Home > Football > Ryan Babel’s Howard Webb Tweet Nothing but Innocent Banter

Ryan Babel’s Howard Webb Tweet Nothing but Innocent Banter


“And they call him one of the best referees. That’s a joke”

It had a certain sense of inevitability. Here we had competitive players suddenly equipped with an addictive toy which they could utilise with emotions still running high.

As cricket players and American footballers already know to their cost, the forum of Twitter can easily land you in trouble. It was only a matter of time before one of the growing football contingent found the hot water. Step forward Liverpool’s Ryan Babel. The Dutchman was the first recipient of an F.A. charge after posting a picture of Howard Webb in a Manchester United shirt.

The picture of Webb which featured on Babel's page

In today’s society, where humour and fun are often suppressed, Babel’s tweet was seen as out of line. The F.A. no doubt believed his artistic licence made a mockery of their much vaunted Respect campaign. But does a tongue-in-cheek picture really cause more damage to that campaign than the vile abuse referees suffer every weekend?

Are this country’s kids more likely to respond to a controversial decision on a Sunday morning with a barrage of swear words or are they more likely to go home and put their Photoshop skills to the test?

Twitter is a fantastic tool and we should enjoy the fact sportsmen have embraced it. Not only does it (sometimes) provide an excellent insight into footballer’s lives and day-to-day musings, it also allows fans to interact with their heroes. The days of footballers mingling with supporters are way behind us and if Twitter bridges the gap, surely this can only be a good thing?

My fear is that Babel’s charge will now kick-start a precedence which could see many others reprimanded for their views. In recent weeks Rio Ferdinand, Jack Wilshire and Wojciech Sczcesny have all tweeted varying degrees of outrage at referee’s decisions. If opinions aren’t tolerated then the players won’t see the purpose of Twitter and managers and owners will simply enforce social networking bans.

Without it, we will rely on the all too cushy press officer-controlled environments which we feed off now. Where footballers transform into monotonous drones and glide through interviews armed with press-bites and suitable clichés. It makes footballers appear stupid and it weakens post-match analysis to a mind-numbingly boring level.

Twitter can be dangerous but it also offers footballers a chance to be more expressive. Babel’s picture was merely a playful jibe and I sincerely hope it does not fuel the end of footballers on Twitter.

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  1. January 10, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    At times like these I wish I’d never created that blasted thing… yeah, I made that image, but it isn’t mine anymore! They’ve taken it and run riot, and it’s a great larf. Just seeing that picture on so many blogs and news sites has made my week. Thanks for this.

    More info, in case anyone’s interested: http://bit.ly/fhLvoU

  2. January 13, 2011 at 2:42 am

    Nice article Liam and I agree with a lot of what you say, but ultimately I think in this case Babel was in the wrong and thus there is a good case for punishing him.

    There’s ‘innocent banter’ as you say and there is insinuating a professional and well-respected referee is inherently bias…the bottom line of which is calling Webb a cheat. With the Respect campaign and the FA actively trying to minimise referee abuse (particularly at grassroots level) what message does it send allowing players to openly ridicule and mock the top referee in the country (going on his status within FIFA refs)?

    I don’t think that can be allowed and so while I do think players should largely remain able to say what they like, this was going just that bit too far in my opinion.

  3. January 13, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Thanks for the feedback Jonathan. I accept your point and obviously Babel probably should have realised that a charge was likely when he made the post. He can’t have too many complaints in that respect. But I do think a warning would be enough, particularly as this is the first time they’ve decided to take action against anybody on a social media website. There was nothing malicious about Babel’s tweet and I imagine (hope!) that most people took it in the spirit it was intended.

    My concern is that there are bigger problems than what footballers decide to say on Twitter but because Twitter is such a big thing these days any minor indiscretion is going to be blown up.

    I would much rather see the F.A. clamp down on vile swearing at officials and at things like Darren Fletcher pushing Howard Webb against Arsenal this year. In my view these are far important issues to retaining referees’ integrity and these are things that are more likely to translate to grassroots football.

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