"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Football and Social Media with one of the Two Unfortunates

The latest publication of my 'On the Social' column from the Bristol City matchday programme, Red Alert: Reading, Setpember 15th 2011

This week I’m delighted to welcome Reading fan Rob Langham, co-founder of the excellent www.thetwounfortunates.blogspot.com website, which comprehensively covers all things Football League. Follow them on Twitter @twounfortunates

Your blog specialises in the Football League, why did you decide to set up specifically excluding the Premier League?
My fellow blogger and I both supported then Championship clubs in Reading and Plymouth so that was our main area of interest.  The Premier League was already well covered by a range of excellent blogs.

Until a couple of years ago bloggers were fairly niche, known to each other in quite a small world, but Twitter has allowed some fairly major-scale expansion and PR. Would you agree and how have you used Twitter to benefit your site?
I still think it is quite a small world compared to online message boards, albeit a fast-growing one. Twitter has allowed us to publicise our posts to supporters of all 72 clubs and has also allowed us to feel part of a community of online football writers.

You produced a quite incredible 108-page season preview in conjunction with @the72football. How successful was it, and was that your 'best' moment as a blogger?
We were delighted with the response and over 25,000 people downloaded it. Given the work put in to the preview and the way it pulled together an enthusiastic team of contributors, it has to be up there.

How do you feel forums, blogs and Twitter have influenced the 'instant success' requirement we see at many clubs?
In the past, chairmen, players and managers probably stood aloof from fan criticism and praise - judging their efforts on how they were received on match day alone. Now, it would take a self-controlled striker to not check what people were saying about him on twitter or the forums, so how the supporters are feeling is now far more obvious.

What's the best thing about Twitter?
Most people tend to buy just one newspaper a day but Twitter has provided access to the whole range of media - if there is an article by a Swansea blogger analysing Steven Caulker's performances so far this season and you are interested to learn how he is getting on, Twitter can draw it to your attention very quickly.

Can, and should, the clubs do more to embrace this still relatively new world of communications?
I think they are already using it quite well in the main and the people at Reading FC are very willing to interact with fans on Twitter. This leads to an increase in the feel of a club as a community.

There are an increasing number of footballers on Twitter, not without controversy.  Do you think they will still be allowed to tweet in two or three years?
Yes - I am not sure of the legalities but imposing bans might be seen as a restraint on personal freedom and would be impossible to enforce. Tweeting foolishly is the fault of the footballers concerned, not the medium.

Who are your favourite football-related 'follows' on Twitter?
Aside from a super range of club specific blogs such as The Exiled Robin (Bristol City) and @TheTilehurstEnd (Reading), there are some truly fabulous general ones. @SwissRamble is unbeatable on football finance, @twoht, @JustFootball and @FutblFairground do a great job of covering the game at all levels, and the writing on more idiosyncratic blogs like @Twisted_Blood is superb. There are also some brilliant podcasts - with @twofootedtackle the most consistently enjoyable of these.

And do you have a favourite tweet of all-time?
I think there are too many to mention but football writers Iain Macintosh (@iainmacintosh) and Steven Gabb (@mirkobolesan) are consistently amusing and insightful.

And finally, what do you think the result tonight will be and what hopes do you have for Reading's season?
A tight 1-1 draw!  The departure of Shane Long and Matt Mills has heralded a transitional season and it will take time for new signings like Joseph Mills and Adam Le Fondre to settle in - starting again with a mainly young side will have its ups and downs - but there is plenty of talent there.

The Exiled Robin (@cider1977)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Joey Barton: X-rated or X Factor?

The latest publication of my 'On the Social' column from the Bristol City matchday programme, Red Alert: Hull City, September 24th 2011
Joey Barton: X-rated or X Factor?

One of the reasons for the existence and growth of social media is that it gives everyone a voice.  Anyone can write a blog, contribute to forums or tweet their views on any topic they like.  Whilst your average Joe has embraced this opportunity gleefully, many celebrities have also taken the opportunity to prove they’re not just a pretty face/talented sportsman/musical genius.

One such contributor is doing so with an ever-growing impact on Twitter.  Joseph Anthony Barton (@Joey7Barton) has attracted publicity ever since he burst onto the Premier League scene back in 2002 with his well-publicised on and off-field antics ensuring he’s never far away from the headlines.  Violence, petulance, general ill-discipline and apparently a world-record breaking chip on his shoulder have generally cast Barton in the worst of lights.  And for many that’s where he still belongs, his crimes too heinous to forgive.

