Is social media killing football as we know it?

Social media offers a lot to football clubs and fans alike, but it’s not without its downsides – ‘ITKs’ chief among them. Chas Newkey-Burden explores the influence Twitter and Facebook hold over the game today...

Transfer windows really flush out the fakes on Twitter, don’t they? The moment each one opens, out come the armchair transfer rumour-mongers to circulate dreamt-up tittle-tattle about who’s about to sign for whom.

Although they bill themselves as ‘in the know’, they are of course anything but. Instead, they are social media’s answer to Jay from The Inbetweeners – machine-gun bullshitters who, in search of momentary, fatuous attention, prey on the credulous optimism that is woven into the very DNA of every football fan.   

The same optimism that, when your team is 2-0 down with five minutes to go and your centre-back lumps a crooked pass upfield, floods your body with adrenalin. The same optimism that makes you believe this will be your club’s year, when all the evidence suggests it’s unlikely to even be its week.

"I'm tellin' ya, Neymar's on his way to Arsenal"

Twitter conmen

Eventually the club’s official Twitter account joined in with the fun, reporting that the deceased scribe had failed a medical

The happiest hunting ground for ‘in the knows’ is that gap between how much fans care about their club and how little they know about what’s going on behind its closed gates. This is a vacuum ripe for exploitation by the conman. Damn you, Twitter, for bringing these assiduous grifters into our midst!

Earlier this month, to demonstrate the folly of listening to such charlatans, a Norwich blog pulled off a cunning lark. It speculated on Twitter that George Santayana – a Spanish philosopher who died in 1952 – could “do a job” for the Canaries.

Santayana tells Norwich not to sign another Ricky van Wolfswinkel

Sure enough, a rumour that Santayana was about to sign for Norwich quickly gathered speed as gullible fans retweeted it and even mainstream media outlets reported it. Eventually the club’s official Twitter account joined in with the fun, reporting that the deceased scribe had failed a medical.

Chinese whispers

Even the tackiest of tabloids are like Pulitzer-prize winning beacons of measured, fact-checked precision compared to the ‘in the knows’

Cooked-up transfer talk predates the worldwide web. Back in the day, almost every cab driver in the country would gleefully disclose that he knew the barman at the local team’s players' lounge and therefore knew exactly what was going on. You’d always end each journey convinced that Roberto Carlos was on the brink of signing for your club, but he never did.

We’ve also long endured the nonsense industrially churned out by tabloid newspapers, in which leadless reporters, under pressure to fill their rag with attention-grabbing speculation, splash fake stories that are either planted by serpentine agents or dreamt up by the perspiring hack himself.

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Yet even the tackiest of tabloids are like Pulitzer-prize winning beacons of measured, fact-checked precision compared to the ‘in the knows’, who, from the anonymity of their parents’ spare bedroom can ensure even the most ridiculous rumours gather speed.

A prominent ITK wreaks havoc with his latest rumour

In an ideal world, the media would expose these quacks. As the clock ticks towards the close of each window, Sky Sports News could unleash belligerent broadcasting bastards like Jeremy Kyle, Michael Crick and Roger Cook to doorstep the tweeters who have lied for weeks on end, unmasking them in their very dressing gowns. “You’ve told us all summer that Gonzalo Higuain to Arsenal is a ‘done deal’. What have you got to say to the nation now?”

False hope

Before you know it, an effective but mundane midfield utility man is being welcomed as a back-heeling, wonder-goal-scoring, Messi-esque superstar, all on the basis of Vine compilations

Genuine, completed transfers give rise to a different type of bore: the faux expert. When a previously obscure foreign player signs for a British club, these fans spend 20 minutes researching him on Google before presenting themselves to Twitter as professorial experts on all his strengths and weaknesses.

This isn’t merely harmless posturing – these ‘experts’ tossed together reports on the new guy can lift fans’ expectation of his ability vastly out of proportion thanks to the selective video clips that increasingly fly about online.

Before you know it, an effective but mundane midfield utility man is being welcomed as a backheeling, wonder-goal-scoring, Messi-esque superstar, all on the basis of Vine compilations that are as unrepresentative and flattering as the pouting, ‘no filter’ selfies that clog up Instagram.

Missing the moment

The one place where fans get intense on matchday is back on Twitter, where fans compete to come up with the most reactionary tweet the moment a goal is scored

Technology has brought a lot to the game but it’s also taken so much out of it. We used to watch football through our eyes; now people increasingly watch it through their phones or tablets. You can see them on matchday, taking selfies outside and inside the ground, then peering at the game itself through their phones.

Meanwhile, other fans sit in the stands browsing their social network feeds, only looking up at the match itself if they hear a surge of noise from fellow spectators. Not that there is much noise to speak of – with so many fans distracted by their phones and living in anything but the moment, the atmosphere in grounds is increasingly blasé.

*Insert joke about social media being far more interesting than watching Louis van Gaal's Manchester United*

The one place where fans get intense on matchday is back on Twitter, where fans compete to come up with the most reactionary tweet the moment a goal is scored.

Football fans, unsurprisingly, have always preferred winning to losing. Supporting a team has been a passionate, intense and largely reasonless venture since time immemorial. But football fans on Twitter are increasingly behaving like the denizens of the Daily Mail website’s comment section – only not as reasoned.

No laughing matter

This gallows humour seems to be on its way out among football fans, replaced by self-righteousness, disappointment and boundless indignation. Why are we all so dramatic?

When one thinks back to watching matches throughout the 1980s and '90s, laughter is usually a key part of the memory, even in the bad times – particularly in the bad times.

This gallows humour seems to be on its way out among football fans, replaced by self-righteousness, disappointment and boundless indignation. Why are we all so dramatic? It’s hard not to blame social media, which inherently rewards histrionics and punishes nuance.

Cheer up, everyone. After all, there’s still two weeks left before the transfer window closes and, according to a heavily retweeted post on Twitter, Friedrich Nietzsche is at this very moment flying in to discuss terms with your club.

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