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THE SAM MORSHEAD COLUMN: The anti-social network
6:00am Saturday 6th October 2012 in Sport
IMAGINE you are walking down the street, minding your own business, on your way to work.
It’s an average Wednesday morning. As you pass a group of children one of the kids splinters off from his friends, makes a beeline towards you, jumps up in your face and says “I hope you get cancer and die”.
What would you think? Would you shrug it off? Would you retaliate in kind? Would you make an example of him?
Some of you won’t like what I have to say next, because if you already have pre-conceived judgements about the innocence of youth I’m going to sound like Mr Moral going off on an ethical rant.
But it’s desperately sad in a society that is genuinely supposed to be one of the most developed in the world, where our standards of science and education are such that the vast majority of us are well aware of what cancer is and what cancer does, that anyone - and I mean anyone – could be forgiven for wishing that vile disease on another living human being. Let alone a stranger.
The kid who wrote those six sick words, aimed at former Swindon Town defender Michael Rose over Twitter during the week, may only be 13 and in a very legal sense he is not entirely responsible for his own actions.
But at 13 you know what constitutes cancer. You might not know the cruel details of the disease, its biological make-up or medical effects, but you know what it does to a human body.
The child in question, you would hope, will look back on what he wrote one day – hopefully that day has already passed – and regret it more than anything else he has done or will do in his entire life.
Yes, we all make mistakes when we’re young and learning the ways of the world, and those mistakes are what shape us as adults - but that does not mean we should not condemn what he’s done.
It wasn’t some puerile faux-pas like answering back to a teacher or having a crafty fag at break time. And we shouldn’t be concerned just with the isolated incident, but also what it represents on a much larger, world wide web-sized scale.
Twitter, like forums and chat-rooms, is a breeding ground for cowards to spurt abuse. All you need is an inner anger, a spiteful vocabulary and 140 characters and you’re on your way.
As a social medium it has changed the way celebrities (footballers in particular) and the public interact, and in a lot of ways it’s changed it for the better.
At least now, when clubs restrict access to players thereby distancing journalists and footballers and creating a very palpable aura of distrust and animosity, any old punter can ask the questions they want answered. The questions the media are not allowed to ask themselves.
Supporters can gauge a little of the character of a player, they can interact with their heroes. Twitter offers a unique human interest angle into the sport.
All that is positive, but the flipside is an ugly malaise of vulgarity and insensitivity.
We’re always taught in our industry that you should only ever post on Twitter what you would be willing to see in a front-page headline. On a wider scale, the shouting in the street theory seems the best parallel.
If you’re willing to wish death on a stranger as he strolls down Commercial Road or wanders up Victoria Hill, or express a desire to see the Colchester bus crash as another Twitter user did on Tuesday night, whether you’re 13, 30 or 300, you are morally redundant.
Just because social media offers the luxury and comfort of anonymity and virtual detachment does not differentiate it from human-to-human interaction.
Lives are still affected. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager or a pensioner, this kind of verbal abuse cannot be allowed to ingrain itself within our society. The sad thing is - it may already have done exactly that.
I SEE Barry Hearn has had another brainwave.
Not satisfied with dishing out makeovers to darts, boxing and snooker in the recent past, sport’s answer to Gok Wan has announced plans to change Leyton Orient’s name to London Orient should they be successful in their bid to move into the Olympic Stadium.
To be fair to Hearn, he has a reputation for bringing success with his innovative ideas, and he secured the long-term stability of Orient at their current home by buying the club for little more than an hour’s salary at minimum wage and negotiating a long-term lease with the local authorities.
Furthermore, Orient have gone through more name changes than a serial divorcee – adopting the monikers Clapton Orient and Orient as well as their current identity in times gone by. But this story throws up more than one line of debate.
Firstly, after Cardiff rebranded from blue to red over the summer in an effort to capture advertising and sales revenue in Asia, Hearn’s plans are another stepping stone towards the abandonment of tradition in the desperate fight for survival within our game.
Do we favour the neglect of tradition and heritage over an increasingly difficult battle to stay afloat? I suggest, in the world in which we live, the answer is yes.
Secondly, why does the Olympic Stadium need to sell out to football in the first place? LOCOG banged on about legacy for seven years in the build-up to the Games and boasted about London 2012’s inspirational value during those two crazy August weeks, yet the powers-that-be are happy to flog the status symbol of the event without a second’s thought in the aftermath.
Why not let the young men and women, the boys and girls who were encouraged to take up athletics by Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford have the chance to run, jump and throw at the same arena as their heroes?
It’s the same answer. Money talks, especially in the current economic climate.
And finally, isn’t London Orient, with all respect, a bit too big a title for a team sitting in the middle of League One?
Football in the capital is split by rivalries between north and south, east and west – an all-encompassing rebrand would hardly represent the fanbase Hearn’s club attracts.
There’s a balance to be reached between tradition and invention. Hearn has managed it throughout his career, but this one seems a bit far-fetched.
LET'S face it, Wiltshire is a small county with an even smaller sporting reputation.
Traditionally, our representative teams have not been able to compete at the very top level.
But things are changing, and it's great to see. Our cricket side reached the MCCA Knockout Cup final, our rugby squad (albeit combined with Dorset's) are making their visit to Twickenham an annual event and now our golfers are dominating nationally.
The seven-strong Wiltshire team retained their title of county champions last week with a superb victory over Lancashire, Suffolk and Worcestershire in a four-way round robin at Beau Desert Golf Club.
Wrag Barn’s Josh Loughrey was the star performer and the success shows how strong golf in the region is.
It’s astonishing to think Wilts have only qualified for the tournament six times, yet they have reached five finals and won twice. With David Howell rediscovering form on the European Tour and Jason Hempleman caddying Francesco Molinari in Europe’s brilliant Ryder Cup campaign, the county’s youngsters certainly have the inspiration readily available to them.
But my word are they making the most of it.
HUGE congratulations must go to Swindon Robins for reaching the Elite League grand final with a crushing aggregate victory over Birmingham.
Their 110-72 thrashing of the Brummies over two legs is the equivalent of an innings victory in a Test match and lays down a massive marker ahead of the showpiece finale with perennial powerhouses Poole Pirates.
The way Alun Rossiter’s side have bounced back from such a disappointing campaign in 2011 is testament both to the work put in behind the scenes by the team manager and the promoters at the Abbey Stadium and the perseverance of the riders throughout a season so badly affected by the inclement weather.
And it is a deserved reward for the stalwart group of supporters who support the sport in the town through thick and thin. Poole may have finished the regular term top of the table but without Piotr Pawlicki are severely weakened for the grand final – if my more knowledgeable colleagues on the Adver sportsdesk are to be believed.
Let’s hope, with Swindon Town also targeting big success in the coming months, we can have a double celebration to remember.