Until a few months ago most would have unknowingly bracketed Barton in the ‘thick footballer’ category – not enough sense to realise the potential he was seemingly wasting and surely destined for little once his legs gave up on him.  However the nature, subject matter and eloquence of his tweeting have caused many to rethink this and such is the power of this new form of media, he now seems destined to move into mainstream when he’s finished being everybody’s favourite boo-boy on the green fields of England (and Swansea).

His headline grabbing tweets have generally been contentious, for instance his criticism of Newcastle selling Kevin Nolan to West Ham and his comments upon leaving St. James Park Somewhere in those echelons of NUFC, they have decided, I am persona non grata”.  Even in this instance, including ‘echelons’ and ‘persona non grata’ in the same 140 characters would be beyond many more established minds.


Selected Barton tweets:

There are people that can control themselves everyday, I am not one of them" Which philosopher said that?? Answers on a postcard......

This campaign [Hillsborough] has got me thinking, surely social media can bring people together to fight for a better society and demand accountability... ...from MP's and our government. Am gonna go away and speak to some techies about a People vs type website, to tackle issues in our society

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." Abraham Lincoln

And to prove it’s not all high-brow:

"Wolves snubbed me" I read in this morning papers hahahahahaha....don't know what Mick's been smoking......

But beyond these criticisms, in recent months he has commented maturely on the riots that swept the country - “Violence always comes from a place of misunderstanding and low to zero self-worth, well mine did anyway” (admittedly talking as if his violence is in the past tense may be pushing boundaries somewhat); has quoted George Orwell in a profound exchange with respected journalist Henry Winter (@HenryWinter); published photos of his favourite Monet and Picasso masterpieces following a visit to the Tate Modern; gave his verdict on former Labour MP Margaret Moran’s expenses hearing and was the foremost campaigner in the online campaign to get official papers on the Hillsborough disaster released by the Government.
His portfolio of comments on these subject matters is more likely to be discovered in the Guardian than the Daily Star and no doubt the TV channels, radio stations and newspapers are already considering rich offers to this most controversial of characters.  Football media may not even end up being his limit.

Loved by a few, despised by many – whatever your view of Barton there is little doubt that to change people’s perception of him would have been futile before the days of social media.  Whilst many of his ½ million followers on Twitter hope to see something explosive, an increasing number are genuinely intrigued as to what will be the next strand of public life philosophised upon by this most compelling of characters.

The Exiled Robin (@cider1977)

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Leeds v City: An unlucky day at the office?

Saturday’s result at Leeds was disappointing and caused a number of fans (who admitted later they hadn’t been to the game) to react with severe disappointment on Twitter.  There was an instant retort and a handful of arguments broke amongst some of those fans and others who had been to the game and were on their way home.  It’s one of the fascinating aspects of Twitter and online forums that you can have such an instant discussion, particularly for away games when fewer fans actually see the live performance.
So was it good and unlucky?  Was it bad and deserved?  I have enlisted the help of some of those that attended - Dale Merry, Melissa Spencer and John Milsom - to put their view across of the game and the performance.  A Leeds blogger, Thomas Hill from www.Leeds.theoffside.com has also been kind enough to offer a view on City based on what he saw at Elland Road.

The general consensus appears to be that the performance was decidedly improved on many recently, although we started slowly.  Dale explained that he made the trip not expecting much….started off shakily at the back and when Clayton scored it seemed like a case of ‘Here we go again’.  Then Andy Keogh went clean through but James made a brilliant save to preserve the one goal deficit.

John also commented on the slow start, commenting that City gave the ball away in the middle several times (Skuse the main offender) which led to two great chances for Leeds and could have finished the game almost before it had started

Dale went on to say that the save from James seemed to spur us into action and we went straight up the other end and scored a cracker.  A well taken goal according to Melissa, John said it was a great goal and Thomas, the Leeds fan who knows Kilkenny well, said it was both a lovely goal and surprising!  He also added he liked the touch of Kilkenny running and pointing at Chairman Ken Bates – obviously not one of the fans Bates feels might have been offended in his ridiculous posturing this week.

