12 January ~ The FA Cup third round and Twitter combined this past weekend to show why footballers should stay away from social media or risk the wrath of the FA. On Monday FA chiefs decided Ryan Babel's tweeted jibe that suggested World Cup final referee Howard Webb showed bias toward Man Utd in Sunday's tie warranted investigation. Babel could be in for a hefty fine if the FA decides the tweet, a hastily knocked-up pic of Webb sporting a United shirt, counts as improper conduct. (Good Photoshop job, by the way, Ryan; perhaps an alternative career in web design waits should he pack in football?)
Meanwhile, the toxic fall-out from Jamie Mackie's shocking leg-break during the drab Blackburn-QPR tie continues, with El-Hadji Diouf and QPR's Bradley Orr and Clint Hill set to face FA probes. However, the Rangers' duo (whose misdemeanours were made on Twitter) seem most likely to wind up guilty. Diouf – never the most popular of men thanks to his penchant for spitting, fighting and generally acting as though he's owed respect despite never truly earning it – was accused of a shocking tirade of abuse at the prone Mackie, who lay injured on the Ewood Park turf on Saturday after clashing with Gaël Givet.
However, Diouf can be hopeful of a clean getaway from any charges the FA potentially brings. Blackburn's silence (as opposed to R's boss Neil Warnock who labelled Diouf "lower than a sewer rat") suggests they expect an investigation of some sort, but the letter of FA law suggests the striker will get off scot-free. The most likely charges (improper conduct, foul and abusive language, and/or bringing the game into disrepute) hinge on referee Peter Walton having collected on-field evidence, unless the FA brings in retroactive professional lip-readers. So far, there's no indication of any note made of Diouf's behaviour, so it's not easy to see how a charge would stick.
The Rangers players, on the other hand, used the internet to blast Diouf, with Orr tweeting he was a "repulsive human being" and Hill using a more succinct four-lettered term. But the tweets, now deleted, also contained references to the Senegalese sulker getting "what's coming to him", alerting FA chiefs who seem certain to investigate. While it's unlikely Neil Warnock is preparing to send his first team up to Lancashire to root Diouf out like a fox in a hunt, the story shows that tweeted threats made in the heat of the moment can land you in seriously hot water.
Many people feel Diouf should have the book thrown at him – as much for his rap sheet as for the Mackie incident – but he was smart enough to make his play on the field, while Tweeters Orr, Hill and Babel all made the fatal mistake of using a public forum. As England cricketers Kevin Pietersen and Azeem Rafiq can vouch, an adrenaline-fuelled tweet about some perceived injustice is a sure-fire way to irk sporting authorities. And though you might think the FA would be better off thinking about technology in terms of goal-line cameras and those other crazy ideas progressives have, they seem set on using it to catch out players making silly, spur-of-the-moment statements.
Moral of the story, football world, this weekend proved you must delete your social network accounts – or risk the wrath of the authorities. Clint Hill has now done so, closing his Twitter account (aptly titled @angryhead28), but it's too little, too late for him. Jesse Whittock