Tweeting footballers: it's not all black and white

01 Nov 2013

By Rhory Robertson, Partner and Tom Double, Trainee

Emmanuel Frimpong, the Arsenal midfielder, caused a stir on Twitter recently by implying that he had been omitted from the first team squad for an important Capital One Cup tie against rivals Chelsea because of his race and nationality. Frimpong was asked on Twitter why he was not in the side for the fixture and replied: "Lol I wanna laugh…Sometimes I wish I was white and English #realtalk".

Frimpong has subsequently taken to Twitter to clarify his comments stating: "Look what ever you read tomorrow has majorly been twisted. Is a joke what people will do to start controversy goodnight people." His controversial tweet has now also been removed.

The inference Frimpong's Twitter followers and the wider public (through dissemination of the tweet on the internet and in newspapers) might have drawn is potentially damaging, particularly in relation to the reputation of his club. To insinuate that Arsenal's selection policy is determined by national and racial characteristics, rather than footballing ability, undermines the modern image of a tolerant and all-inclusive football club and - more specifically in these circumstances - the considerable work Arsenal have done to endorse the FA's anti-racism campaign. Fortunately, however, the allegation has little credence given that Arsene Wenger, the club's manager for the past 17 years, has been widely panned by the media for his predilection for foreign players, to the detriment of the English national team. Indeed, arguably Arsenal's most successful central midfielder of the past two decades, Patrick Vieira, was neither white nor English. Perhaps Frimpong should take note.

Frimpong is, of course, no stranger to the metaphorical storms that can follow a controversial tweet. Only last year, he was fined £6,000 by the FA and warned about his future behaviour for using the phrase "scum y*d" in response to a provocative tweet sent from an alleged Tottenham fan. This exiguous fine (when seen in the context of a player who reportedly earns £20,000 per week) and warning have seemingly done little to curb Frimpong's ill-considered outbursts on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, then, it is understood that Arsenal have chosen to remind Frimpong over his use of social media.

The list of footballers falling foul of their clubs' and the FA's social media guidelines is extensive and includes players from all tiers of the Football League. For instance, Joe Colbeck of Grimbsy Town in the Football Conference was fined £1,500 in 2012 for making, amongst other things, lewd references on Twitter to X-Factor Judge, Louis Walsh. By and large, where reputational damage might have been done in past, the negative effects have been felt predominantly by the player concerned. Take, as another example, the case of Frederico Macheda in February 2012, then on loan at Queens Park Rangers, who became embroiled in an argument on Twitter in which he called a member of the public a "little stupid gay". Such an insensitive comment and the attendant press coverage presented Macheda in a negative light but Queens Park Rangers' reputation escaped largely intact.

Footballers continue to use Twitter as a platform on which to promote and market themselves and, in most circumstances, to good effect. But the lesson that should be should be learned from Frimpong's most recent controversial tweet is that the reputational image of both clubs and their players is at stake if clubs do not devise, and require their players to adhere to, a strict and coherent social media policy.

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