In lots of ways, Twitter has done lots of good. There are countless examples of international news breaking internationally on the site – such as the deaths of Michael Jackson and Osama bin Laden – as well as occasions – such as post-election protests in Iran or the recent revolutions, both successful and ongoing in Northern Africa – where it has been the only viable source of information on a global event. The social networking phenomenon has also allowed aspirational new football blogs potential access to the seriously prime advertising real estate that is the professional footballer’s timeline.
Is this a good thing?
We all love stats, and a retweet from one of football’s perennial tweeters like Rio Ferdinand, Jack Wilshere or (until recently) Kevin Davies is a surefire way of spiking them for a few minutes.
Is it really worth it, though, when it’s unlikely that the star in question will have read your piece*? Nor will many of the viewers his ‘recommendation’ attracts be persuaded to subscribe to the blog or even engage in the comments/commentary – they’ve likely got a serious debate on the go under Phil McNulty’s latest about how shit Arsenal are, or how ‘sick’ a player Steven Gerrard is.
A bit of both then, take the bad with the good.
Much has been written of Twitter’s capacity to break down the so-called fourth wall between football’s uber celebrities and its Joe Blogs (see what I did there) consumers. Such accounts have generally been written from the fans’ perspective. It is good for us, so the story goes, to see what these guys on whom we lavish so much attention, time and cash are ‘really like’. That’s probably true, and it is heartwarming to know that Cesc watches his mates play football at the same place in Swiss Cottage as I play with mine, that Big Kev Davies doesn’t know how to use his toaster, or that Jack ‘the lad’ Wilshere is an unimaginative and limited cook (at least he tries right?). It humanizes the Premier League’s demi-gods in a way that their gladiatorial portrayal on the telly or the club website can never do.
It is assumed that this is what we always want, to know that they’re just like us, really. But mightn’t it also be the case that it’s what they want too?
Perhaps players too are frustrated by the fourth wall that the Murdoch empire has erected around its prized assets. We assume that players want exclusivity from the likes of us, and I’m sure in a lot of cases they (quite understandably) do, but the popularity of Twitter amongst some of the league’s highest profile players suggests that there are areas at least in which players are prepared to compromise their privacy.
Here’s a case in point.
Yesterday afternoon Manchester United’s Michael Owen, who goes by the tag @themichaelowen (interesting juxtaposition of the definite article with the lower case proper noun there, one for the ages that), sparked something of a stink when he let go the following tweet at 1257:
Bit rich right? Fortunately, omniscient man of the people Piers Morgan immediately leapt to our defence:
Owen’s tweet is hopelessly naïve. It is galling to any fan to hear a player complain about the cost of the tickets which pay his wages (not in this case of course, but it doesn’t take a huge abstraction to get there). For a Man United fan to know that a bit part player, even one with Owen’s pedigree, is entitled to SIXTEEN tickets to their club’s match of the season while they watch it on the telly must be infuriating.
On the other hand, he’s right; it is an absolute joke that the tickets cost that much (it’s also a joke that he’s entitled to so many and admittedly he didn’t exactly nail that one).
Owen is probably trying to assert his ordinary bloke credentials here. I am just a guy who likes football and £225 is a ludicrous amount to have to pay to do that is not an objectionable point of view in itself – in fact it’s probably one that most of us agree with. What makes it objectionable is its source, which brings us to Morgan.
The former News of the World and Daily Mirror editor has specialized in hypocracy of the most self-serving and disingenuously sycophantic variety for most of his career.
I have no idea how much money Morgan has, but I would imagine that like Owen he is wadded enough to comfortably cover UEFA’s exorbitant ticket prices. Of course that doesn’t mean that they aren’t exorbitant, tickets should be priced in such a way that you don’t have to be a professional footballer or an American TV network personality in order to afford them, but this isn’t Piers’s point.
Instead, in a flourish of the populism that has defined careers like his, Morgan ingratiates himself into the outrage that Owen’s tweet almost immediately provoked. This, as I said above, was naïve but reasonable. Its former deficiency was seized upon by Morgan and used to eradicate its latter quality – as it happens to the benefit of Morgan himself, who is left holding the everyman ropes that Owen put into play: ‘let’s all have a whip round’.
It is no coincidence that Morgan has been a successful media personality under two of the World’s leading media moguls (Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch). The business model of each of these tycoons depends on the development of the everyman shtick with which Piers beat Owen yesterday. Sky Sports is a particularly prime example of this; its marketing promises are built around its ‘exclusive’ ability to bring the Premier League’s untouchables into our homes.
Twitter threatens that; that’s why pistol Piers, still a Murdoch man at heart, instinctively drew so quickly yesterday.
If tweets like Owen’s were allowed to continue, they would likely become increasingly eloquent and more assured (less naïve). Maybe footballers could actually make themselves look like us? Who knows, maybe it wouldn’t even be too long until @rioferdy5 began complaining to his One-Million-plus strong ‘twitfam’ that his ‘Sky bill is a bit steep this month #viveleantimurdochrevolution‘?
As it is Owen will probably be forced to apologise/delete the evidence that he ever said it (don’t worry, it will take more than a super-injunction to shut the Big Man down) and his four-letter (j o k e) rant at UEFA’s ludicrous pricing scheme will be remembered as a PR gaffe from a past-it player.
Cheers Piers, you really are one of us.
* The Big Man does seem to have evidence that Davies at least reads the URL of piece to which he is directed, after he refused, probably to the conscious benefit of his international prospects, to retweet http://goodfeetforabigman.com/2011/04/15/f-a-cup-semi-final-preview-is-owen-coyle-a-bigger-influence-on-enlgand-than-cappello/