Footballers on Twitter - what do the fans think?

A lot is written about the impact that the uptake of Twitter amongst members of the footballing fraternity has had, but has it really changed the game for your regular fan?

I spoke to two supporters – Mark and Joe – to see how they felt about footballers on Twitter. I started by asking them to outline what they believe the pros and cons of having professional players on Twitter are:

M: “Fans get an insight into what the player is doing, whether its Rio Ferdinand taking his kids to school or Demba Ba saying what he did at training. On the other hand the players are at risk of abuse from people who claim to be fans. You also get players like Joey Barton and Nile Ranger who tweet a lot of rubbish and give the impression that footballers are what we always assumed them to be”

J: “Darren Bent is an example of the good and bad sides of Twitter. While he was at Sunderland he was talking with fans about matches, TV shows he was watching and so on. On the flip side when he made what he saw as a hard-headed career decision to move from Sunderland to Aston Villa he got a lot of abusive tweets.”

Twitter turned Joey from a villain, to hero, back to a villain

But do fans think they have more of a connection to those players on Twitter? Opinion is divided, but supporters certainly feel something:

M: “I feel closer to players. For example Ryan Taylor is just like a fan in the way he puts across his views about Newcastle. When Danny Simpson was on Twitter he would often update his followers on things and so I felt a bit closer to him than someone like Leon Best, who doesn’t have Twitter.”

J: “I wouldn’t say closer but there’s a few players I feel I understand a bit more. There’s Michael Owen, who is very dull but every now and then gets really wound up and irritable. And then there’s Joey Barton…”

Brand values - Dullness

Is there an ulterior motive for getting your face on Twitter if you’re a footballer, or is it just because you want to talk to your publics?

M: “I think it’s used by players to both contact fans and to promote themselves. For example Joey Barton is definitely using it to market himself. He engineered his move to QPR by going on Twitter. On the other side of the coin you’ve got players like Demba Ba who only really tweet football related things to keep fans up to date.”

J: “I get the impression that players use Twitter to keep in touch with each other as well as talk to fans. On a recent Late Kick Off Hartlepool United player-coach Ritchie Humphreys and a senior player talked about the benefits of Twitter in terms of keeping the banter going away from the training ground.”

So has Twitter really sparked a massive change in the way players communicate? I’ll leave the last word to Joe:

“You get a lot of managers saying they don’t like Twitter but I don’t see how it’s that different from seeing a bunch of players down the pub or in a restaurant. Sometimes they’ll be willing to talk, other times they don’t be disturbed. Twitter’s just like that, but on a much broader scale.”

Do you agree or is that an oversimplification? Let me know.