickness and instantaneous way it can communicate results, action and information to people all over the world. No more excitement in picking up the sporting pink paper to find that afternoon's scores on the way home from the match when you can get texts and tweets all afternoon long to keep you in the loop. Some papers still manage to have the scoops that generate the internet traffic and writings themselves, but they're often not the good kind of footballing story.

The way we live changes so fast and even blogs, websites and general news sites are now finding themselves outdone and second to the news by the current rash of social media sites, only this time the news and stories are coming straight from the horses mouth.

Players seem to want to cut out the middleman and become the reporters of their own lives, with Facebook and primarily Twitter being the mediums of choice.

Facebook has brought the players so much closer to the fans. You can actually officially have them as your friends. It's something I mostly choose not to do. I make a few exceptions for the guys I know read and enjoy AFTN. The rest, well they're not my friends. They're people I watch on the pitch every week and who bring me joy and break my heart in equal measure. Actually, maybe they should all be our friends. They're ticking all the right boxes.

When I was growing up, the thought of having a hero like Kenny Dalglish or Trevor Brooking (West Ham fan you see) giving me one to one updates on their lives would have been the most exciting thing ever. Trevor Brooking's may just have been about him having another cup of tea or cutting the grass, but I'd still have found that exciting.

Now we take it for granted and many betray the trust of "friendship". A lot of footballers have been caught out posting their inner feelings on the game, their manager or the Club on their Facebook, forgetting that not all their friends are what they say they are. Or maybe they do remember that and just don't give a fuck. Said "friend" then posts comments on internet forum, player gets into trouble, everyone suffers.

It happened on AFTN with an East Fife player this season. He was pissed off after a defeat, made some of his thoughts known then the next thing you know it all over my forum from one of his flock. You could say he was just an idiot for posting it in the first place or for accepting fans he doesn't really know as his friends. I truly felt bad for him, mainly due to the fact that at least he was showing he cared about my club.

It seems that every player is on Twitter these days and sharing everything it feels at times. Some are a lot more interesting than others, some are a lot more revealing and some are basically just egotistical wankers, but we still follow them, so who's the stupid one?

The players are scooping the press. They're keeping the fans fully in the loop, something their club is never going to do. The clubs must hate it with a passion.

One of the most famous and prolific tweeters in the game is Robbie Savage. Love him or loathe him, you have to admit he's entertaining.

I fall into the love him category and was excited in some regards when he announced that he had been offered the chance to join my MLS team, Vancouver Whitecaps. I'll admit I was more excited for what he was going to bring to the team and the city off the pitch rather than on it.

Robbie first mooted the interest on his Twitter a couple of months ago, asking if anyone knew what Vancouver was like. He then broke the news that he'd been offered the move, discussed the thought process involved in considering it, hemmed and hawed about the pros and cons of the move to him, his career and his family and then finally announced he wasn't crossing the pond after all and was staying at Derby till the end of the season and to build on his UK media work (Robbie Savage Turns Down Move To Vancouver).

All of this was on his own personal twitter! Imagine how much he'd have written about it if he had more than 140 characters at his disposal.

The Whitecaps made no mention of any of it and must have been mightily pissed off that Savage leaked the details of the whole thing. It was mildly embarrassing and left the Whitecaps fans with more questions than answers about the situation.

We'd have known nothing about it though if it hadn't have been for Twitter. Since it all fell through, I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

A lot of players in football and other sports have already fallen foul of being too open and honest on Twitter and it's only going to get worse.

In the US, Hope Solo a goalkeeper for the women's team Atlanta Beat (I know, it's not a real sport but for the basis of this article let's pretend it is) was fined, suspended for one match and ordered to do 8 hours community service due to comments she made on Twitter about officials. She'd previously been in trouble for other comments she made on the site.

I wonder who the next big name player is going to be to get into trouble for his tweets? Whoever it is, you can be sure it's going to be before this season is out.

More and more clubs are just going to end up banning their players from using social media sites and take away their rights to free speech. I also wouldn't be surprised if Fifa didn't step in to this at some point soon and issue a blanket ban. After all, if you can't celebrate scoring a goal, why would you be allowed to express opinions? Just become unemotional robots.

So make the most of these tweets whilst you can. It won't be long until the next fad comes along to bring the players into your daily lives. Possibly chips in your head or maybe just rocks.

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