Stephen Halliday: Football’s Twitter issue

Neil Lennon, a Twiter-user himself, has threatened to ban his Celtic players from using the social medium. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon, a Twiter-user himself, has threatened to ban his Celtic players from using the social medium. Picture: SNS
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SCOTTISH football used to be full of characters. Now it appears to be populated by those intent on making fools of themselves in 140 characters or less.

It is more than a little ironic that in an era when our clubs are committed to ensuring interaction between their players and the media is as controlled, on-message and bland as possible, that they find themselves struggling to cope with their employees’ presence on Twitter.

It has not been a great few days for those who assure us that the phenomenally popular social media network has been a positive development for football.

Neil Lennon’s threat to ban his players from Twitter if anything they post on it damages Celtic’s reputation came after Charlie Mulgrew, for reasons even he will surely struggle to explain, shared a photo of a naked couple with the 80,000-plus followers whose lives would apparently not be complete without access to the Scotland midfielder’s bite-sized observations. Mulgrew’s next wage packet will be a little lighter as a result of what he described as “banter”.

It remains to be seen if Hibs striker Rowan Vine will find himself subjected to any disciplinary action over his crass tweet in Lennon’s direction, the big Englishman’s sense of humour falling horribly flat when he suggested he would direct Alan Shearer to inflict physical damage on the Celtic manager.

Having attended Vine’s first media conference at the start of this season following his signing from St Johnstone, he came across as a thoughtful and articulate individual. Twitter, however, seems to have an unrivalled capacity for making people lose all sight of their better judgment. There is also no sign of those who use it learning from either their own mistakes or those of others.

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan is among those who have fallen foul of Twitter, attracting criticism from south of the border when he offered his unsolicited views on how the Luis Suarez-Patrice Evra controversy between Liverpool and Manchester United last year should be handled.

A few months later, understandably weary of the abuse he was receiving from supporters during Rangers’ financial meltdown, Regan closed his Twitter account as it was becoming “counter-productive”.

In a Scottish football environment where taking offence is almost a default setting, Twitter is a place which is best avoided. Lennon himself was unable to resist getting involved in an angry exchange of views with both Celtic supporters and rival fans after the 3-0 home defeat by Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League last season.

Even the most innocuous remarks can spell danger for those involved in football, as Rangers midfielder Kyle Hutton discovered when his tweet about heading home early from training to catch up on television series Homeland provoked a stinging response from the Ibrox club’s fans during a poor spell of form on the pitch.

Alan Burrows, the peerless Motherwell media manager, has sensibly issued guidelines to his club’s players on the protocol which should be followed when using Twitter. But instead of compiling a list of dos and don’ts, it might serve football clubs better to simply say ‘Don’t’.

The inexplicable urge which Twitter provokes in people to leave very few thoughts unexpressed, regardless of how banal they may be, will continue to be a recipe for potential embarrassment or worse for footballers.

It will also, it must be pointed out, remain the gift which keeps on giving for both the news and sports desks of newspapers who cannot be blamed for making the most of what is a bountiful source of stories. Not to mention topics for a column. And if you are looking for a Twitter address for this correspondent, don’t hold your breath.

Doncaster should seek tips in new Euro role

Amid all the fuss over former Rangers director Dave King’s arrival in Glasgow and Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s warning to his players of Twitter’s perils, you would have been excused for failing to notice the really big news in Scottish football over the weekend.

A press release from the Scottish Professional Football League on Friday informed us that their chief executive Neil Doncaster has been appointed to the board of the European Professional Football Leagues. Now, if you hadn’t heard of the EPFL before, be assured you are not alone. Founded in 2005, the Nyon-based organisation has operated firmly under the radar so far. So much so that their general assembly took place in Edinburgh last year without any of the Scottish media seeming to notice.

It is far from obvious why European football requires such a body, given the existence of both Uefa and the increasingly influential European Club Association. A quick check of the EPFL’s website tells us that their mission is to “foster cooperation, friendly relations and unity between the

European Professional Football Leagues, exploring common synergies with football authorities and relevant stakeholders in order to positively transform and add significant value to the football landscape.”

Their vision is to “capitalise on the intrinsic values of European professional football and to promote its political, social, cultural, economic and educational dimensions in order to have a positive impact on the game, on and off the pitch.”

So that clears that up, then. It’s no bad thing, of course, to have any Scottish voice – even one with Doncaster’s southern accent – in European football’s corridors of power. With 30 European domestic leagues now members of the EPFL, perhaps it may emerge as more than just a hidden corner of those corridors in the years ahead.

As Doncaster was appointed to their board of directors at their latest general assembly in Paris on Friday, he could at least have taken the opportunity to ask his fellow CEOs if they had any tips on how to find a sponsor for a league.