The goal appears to have transformed the side into a confident, football playing side with all in agreement that for nearly an hour City were the best side, controlling the game and leading ultimately to Kisnorbo’s red card and Maynard’s missed penalty.  Melissa felt this was the crucial moment, but Neil Kilkenny appears to have been at the heart of this performance, and when Millen said after the game that the missed penalty wasn’t the turning point, both Dale and John tend to agree, instead pointing to Kilkenny’s surprise substitution as definitely being the moment we lost control of the game.  John called it “ridiculous” and his view of Kilkenny’s performance was that he ran the midfield, fetching and carrying to create. He did a great job.

So what next?  Did Leeds suddenly improve?  Well neither John, nor Leeds fan Thomas thought much of their overall performance with John explaining they were looking rubbish and could barely string two passes together and Thomas feeling it was a terrible performance.  John feels that without Kilkenny’s influence even against 10 men the game plan changed to running around like headless chicken, long balls and a lack of urgency and shape and eventually our fallibility to a lack of concentration at the back came back to haunt us.

In summary Thomas felt the visitors showed some promise with the wide men in particular impressing him and some good quality attacking moves causing the home side problems.  Interestingly his neutral view on Maynard was that he didn’t look interested and that’s got to be a worry now we’ve tied him to the club until at least January.  He echoed my personal view that an over-reliance on Maynard as a lone striker appears to be affecting the team’s scoring chances and John also chipped in at this point, suggesting Stead created two opportunities in the short time he was on the pitch.  Stead and Pitman looked so potent together last season but have had little opportunity to shine in their normal positions so far this season.

In summary, Dale felt we deserved ‘at least a point with the performance a lot better than in previous weeks’, Melissa “felt City were incredibly unlucky not to get a point” and Thomas claimed we “deserved more from the game”.  However, John was perhaps more cynical, with a general view that we were terrible at the start and the end and could have conceded more than the two goals we did.

A final view from Yorkshire was that the number of fans City took was the lowest he’d seen in a long time.  Sadly that is not something likely to change, home or away, until performances and results show a decidedly upward trend.
Many thanks to @Dale_Merry, @MelissaSpencerx, @JohnMilsom and @LeedsTheoffside for their contributions

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Transfer Deadline Day: Social Media Review

The latest publication of my 'On the Social' column from the Bristol City matchday programme, Red Alert: Brighton, September 10th 2011

When the creation of a seasonal deadline for transfers was announced by UEFA a number of years ago, very few could have forecast the levels of excitement that would be created and the annual event it has swiftly become. The more cynical amongst you could perhaps now suggest it was a policy orchestrated by satellite television, such is the hype and sheer hysteria produced in the build-up to, and during, August 31st each year.

However it is not just about television and that, in part, is what makes it such a success. Fans can become involved, whether it’s just listening out for a mention of their team, or by interacting with news sources to try and claim an exclusive. BBC Sport’s website quickly latched onto this roller-coaster of a day a few years ago with a live text commentary running throughout and have embraced fans interaction by publishing selected comments from readers’ texts, emails and now tweets.  

They are just as likely to publish a quote from Rob in Hemel Hempstead who apparently “has a mate, whose cousin’s girlfriend works at a Spanish airport and has just seen Lionel Messi getting on a private plane to Newcastle”, as they are to quote a BBC journalist with an inside line or a fan who is camped outside their club’s offices watching new players arrive. You have to pick and choose the ones you believe.

Despite numerous false stories, Twitter really came into its own this year. In previous years an avid fan might watch Sky Sports News, whilst flicking between three or four news websites scanning for fresh stories on a possible transfer that the others haven’t picked up on. This year, with the sheer volume of sources now on Twitter, one could simply refresh their timeline all day and get updates from any number of BBC journalists, Sky reporters, the written media and even the players themselves. When you see “Sky Sources claim…” on their coverage you can be fairly sure that the source is somewhere on Twitter.

News of Arteta’s move to Arsenal broke on Twitter

Twitter sources were the first to break the story that Mikel Arteta’s move to Arsenal was back on (Sky were on an adverts break at the time) and first to confirm a number of players turning up for medicals or contract discussions. Most of the day’s high-profile transfers were presented first on Twitter. 

The players also got involved, confirming and dispelling a number of rumours. Amongst others, Yossi Benayoun tweeted that he was in London and Anton Ferdinand gave the most direct update possible on his transfer to QPR (see below).

In some ways, journalism has become markedly easier thanks to Twitter, with a constant source of opinion and reaction from fans, players, staff and officials alike giving sufficient content for any commentary or article. The problem is that rumours started without any foundation become fact before you know what has happened.

