It wasn’t the most successful of weekends for me. A 2-1 defeat away at Oxford United was compounded in the 89th minute when I received a second booking and trudged back to the dressing room for an early shower.
There’s a level of remorse and guilt that is burdened when your teammates join you at the final whistle, but there is a level of understanding and support from them which placates that somewhat. Whereas, being Chairman of the PFA only exacerbates the ignominy of it all when you step into the wider world. That being said, I wasn’t prepared for the deluge of abuse that ensued. My Twitter feed was filled with cries of “disgrace“, “hypocrite” and “f***ing gobshite“. A tad harsh I thought, until I realised it had been reported that I was sent off for Foul and Abusive language!!
My bookings were for a shirt pull and obstruction. The first of which I congratulated the referee for getting it right, and I jogged silently off the pitch before he’d even produced the second. You may ask why there’s any concern. Well, I’ve been campaigning strongly and openly for our industry to clamp down on the language players use on the pitch. It is often said that it’s “part of the culture” or “heat of the moment“, but I believe they are excuses, and bad ones at that. It’s part of the culture because we allow it to pass unpunished on a daily and weekly basis, and that’s what our kids are watching and learning. That’s why it’s part of the culture, but we can change this.
Desperate to find the source of this misinformation, I put out a tweet of correction and asked who had said such a thing. Short of Sally Bercow (though she was suggested), the answer was everyone! BBC, Sky Sports News, 5Live and TalkSport, each of the major outlets for Saturday football, even my mate Jeff Stelling had a chuckle at its irony. As I filtered through the replies, it transpires that the Press Association feed from the game had stated the transgression, and this is the info that all the other outlets use. Now, anyone who was present at the game couldn’t possibly have been ‘mistaken’ as to why I was sent off, I believe someone had opted to play silly buggers with me.
Thank God for social media. By targeting known folk at all the networks, corrections were made on Sky Sports News, the Football League Show, 606 on 5Live,TalkSport’s twitter feed and, by 9pm, I had a written apology from the Press Association. How times have changed. No more stewing for days/weeks while I try to straighten the mess out. A few button taps and the charge is batted out of the park.
The aggressive tweeters backtracked like Michael Jackson in his moonwalking pomp and it was actually heartening to see many say they doubted the info in the first place.
A storm in a teacup you might say, but only because of the far reaching tentacles of social media. The Press Association stated that it was “a casual error“. I’m not sure that’s a viable defence in a defamation case, the usual path after the character assassination that followed, but we don’t need to go there. For the instant frenzy that modern media can create, it can abate them too. 4 short hours later and I can “casually” return to the delights of Match of the Day and a bag of Giant Chocolate Buttons, and all is right with the world.