Triumph for Twitter over naming of England squad

Without doubt, today’s England World Cup squad announcement was a triumph not for Fabio Capello, but for Twitter, which was carrying pretty accurate forecasts of the final 23-man squad hours before the 4pm official announcement on the FA’s website.

Equally, the announcement of the squad was another PR debacle for the Football Association, left apparently impotent as, piece by 140-character piece, name by name, the identity of the players to be left behind made it on to the blogosphere via various football correspondents’ Twitter accounts.

The big news, of Theo Walcott’s exclusion, was doing the rounds by around midday, while ” according to Tweets – Walcott himself was doing a round of golf.

The likes of Henry Winter (@HenryWinter), the Telegraph’s football correspondent and a keen Tweeter, Sun Online’s sports editor Jim Munro (@JimMunro) and FourFourTwo magazine (@FourFourTwo), were able to circulate to their thousands of followers through the afternoon, including Walcott’s own reaction to his omission more than an hour before it was formally announced by the FA.

The quote from the Arsenal winger was that he is “very disappointed not to be included in the squad going out to South Africa, but completely respect Mr Capello’s decision”, available with all the effectiveness of a major news agency.

Darren Bent, another of the “left-at-home seven”, was so affected by his exclusion that he has returned to Twitter (@DB11TT) to tell the virtual world: “Am gutted. But thank you for all your support this season.” And this also an hour before the team was formally announced by the FA.

Bent had previously courted controversy by Tweeting his desire to be transferred away from White Hart Lane, and had cancelled his account as a consequence.

Through the late morning and early afternoon, as Capello and his backroom staff sought to telephone all 30 players in the squad to inform them of their fates, news of the calls was being shared with the Twitterati apparently immediately.

Only in the case of Ledley King, where one Sunday newspaper’s football reporter Tweeted that he would be excluded, was there any significant error from the final squad details. Subsequent Tweets, that King was not responding to team mates’ text messages, was a significant hint as to the source of much of the re-Tweeted information.

As Matt Dickinson (@DickinsonTimes) and Gabriele Marcotti (@Marcotti) correctly observed ” via Twitter, naturally ” the speed of disseminating the information by the social network has created a real dilemma for the FA, which its communications department has yet to work out how best to manage: “Telling players first is damned if do (cos then it leaks gradually like today) and damned if don’t (heartless)”.

Jim Munro followed the day’s news unfolding from Sun Online central, describing it as “just as exciting as transfer deadline day”.

Munro said, “Perhaps the FA didn’t feel safe releasing the squad under an embargoed basis because there are too many ways the news could leak out. But all that did was generate a hunger for gossip and titbits on sports websites and on social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook.

“We were obviously picking up news from all sorts of different sources and were running a live page on SunSport Online rounding up the latest gossip. If there was something concrete to report, I would Tweet it and include a link to our live page.

“When I received an email with Theo Walcott’s statement I was able to Tweet the main line immediately. And when we took a call from a very happy columnist who happens to be the father of one of the players selected, we were able to confirm that player’s inclusion online and on Twitter too.”

England’s Ashes cricket squad may be the next, similar high-profile, closely watched announcement ” will the country’s cricket writers show themselves as up to speed as their footballing colleagues demonstrated today?

And how can sports press offices, together with their head coaches, better manage such well-trailed news announcements in future?

Perhaps the answer was to be found this afternoon, via @DickinsonTimes: “To be truly 21st century, should be live on TV X-factor style next time. Players weeping on to Dermot’s shoulder.”

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