Wow, what a day. And what a medium Twitter is. To explain, here's the full story.
On weekday mornings I normally take hold of the previous days Sloppy Star and read it whilst having breakfast. Today was no different, and as I sat down at the kitchen table with my crumpets with Bovril on (try it, it's good) I flicked through the paper as usual, browsing the letters page with interest before working my way through to the cryptic crossword which is a nice warm-up for my brain. It is Monday, and on Mondays there's a special football segment in the middle of the paper. It concentrates on all the local teams - AFC Telford, Shrewsbury Town, Wolves - and then the Midlands teams further afield, Villa, Birmingham, WBA etc. After all the match reports and tables there's an opinion page, and strike me down if it isn't penned by Ron "Big Ron" Atkinson.
Or is it? You see, most of these things are ghost-written, with the paper's journalist phoning the chosen "famous person" up and constructing a piece around what that person says on the phone. I do not know whether Atkinson writes these things himself or not - I doubt it - but in the interest of simplicity, let us assume he does.
So I'm sitting eating my crumpets and drinking my tea as I cast my eye over Atkinson's main piece. It's about Wayne Rooney, and "Sweargate" which I'm sure you know all about by now. The line taken by Atkinson's piece is an interesting one - that Rooney does these things because he's angry and frustrated, mainly because his relationship with the Manchester United supporters has broken down after the contract negotiations a few months ago. This is a fair angle - there are a number of United supporters who have lost faith/love in Rooney. I read United forums and messageboards, and I follow enough United fans on Twitter to know there's a myriad (great word) of opinions about our Scouse Number 10. So there I was enjoying the column when I read the fifth paragraph. And I read it over and over and over, until every word had sunk in. I quote verbatim:
"I noticed that when United were trailing West Ham 2-0 in the first half and Rooney went over to take a throw-in nearby them, a chant of 'You're not fit to wear the shirt' broke out.
After reading it for the fifth time, I frowned. You see, I watched the game on television, and hadn't heard that chant. I had not read ANYWHERE anyone saying that chant was aired, nor ANYONE talking about it anywhere in the media. All those forums and messageboards I mentioned? I had a quick browse on them - nothing. On Twitter? Nope. Not a sausage.
And then I read another article by Big Ron which further complicated the mystery. I'll quote verbatim again:
"Yet again we find ourselves marvelling at Super Kev (Phillips). I was at Birmingham on Saturday..."
Birmingham vs Bolton, which kicked off at 15:00. The West Ham United vs Manchester United game kicked off at 12:45, so from this we can conclude that Atkinson wasn't at the game in London, and instead (presumably) watched the game from a TV set. Okay, that's fine, but how then did he hear a chant that I didn't? I'm always keeping an ear out for what the United crowd are singing when I'm watching.
So this is when I went to Twitter. I got in touch with two guys who work for manutd.com who are on there, and asked them if they knew anyone who was actually at the game, supporting United in the away end. They didn't, but both were kind enough to publicise my question to all of their followers. Soon I was absolutely drowned in responses (and follows, amusingly) and in the frenzy I shook my head wryly and realised that if anyone ever tries telling you that Twitter isn't useful, they're talking out of their arse.
I got swamped with replies, too many to mention - although I'll tally them up later - but the gist of all of them was exactly the same: "That never happened. Anyone who says that either misheard or is lying." But Big Ron seemed pretty definite. Let's have it again:
"I noticed that...a chant of 'You're not fit to wear the shirt' broke out."
There's no room for leeway there - no "I think I heard" or "I thought I noticed" - none of that. It's a definitive statement. Shame it's not true. I'm used to people writing/talking about United. As us Reds say "United - loved, hated, but never ignored" and over time I've had to accept that people who hate the club will write or say stuff which I won't agree with. But to just blatantly lie is really poor form, in my opinion. It may not be a big thing, granted, but it portrays United fans in a bad light. Some of them may not like Rooney, agreed, and some have criticised certain players for not being good enough, but an orchestrated chant of "You're not fit to wear the shirt"? No. Never.
Which is why once I've published this blog post, and gone to get some dinner, I'm e-mailing The Slop. They really are living up to their nickname if they can't even be bothered to check facts.