ACCORDING to statistics, about 20 per cent of the 65 million people that live in the UK have a Twitter account. Less than that number actually use it. Still, it is arguably the most important social media platform out there today, shaping the narrative of news stories and used by a man who has been Tango’ed as a weapon against his enemies.
It’s a common theme, therefore, to ask how things from the past would have been received had Twitter existed back then. How long would Bill Shankly have been given to transform the club into the behemoth it is today before someone would have been tweeting #ShanklyOut? Imagine how certain egg-based accounts would have reacted to the news that Bob Paisley was essentially Liverpool’s physiotherapist before he took over as manager. Would Dalglish have been allowed the time to settle in his first spell at the club, or would he immediately have been called a ‘fraud’?
Twitter did exist back in 2007, but it certainly wasn’t the narrative-driving force that it is today and was barely off the ground when Liverpool went away to the Algarve for a warm-weather training camp. If it had I dread to think what would have happened when news of the squad’s behaviour emerged into the public domain.
Imagine, just for a second, that Liverpool weren’t off to La Manga this week because we haven’t got a game for a fortnight. Instead when Premier League hostilities resume we’re taking on Manchester United who are a point ahead of us at the top of the table. Jürgen Klopp wants to spend the time abroad to work on tactics, to get us ready for the fight that could decide if we end our long wait for a top-flight crown.
The lads have been working hard all week so the German decides to let them go out on the last night of the break to let their hair down. He tells them they can have ‘one beer’, as a reward for their hard work. Only they don’t have one beer. They have lots and lots of beers. They end up in a private karaoke booth and Alberto Moreno refuses to sing a song.
Roberto Firmino isn’t having any of it. Moreno’s spent the week telling everyone how good he is at everything, so Firmino keeps thrusting the microphone in his face and telling him it’s his turn to pick a song. Eventually Moreno snaps and shouts in Firmino’s face, embarrassing him in front of everyone. The Spaniard heads back to where they’re staying and goes to sleep.
Firmino’s fuming. He has a few more beers and heads back to where they’re staying with Nathaniel Clyne, who he’s sharing a room with, in tow. In the lounge area of the resort Firmino sees his golf clubs and picks out the eight iron, tossing it backwards and forwards while thinking of what to do to get revenge on Moreno for publicly humiliating him. He goes into Moreno’s room, despite Clyne’s protestations.
Firmino wakes his team-mate up by smashing him across the arse with the golf club. Moreno jumps out of bed in just his underwear to be confronted by the Brazilian screaming at him and telling him that if he disrespects him again he’ll do more than hit him on the arse with an eight iron.
The rest of the team gets back to where they’re staying, entirely unaware of what’s gone on. Having all had a few too many to drink they proceed to smash the lounge to bits, upending couches, breaking plates and generally acting in a pretty disgraceful manner.
The next day Klopp and Željko Buvač call Firmino down into the lounge. Surrounded by the mayhem of the night before, they tell him Moreno has made a complaint that he hit him with a golf club. They don’t seem that arsed, all things considered, and it’s only later that he finds out that’s because they had a bit of a night themselves and had to go and rescue Simon Mignolet from a police cell.
Meanwhile the story has been leaked onto Twitter. There are photos of the mess in the lounge doing the rounds on social media and someone has posted a picture of the offending eight iron with what looks like blood on it. #BobbieTwattedAlbie has been trending on Twitter for two days by the time the team returns to Liverpool. Theresa May has been asked to comment on it and she says that it’s disgraceful that football players believe they can ignore the will of the people by behaving like this.
Meanwhile someone’s created the account @TheEightIron and is tweeting pictures of various players’ arses with a golf club being swung at it. José Mourinho has used his press conference to ask why no-one is banning Liverpool from playing golf in the same way that he’s been banned from attempting to gouge people’s eyes out. The FA is against him, he says.
Because #BobbieTwattedAlbie has now been trending for a week, the FA have decided to ban Firmino for 15 matches. Yes, Gary Cahill was only banned for six games when he attacked David Luiz with a snooker cue, but he was caught on camera whereas this is just word of mouth, so it’s not really the same.
Someone has used Twitter to start a campaign to pay for a plane to fly over Melwood with “#FirminoOut attached to a banner. The incident is mentioned during Prime Minister’s Questions and Jeremy Corbyn reads a letter out from a constituent saying that she once played golf and got hit by a ball, so shouldn’t golf be banned altogether?
Liverpool go on to lose to United, putting them in prime position for another title. For years to come when they play the likes of Stoke or West Brom, United fans sing “Bobby Firmino, he hit Albie Moreno, Klopp said he had to go, Bobby Firmino”.
Of course that’s not what happened. It wasn’t Firmino but Craig Bellamy. He didn’t hit Moreno (though someone probably should) but instead attacked John Arne Riise. The important game wasn’t in the league against Manchester United but the Champions League against Barcelona, at the Nou Camp.
Twitter wasn’t an influential platform back then so barely anyone had anything to say about it. The press tried to make it into a big deal but it definitely didn’t warrant the hand-wringing response that you’d get over the same issue occurring nowadays.
The Reds went to Camp Nou and went behind to a Deco goal after 14 minutes. Just before half-time we equalised and who should get the goal? Craig Bellamy. His celebration could only be one thing: a golf swing.
Liverpool were close to being an unstoppable force for a time under Rafa Benitez, certainly in Europe. Going to Anfield with a 1-1 draw after the first leg of this Champions League last 16 encounter wouldn’t have been a bad result, but the Spaniard rarely settled for less than perfection. Who else could score the winner, then, but ‘Ginge’ himself. And who got the assist? The golf-wielding maniac, Bellamy.
The Reds got to the final that year, narrowly missing out on European Cup number six as AC Milan took their revenge for the Miracle of Istanbul. Still, was the golf club incident the making of those lads?
What news will emerge from La Manga this week? Will we find out that Jordan Henderson has smashed Adam Lallana over the head with a pineapple? Might Philippe Coutinho steal all of Joel Matip’s socks? Could James Milner get absolutely rat-arsed and wind up in a Spanish jail for stealing a traffic cone and standing in the middle of the road, singing the entirety of Madonna’s Immaculate Collection?
Whatever happens, someone will be sure to tweet about it. The days of someone innocently smashing an eight iron across a teammate’s arse and nobody really giving a shit are sadly long gone.