Scanning down my timeline on Wednesday morning I saw this tweet from fellow City fan @Barnzy_BCFC: “Hearing rumours of Ryan Bertrand going to Bristol City on a season long loan”. This was picked up by the BBC and printed on the website as a rumour. 

As we all now know, nothing came of it.  However, lo and behold in the next morning’s Sun newspaper, it was there in print: “Bristol City: Ryan Bertrand, season-long loan”.

Don’t believe everything you read!

The Exiled Robin (@cider1977)

Transfer deadline day
@Anton_ferdinand (replying to his brother, Rio): “waitin around 2 go 4 the medical, jus heard a rumour that I failed it! Don’t know where that’s come from!”

Everton’s @louissaha08 (seconds after it was revealed Mikel Arteta’s move from Everton to Arsenal was back on) “Aaaaaaaaaaaaah. What is going on???”

Following Man.Utd 8 Arsenal 2:
@WayneRooney to Arsenal fan and regular antagonist, Piers Morgan “hello mate. How r u”
@piersmorgan in response: “I’m suicidal Shrek. Thanks for asking”

Friday, 2 September 2011

Ryan McGivern, a bright new hope?

For a supporter who has grown up on a series of left-backs cast out of the same mould, it has become one of those quirky 'golden' positions for me at City. Martin Scott, Mickey Bell, Matty Hill and Jim Brennan (briefly) held the No.3 shirt for years and were all legends or cult-heroes to differing extents.

It's fair to say Jamie Mac has been a dependable owner of the shirt for the past few seasons, and I'm one of those still loathe to overly criticise any of the players who brought us up and got us to Wembley in 2008. Although there has been an under-current of feeling amongst many fans that we could do better, there has certainly been a groundswell of pressure building to get decent cover in at the very least. It's been so long I can't actually remember who the last 'regular' reserve left-back was.

So the signing of Ryan McGivern, on the face of it, was treated with some excitement. Surely a player recently handed a new two-year contract by gigantic-spending Manchester City can't be half bad? They've bought a few players in the past 12 months (in case you hadn't noticed) so an investment in a youngster from these islands must bode well?

Well, perhaps. I asked David Bevan of the magnificent 72 Football (TheSeventyTwo) to give us a profile as McGivern spent a few months on loan at the Walkers Stadium two seasons ago.

I should warn you that the following profile may offend. I would add, before you click off thinking this is just a wild rant, that the quality of David's work is right up there with the best, to the extent that a year into his website's life, he was hand-selected by the Daily Mirror to write a weekly piece for their website on the football league (Mirror Football League Blog). This is no jingoistic Leicester fan having a dig for the sake of it. In fact, it's quite amusing in a gallows-style humour manner!

"If there's one thing that running a Football League blog has taught me, it's to be wary of opinions of footballers from supporters of their previous clubs. As soon as a player moves on, memories in many cases seem to shift towards the negative. Even at the best of times, fans make their mind up about a player based on one or two poor performances and that will remain their opinion for ever more, pausing only to sneer knowingly when a misplaced pass confirms their proclamations. I've even, whisper it, been guilty of this myself. There was much glee to be had when Matty Fryatt wasted numerous one-on-ones in the opening game of the Football League season live on Sky. What a familiar sight, I chortled.

Supporters are often unwilling to give a neutral assessment of a player to fans of the club he has just joined - fans that are now eager to see what their new acquisition is like.

"You're shit mate, couldn't hit a barn door with the arse of a cow's banjo."

"Garbage, all pace and no final ball."

"Imagine the footballing equivalent of Piers Morgan, without the humility or natural charm. That's you, that is"

But regardless of what my old five-a-side team-mates regularly write on my Facebook wall, fans cannot always be trusted to write reliable opinions of their former players.

Having said all of this, Ryan McGivern is one of the worst footballers I've ever seen wearing a Leicester City shirt.

This is a little while ago now, and he seems to have won some decent reviews recently from Crystal Palace fans following his brief loan spell there at the start of this season. Some even claimed he had scaled new heights of being "average" and "not too bad".

We dreamed of McGivern turning in displays we could term "average" or "not too bad". We yearned for them. Where were they? Nowhere to be seen. McGivern was bloody useless.

At the time I thought it was slightly harsh that my fellow Leicester fans and I were displeased with the efforts of a player that was, at the time, very much a backup option. When Bruno Berner was unfit, rested or suspended, Ryan McGivern played. Well, he was on the pitch anyway. "Played" is perhaps going a bit too far. McGivern didn't play in the same sense that Yehudi Menuhin played the violin or Laurence Olivier played Hamlet. McGivern played more like Daphne and Celeste played the Reading festival. Only with fewer bottles of faeces hurled in his direction by disgruntled punters.

