Olly Ricketts is left distinctly unimpressed by silly season on Twitter.
For many football supporters, Twitter has become their most frequent source of information. Journalists break stories on there, supporters unable to watch the match use Twitter as a 21st century version of Teletext, and the likes of Joey Barton, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen regularly get themselves into amusing trouble by being self-aggrandising, controversial, and the single most boring individual on the face of the planet respectively. When you add in some excellent parody accounts by the likes of @TheBig_Sam (in which ‘Allardyce’ regales us with tales of sexual conquests and his ‘special’ relationship with Sir Alex) and @duncanjenkinsFC (a parody of Twitter’s wannabe football bloggers, Duncan is evidently ghostwritten by a well-connected journalist given the accuracy of his transfer information), it’s possible for Twitter to sate all your online football needs.
Unfortunately, what Twitter has also provided is a platform for the disturbed, the deluded and the downright nasty (and I’m not just talking about Joey Barton again) to spout their nonsense to a far bigger audience than they would have had in times past. Racism, homophobia and sexism are commonplace. Only marginally less offensive is the Twitter ITK. For the uninitiated, ‘ITK’ is ostensibly an abbreviation for ‘In The Know’. A more apt abbreviation for the vast majority of them would be ‘I Talk Komplete and utter nonsense for no particular reason, but 18,000 followers seem to believe a 17 year old IT student from Wales somehow has the inside track on West Ham’s summer transfer strategy. And I genuinely believe ‘Komplete’ begins with a ‘K’, despite claiming to be a trainee journalist.’
Twitter ITKs take myriad forms. There are those that purport to be agents, those that claim to be journalists, and those that don’t even have the imagination to fake a back story. What they all have in common is an inflated sense of self-worth and a total lack of genuine inside information.
The more dedicated ITKs at least scour the internet for random snippets of gossip from Uruguayan websites which have yet to be picked up by the English press. When the English press subsequently pick up on the story – and it would certainly appear to be a vicious cycle; I am convinced for example that ‘Sky Sports News understands’ actually means ‘we just read it on Twitter’ – the ITK smugly claims it as a success for his insider credentials. His 18,000 followers retweet it, as much to reassure themselves that they’re not actually just gullible simpletons, and the ITK gains more followers. All because he copied and pasted something from a Uruguayan gossip site and ran it through Babelfish a few minutes before any journalists.
Another popular method for the ITK is the scattergun approach. This involves linking every single player in the world with every single club in the world. The law of averages suggest several of these will end up coming true during any given transfer window. You then simply ignore the 71,208 transfers did not come to fruition, and retweet only the 8 transfers that ended up happening, prefaced by the lies of “See?” and “To all the haterz and disbelievers”. As before, said ITK gains several thousand new followers and a swollen ego.
Of course, unsubstantiated transfer speculation did not begin with Twitter. Pre-internet, the gossip was limited to pubs and the grounds themselves. Everyone knew of someone who claimed to have a tenuous link to someone inside a football club. Of course, the vast majority were just passing off as their own what they themselves had been told in a different pub by a different man with a different tenuous link to someone inside a football club some days previously. Then – as now – the proportion of ‘transfer certainties’ that came true were miniscule.
The flow of bullshit (sorry, “inside knowledge”) took on a wholly different form in 1986 with the advent of the Clubcall premium-rate telephone service. Now that there was money to be made from the peddling of gossip, the volume required increased exponentially. In order to get away with this, the service needed a degree of authenticity. The Liverpool Clubcall, for example, featured an admittedly brief introduction from Gerard Houllier. Given that the rest of the call essentially involved a bloke reading out transfer gossip reeeeeeaaaallllllllllyyyyyyy slllllooooooooowwwwllllllyyyy, we should perhaps be grateful for Gerard’s rapidity. How do I know so much about Clubcall? I am ashamed to admit that I called it several times late at night having returned from the pub in a lubricated state. Thirty seconds in I invariably felt used and indeed a bit dirty; so much so that when my Mum and Dad’s phone bill came in it was significantly less shameful to just tell them that the rogue 0898 number was some particularly extreme S&M chatline.
In the late 90s, internet forums became the place to go for transfer gossip. Certain forumites gained reputations for the reliability of their information, while others were obviously wind-up merchants. These forum fakes were the proto-Twitter ITKS, but as frustrating as they were, it was easy to put them on ignore. On Twitter, it seems impossible to escape the drivel.
What I find incomprehensible about Twitter ITKs above all else is: what is in it for them? The owners of Twitter don’t seem to have worked out how to make any money from the site yet, so it is unlikely to be the possibility of financial reward. They are almost always anonymous, so the glory an insecure soul might feel at having that many followers means next to nothing, surely? Judging by their average literacy levels, they certainly can’t be serious about forging careers in journalism. Their reasons for pretending to be ITK are, frankly, their only pieces of information I would be happy to read.