Twitter twirps should just shut up
It’s been a long time since my father told one of my more difficult opponents that his dad had died while the game was going on. He hadn’t, of course, and the story has become part of our family folklore. And it’s fair to say that the old man has mellowed a little in the 20 years or so since.
These days, whenever our family is able to get together, the men still try to share their stories about football, whether it’s my father once again regaling us with the time he was subbed in the first half of a pub match, after having a nightmare, only to be sent back on again in the second half, in which he scored a hat trick. Or maybe it’s my cousin talking about the time he won the inter-office cup for his department with a mazy dribble in the dying minutes of the game. Or maybe it’s me talking about the time we hammered one of the biggest sides in world football.
And that’s the problem. What should be, for a group of men, one of the easiest subjects to talk about ends up with me talking about huge games, world-class players and inside anecdotes that the rest of the public never hear about. My career has reached the very top and, around the family table, we now have an uncomfortable situation.
After Sunday lunch, some family members won’t talk about football at all for fear that their stories might somehow sound weak in comparison. I am not comfortable holding court, I never have been. But, like it or not, I know an awful lot about football and my stories and experiences will, of course, always trump anyone else’s around the table.
And so the conversation drifts to subjects that nobody really wants to talk about, such as work, politics and “him next door”. Football, which dominated the conversation around Sunday lunch in our house for so many years when we were growing up, is now as awkward to listen to as hearing your parents talk about sex.
But for those people on the periphery of the football world, there is still a lesson to be learnt from my family’s discomfort in talking about football. Sometimes, even if you do a have an opinion, it can be best to just shut up.
Already this season, we have had the ubiquitous story involving an agent talking to the manager of a club via the media in a what I always think is a less than honorable way to make a point. It is a well-trodden path as Alex Gontran, agent of Demba Ba, can attest to.
“Since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations, Demba doesn’t understand the management,” Gontran said. “If he continues to be a substitute all season, we’ll look at other solutions. The choice to put Demba on the left last season was good for the club, because [Papiss] Cissé scored 13 goals, but there was a lack of recognition for Demba. It is more difficult to play well when you don’t have the confidence of your staff.”
Whenever stories like this hit the Press, I always tend to feel embarrassed for the player involved. Contrary to popular belief, there is little collusion in these outbursts between player and agent. Very often, it will be the agent “acting in the best interests” of his client.
I can remember exactly the same thing happening with a player at one of my first clubs and the manager dealing with it in a way that impressed me very much. His answer to the journalist covering the story was as simple as it was effective and went along the lines of: “If [the player] doesn’t like it, his agent is very free to find him a new club tomorrow. I only hope he’s a miracle worker because it’s the middle of February.”
But agents have their place in football, as we know. The problem with some of them is that they have egos to match some of their players. We all know the agents that can’t wait to get on TV to talk about the slightest thing that might require their opinion. Mind you, at £800 a time, it’s not bad money over a season.
No, the outside influence that infuriates players is the interference of the Wag. I will happily go on record as saying that my wife would never dream of talking about my career to anybody that she didn’t know. Furthermore, the idea of communicating her thoughts via Twitter would be to imply that she had an ego bigger than mine. And she doesn’t because not many do.
It takes a lot to embarrass an entire squad of footballers but every player to a man in ours was horrified at “Mrs Federici’s” comments regarding her boyfriend Adam’s exclusion from Reading’s first-team a few weeks back. The Australian goalkeeper had been on the receiving end of some flak regarding the quality of the goals that he’d conceded this season but it was his partner, Micaela Gardner, that came out fighting. She tweeted: “Football has left me feeling totally numb and empty inside! For once I have NO explanation! #noloyalty #absolutejoke.” And she added: “Unbelievable!!! You need thick skin for success!!”
I cannot even begin to tell you the sort of conversation that my wife and I would be having if that were her tweeting to the world. I would, no doubt, point out that this game that had left her so hollow and empty inside is also the game that pays for a new wardrobe, holidays, private schools and God knows what else.
If she thought watching was bad, she ought to try playing. Material possessions aside, the level of shame that I’d feel walking around the ground and changing-rooms would reduce me to shreds. I can hear the lads now in any confrontation thereafter: “Oh, sorry TSF, please don’t get your missus on me!”
But she is not alone. They do talk about the goalkeepers’ union – all goalkeepers are certifiably insane and so a make-believe union has been set up for them – and it seems that extends to their better halves, too. Birmingham’s third-string keeper, Colin Doyle, fell foul off his wife, Becky, after she incriminated him and Ben Foster with an ill-considered tweet in 2011. She posted: “P***ed off with my husband getting in at 4am with fossy and waking me up, celebrate next week when your safe. Have some respect.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the pair really ought to have known better than going out towards the end of a relegation battle, and that nobody likes to be woken up, there are some things that should simply never be aired in public for the sake of everyone concerned.
Alas, the same old faces always seem to steal the show and this week has been no different. Yesterday, our old friend Ashley Cole has once again shown that where the competition for “egotistical idiot of the year” ends, he begins. Cole used Twitter to respond to an FA charge that didn’t actually exist. He posted: “Hahahahaa, well done #fa I lied did I, #BUNCHOFT****.”
In what lifetime could that tweet ever be thought of as a good idea? The thing with Twitter, unlike a recorded interview, is that there are so many hoops to jump through before a player unleashes their thoughts on the world. A player could have second thoughts driving home from training, the moment he opened the laptop or at any stage during the composing, quick scan and posting of the tweet. All of which makes Cole’s claim that he “tweeted in the heat of the moment” sound ridiculous.
For me, players that continue to mouth off should at least have the courage of their convictions to either stand by what they have said – rather than issue a completely worthless apology, via a solicitor, only hours later – or sit down in front of the media and explain what was going through their head; instead of leaving it all to the manager and the club’s press officer to clean up.
And before anybody says anything – yes, I can see the irony.