Of course, McGivern's performances on loan for Leicester two years ago mean very little now. He may well prove to be a solid loan signing for Bristol City and I genuinely hope that he has a decent season. In time, the bad feeling between Leicester and Bristol City generated by the most boring transfer saga in history will fade and we will return to just being two clubs that rarely mean very much to each other.

But Lord alive, I travelled to Wales FIVE bastard times that season. One of those trips was made for a game which was promptly called off as soon as we arrived in Cardiff, another for a play-off game in which our maverick French striker panenka'd a penalty down David Marshall's throat and a third when we were denied a crucial late equaliser by the most blatant rugby tackle seen in Cardiff all year (and yes, I'm counting the Millennium Stadium).

But they were all jolly jaunts compared to the other two visits - both of which featured our friend Mr McGivern torn to shreds by such luminaries as Nathan Dyer and Chris Burke. Alright so they're decent wingers with a turn of pace but at least put a tackle in. Or kick them. Either of the two would have done. It wouldn't have been that bad but they were showing an advert the following week during daytime TV to raise awareness about the poor and all that - I swear the montage included a brief glimpse of Burke skipping past McGivern like a car sailing through a green light. Loooong trips back to the Midlands after those displays. And as you can probably tell, I'm only recently fully recovered from them.

He actually played even worse at home against Reading. I'm convinced Jimmy Kebe still has a lock of McGivern's hair as a memory of the day he was made to look like Cristiano Ronaldo's more extravagantly talented distant Malian relative. It got to the stage at one point where opposition clubs would share a tactics board for their visit to our stadium - one with a picture of a football pitch on and a gigantic red arrow scrawled up the right wing.

The coup de grace was when he gave an interview halfway through his spell with us saying that he was hopeful of breaking into Manchester City's team the following season.

Well, two years on and he's just been given a new contract by the richest club in the world.

I saw it coming all along... honest...

PS - if you were after attributes, he was really slow, couldn't tackle, couldn't pass but sometimes won a few headers. He also had a decent game at centre-back against Sheffield United once. But... well... that was Sheffield United."

So, what to make of that? There's enough above to keep debate raging, so I'm going to draw on the positives.

This was nearly two years ago, when McGivern was only 19. We all know how much development, both physical and mental can occur with experience and this spell may have been the making of him.

Secondly, there is a slightly more promising review from a Crystal Palace fan, Martin Searle (CalneEagle) who has seen the player more recently as McGivern spent the first month of this season on loan at Selhurst Park. His remarks to me included "OK, can't really say more than that.. Impressive hair bleach!". An apparent improvement on his Leicester days at least!

He did go on to add that there was one decent cross and a goal-saving block, and also that Palace manager Dougie Freedman wanted to keep him - but Dean Moxey was ahead of him for the shirt. So we've got a player that wasn't good enough for a Palace team amongst the bookies favourites to go down. Maybe this tells us all we need to know about our expectation level for the season.

On the face of it I must admit a slight sense of being under-whelmed. On a day when Jermaine Beckford, David Bentley and Henri Lansbury arrived in the Championship this perhaps wasn't the headline we were all hoping for, but then City don't really do deadline days. More on that later.

If McGivern is good enough for Man City to offer an extended contract in the same month they sign Gael Clichy then maybe we've got a developing star.

Time will tell, as ever, and I for one will not be judging until I've had a long enough peek of the new guy at work. Let's just hope we see more of that player Man City felt able to offer a new contract to, rather than the hapless individual seemingly lost at sea in the East Midlands not so long ago.

Following the initial reaction to this post I feel the need to qualify. It is simply a view, a profile from a couple of supporters who have seen McGivern play to act as an insight for most of us City fans who haven't. I would have far rather published a post hailing him as a young Ashley Cole or Roberto Carlos. I am certainly not a boo-boy, in fact quite the opposite. I've spent a number of years on the forums in strong debates with those seemingly unable to give players, managers, coaches etc a chance. I always give my full support to anyone who pulls on a red shirt, and will forever continue to do so. As far as I'm concerned McGivern is one of ours now and I hope as much as anyone this is his breakthrough season and he can return to Man City to compete for a place in their star-studded line-up.

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