Burnley, Nov 5th
The days when John Barnes, John Fashanu et al regularly had banana skins thrown at them and monkey noises were common-place seem many moons ago. Those that run the game today are often keen to point out that racism in the game has been virtually eliminated and occurred before the formation of the Premier League and the Champions League. Prior to multi-millionaire owners, before the fences came down and we had new all-seater, family-friendly stadia.
There have been persistent flashes abroad, with Southern and Eastern European team’s fans in particular causing disgruntlement amongst those within the English game. The fact that UEFA seem unwilling to deal with these issues with any more than a financial slap on the wrists is another story for another day.
However, the topic has returned with a vengeance to dominate English football headlines in the past couple of weeks. It started as a ‘one-off’ with Patrice Evra claiming Luis Suarez abused him during the recent Liverpool v Manchester United clash at Anfield. The matter escalated in dramatic fashion when England captain John Terry was accused of racially abusing his “friend” Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road – ironically not one of the episodes that led to a red card during that fractious clash. It should be noted both of these remain alleged incidents.
Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) has spoken out on this matter regularly via Twitter after the Terry/Ferdinand incident and amongst the overwhelming support from good-natured football fans, he also received a sizeable amount of racist and personal abuse.
News then broke that Newcastle had reported a Twitter user to the police for sending an offensive tweet to their young player, Sammy Ameobi (@Sammy_Ameobi).
Behind the appalling nature of this alleged abuse lies an interesting sub-topic, that of perceived privacy in the wide-open world of social media. The once-threatened legal action against 100,000 people for defying a high court ruling on keeping Ryan Giggs’ name out of the public domain seems unfeasible and appears to have died a death. However if the police act as they should in the Ameobi instance, providing the allegations have sufficient foundation, it will give people cause to stop and think before tweeting comments they would surely be immensely ashamed of saying out loud.
If Twitter won’t act (some truly horrendous insults get sent to footballers in particular without retribution) then maybe firm police action will help to stem the flow. The anonymity that many wrongly assume lies behind their user name could be about to be blown away as a myth if this fan is barred from St. James Park (it is being reported he is a Newcastle season-ticket holder believe it or not), and dealt with accordingly by Northumbria Police.
What is also positive about this story is the sensible route being taken by the player himself. It would have been very easy for him to have responded angrily. It would perhaps have been even easier to ignore it completely, leaving the incident largely unreported and the alleged offender free to abuse others. Instead he informed his employers who have taken appropriate action. Ameobi himself has received hundreds, perhaps thousands of comments of praise from fans and it is good to see the majority of people using Twitter in the correct manner – getting in touch and close to your ‘celebrity’ heroes is a significant factor in its seemingly unstoppable success.
What this could result in is a real transformation of how some act on Twitter. Online fan’s forums, especially ‘official’ ones, have long had a behaviour code but it’s something Twitter has been reticent to do, and as such people feel that they can say anything they like without any comeback.
Lewis Wiltshire – BBC Sport’s Social Media Editor, (@LewisWiltshire) – has long been intrigued by players and fans use of Twitter and his tweet on the incident sums up the possible impact on the world of social media of the story:
The mask may be about to slip.