The tone was set before England had kicked a ball in Russia.
When Robbie Williams flashed an obscene gesture at the
camera during the opening ceremony, Kyle Walker was on to
Twitter, teasing teammate and friend Dele Alli over the latter’s
suspension for making a similar gesture during a World Cup
And by the time England had defeated Colombia after the
once-dreaded penalty shootout, there was no doubt that the
England squad had fully embraced the memes and social
media jokes surrounding their campaign. Jesse Lingard posted
a picture of himself on the pitch in Moscow, phone clutched to
his ear, with a caption playing on the lyric of Three Lions,
saying “No mum, I’m not coming home. It’s...”
Lingard followed that up after victory over Sweden with a brief
video clip of him embracing his mum at the Samara Arena,
saying “Because I said we ain’t going home, she came here”.
Just as performances on the pitch have been a cut above, the
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social media presence
has been a step up from the stilted approach of previous
tournaments. Many of England’s World Cup squad have
benefitted from training provided by the FA. Consultant Sue
Llewelyn gave many of them social media training when they
were part of England’s U17, U19 and U21 set-ups.
“I was really impressed with what they were like as people,”
she says. “I’m not a huge football fan – or wasn’t – and I
thought maybe they are going to be
awful ‘lads’, but they weren’t at all.
All of them Beckham-Jr-
were absolutely charming, and really nice about
their mums, talking about being humble. I honestly came away
saying I was so impressed with these young guys, it’s a very
good group of people. Obviously I think having the manager
they have definitely helps a lot too.”
With the training, Llewelyn says the FA wanted players to be
aware not just of what you can get wrong but also how you
can be much more proactive and interactive and build up your
team. There is a lot of emphasis on being vocal about the
sides of the game and praising team-mates in public. After that
dramatic first World Cup penalty shootout win for England,
Marcus Rashford tweeted at goalkeeper Jordan Pickford that
the result was “never in doubt”.
Naturally part of the training for elite athletes is about what
not to do. Llewelyn, a former BBC journalist and co-founder of
the agency Ultra Social, has also trained Team GB athletes
before Olympic games, but says that for footballers the biggest
risk with their social media profiles is posting
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You can have a joke with somebody with the banter being
incredibly rude,” she explains. “But talking to your mates is
different because you can see their faces, you can see the
body language, but online you can’t.”
Part of the training involved looking back through players’
timelines to spot where maybe they had posted in their
younger days about being drunk – demonstrating to them that
everything they post is going to be permanent and public.
Llewelyn also warns elite athletes about the dangers of online
intimacy, reminding them that you do not really know who
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you might be
sending that picture to – it could be a journalist.
Dealing with abuse is a key component. Llewelyn says that
because a lot of the squad are mixed-race or black, racist
abuse is especially likely to come their way. Social media
training drills in to them that they should not rise to the bait.
While in Russia the squad have been adept at responding to
fans in an engaging and positive way. Kyle Walker offered to
pay for someone to get a tattoo of
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John Stones, after they said they
would get one if he scored at the World Cup. Walker also set a
trend after being pictured, legs in the air, with cramp while
other England players celebrated victory against Colombia.