PFA chief worried by Babel charge

LONDON - Players must be able to air their views on social networking sites within reason, said Professional Footballers Association (PFA) chief Gordon Taylor after Ryan Babel's criticism of World Cup referee Howard Webb.

Taylor feared the Football Association's (FA) decision to charge Liverpool's Dutch winger Babel with improper conduct on Monday could discourage footballers from communicating with the supporters.

"Players sometimes get accused of not being prepared to give their thoughts in public and now Ryan Babel has got into trouble for having an opinion," Taylor told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

"They (the players) are between a rock and a hard place, they can't win really. I guess from the FA's point of view they will say they have to protect referees.

"Banter and opinions are all part of the game. It's a shame in a way because if we are not careful we're going to get too Big Brother-ish about it," added Taylor.

Babel reacted to Liverpool's 1-0 defeat by Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday by posting a doctored image of Webb on Twitter showing the referee wearing a United kit.

"They call him one of the best referees. That's a joke," the 24-year-old said before later posting another Twitter message apologising to Webb.

"The very fact he apologised straight away and said it was only meant in a humourous way, I felt it would be sufficient just to get a warning but I guess the FA are trying to put down a statement to make sure it doesn't happen again," Taylor added.

Many footballers use Twitter to communicate with fans. Lucas Leiva, Babel's Liverpool team mate, is a regular while United's Rio Ferdinand offers almost daily gossip.

Babel is thought to be the first footballer to get into trouble over a Twitter comment although England cricketer Kevin Pietersen was fined in September for criticising the selectors when he was dropped for a one-day series against Pakistan.

Last week League Two Aldershot player Marvin Morgan was transfer-listed after a Twitter rant at critical fans in which he wrote, "I hope you all die".