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‘Football Twitter’: a world misunderstood?


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“Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing.” Those are the famous words of the late great Celtic manager, Jock Stein.

Of course, unbeknown to him, his once wonderfully put phrase is now the origin of the most overused cliché in the sport. But the principle meaning still applies because, let’s be honest, football really is nothing without fans.

The difference is now that fans don’t have to be at the ground to show their support or share their opinion. Social media’s continued rise means they can do so virtually and at times preferable to their own respective schedules.

Hence, the birth of ‘Football Twitter’ (FT): the world where fans – usually anonymously – debate football with a vast network of other people.

Sometimes accounts purely express opinion, whilst others prefer to engage in light-hearted banter with rival fans. Most tend to blend a bit of both.

So, what’s the issue?

Well, because of the added anonymity, where fans hide behind pictures of their favourite players and sometimes don’t provide their real names, accounts are typically criticised for being spineless and unforthcoming.

Most accounts are well behaved but there’s a minority who take ‘banter’ a step too far, often to the point where it stigmatises the entire concept of FT.

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An example of that cowardice happened earlier this month, when a Chelsea fan account tweeted about the death of Rhys Jones following his team’s loss to Everton.

Jones was tragically murdered in a crossfire on his way home from football practice in 2007. The tweet was so unthinkably outrageous that Rhys’ father, Stephen Jones, took to Facebook to express how saddened he was by it.

Many immediately reported the tweet and the account was later banned because of its sad, inhumane humour.

Even though terrible cases like this do happen on occasion, some might perceive the ‘cowardice’ generalisation as unfair,  possibly even presumptuous, particularly given that it doesn’t consider why fans have these accounts in the first place.

So, is FT is simply a world misunderstood?

Getting Into FT

Speaking to the Sports Gazette this week, Max (@AFCMax9), who has one of the biggest Arsenal fan accounts, said: “I think most people, including myself, just want to share our opinions with other likeminded fans. That’s certainly why I started.

“Originally I joined to access other account’s content and never really put out any of my own, but as I started to get into the app a bit more, I decided I might as well get my opinions across.”

Max now has more than 40,000 followers to share those thoughts with. Like the majority of FT, he wants to connect with people who enjoy talking about football – Twitter gives him a platform to do just that.

“People like to join FT because it is an easy way to get followers and likes if you know the right things to tweet,” said Seb (@NotYourWinger).

Some people get caught up in the retweets – maybe even in what some might perceive as a false sense of reality – but the frequent interaction suggests that their opinion matters to people, which in turn makes them feel part of a community.

Justifying Anonymity

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Still, the mind does ponder, why can’t people feel part of a community without hiding part – or all – of their identity?

According to Manchester United fan, Aidan Walsh (@AidanWalshMUFC), FT provides an opportunity to escape the pressures of the outside world: “I believe people have these accounts to get away from their everyday life,” he said.

Accounts know that FT is largely a safe space. They will only be judged by their opinion, not their appearance, which provides a sense of security.

James (@afcjxmes), who incidentally is comfortable displaying his own picture, said: “You can be whoever you want behind the screen and people judge you on your opinion alone rather than what you look like.”

In the real world, it’s acceptable to do whatever it is that makes you feel comfortable – shouldn’t the same rules apply online?

The Impact of ‘Trolls’ on FT’s Reputation

Sadly though, some do cross the line.

This minority, referred to as ‘trolls’, spurt hate to spark a reaction from rival fans, shattering FT’s reputation.

The ever so gutless ‘banter’ directed towards the Jones family is one of the more severe cases of trolling, but similar abuse does still happen.

Trolls often direct their hate towards players – strangely, even to the ones they claim to support, as identified by Aston Villa star, Tyrone Mings, who addressed this issue.

Mings’ teammate, Anwar El Ghazi, was forced to come off Twitter in October after receiving abuse from Villa fans following a defeat to Stoke City.

So, when El Ghazi scored the late winner against a confident Wolves side in early December, Mings demanded a collective apology: “A team game utilises a WHOLE squad and we need everyone… may your apology be as loud as the disrespect,” he said.

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Players don’t like to create a divide between squad and fanbase, but Mings was right to publicly show El Ghazi his support.

Walsh (@AidanWalshMUFC) believes those who abuse players are wrong on so many levels: “people often forget that footballers are people and have the same emotions as us fans,” he said.

Inconceivable tweets can strongly affect the victims of online abuse.

Unfortunately, trolls don’t care much about that, nor do they care that their actions damage FT’s reputation.

Positivity Over Hate: Stopping The Minority

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Members of FT will have to live with that reputation for the time being, but that doesn’t have to always be the case.

That’s not to say we’ll ever be completely rid of trolls. However, if efforts are made to restrict their numbers, then the positivity on FT that is so often ignored will filter through.

“Hate will always be highlighted and seen on a wider stage because of how outrageous it is, but often the love and support is missed,” said Max.

If Twitter can clamp down on the perpetrators, possibly with the help of those who want to protect FT’s standing, then there is no reason why FT’s reputation won’t eventually improve.

However, until then, it sadly looks as though it will still be a world misunderstood.

If you or someone you know is struggling, UK mental health charity Mind maintain a list of helplines and services.

And if you’re reading this from outside the UK, you can find a service near you at CheckPoint.Org.


  • Lewis Pangratiou

    Sports journalist from Barnet, North London. Lover of most sports but particularly interested in football, rugby and cricket. Arsenal season ticket holder for many years, therefore perpetually upset about the Gunners. Often find me defending Mesut Ozil and all things Arsenal on twitter: @LPangratiou