Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Social Network

I read my most interesting story of the summer yesterday. It didn't concern the parlous state of youth football in England, the ill tempered reaction of the nation's football associations to the notion of their players taking part in the world's greatest sporting event or even the continued wranglings at the sharp end of Government. Rather it concerned a simple man with a PR gift - a man with green and white hooped blood coursing his veins - Terry Skiverton.

By now Skiverton's invite to the Yeovil Town faithful to send him ideas for signings via his Twitter site (he's @terryskiverton if any League One fans would care to mention Richard Offiong to him) is well publicised having been covered on the BBC sport website and by Talksport. His 'mentions mailbag' will be positively rippling with recommendations, from the outrageous (wags suggesting Lionel Messi) to the prosaic ('my mate Dave who's quite good at kick ups'). The cynic in me wonders if he's even reading them, but when I pause to consider it, does it really matter?

Skiverton's statement was at once both blithe and compelling. By sharing the state of Yeovil's scouting system with the fans he was managing expectations of the season ahead in a subtle and nuanced fashion, by inviting them into his circle he was making a deep and personal connection with every single one of them.

In the interests of full disclosure I must confess to being an out and proud 'Skivo' fan. He always seems to greet defeat and crushing victory with the same amount of grace. He blends his status as West Country folk hero with an obvious and transparent intelligence which allows him to bely his inexperience and, to this outsider at least, should see him attract higher level suitors sooner, not later. I'm clearly not his only fan either - both Tottenham Hotspur and Reading trust him with development of their young charges with the likes of Jon Obika passing through the gates of Huish Park in recent seasons.

When I posted on Carlisle messageboards about Skiverton's idea it was met with immediate ridicule - this highlighted that he couldn't do his job properly; that he was desperate, an idiot. I did wonder for a moment if they'd brought their prejudices against our own manager to bear on the situation. But why shouldn't it work? Skiverton is only one man and there are only 24 hours in the day, he can't watch every DVD and from his Western outpost can't always make the schlep to Norwich to follow that lead on a youth team left back. By opening the door to the ex-pat community he may just find that a Town fan studying English in Newcastle is a regular at Magpies reserve games; that there's Yeovil born architects in Aalborg who can recommend the latest Danish wunderkind. By reaching out to these, and to all fans, Terry Skiverton is indulging the armchair scout, the Football Manager obsessive, in all of us.

I don't think this idea is for everyone - the mixed opinions of Greg Abbott for instance, as well as Carlisle's well developed scouting network - would leave him open to ridicule. The status of Skiverton in Yeovil negates this impact and shows a brave, innovative young man with a striking grasp of his importance to the town he outwardly represents.

Yeovil today announced the signing of 21 year old former Everton frontman Kieran Agard; the product said Skiverton of a recommendation from a fan. Having seen Agard turn the game for the Toffees against Carlisle in last year's FA Cup 3rd round I know he'll bring plenty to their wafer thin squad - he's a player I'm sure was on many radars but that jogging of memory has helped him end up on the South coast.

In recent years football clubs, from Manchester United down, have hired teams of creative thinkers and Shoreditch hipsters to enhance their web presence; to exploit commercial opportunity and to connect with fans. There's a certain poetic irony that Skiverton, himself a product of the East End, a journeyman pro at an unfashionable club could beat them into a cocked hat with a throwaway remark.

Terry Skiverton - I salute you.

1 comment:

  1. "...can't always make the schlep to Norwich to follow that lead on a youth team left back." Fair point, I suppose. The road isn't even dualled in places.

    Great article, John. Skiverton deserves praise not ridicule for using Twitter for the purpose it was surely invented: sourcing otherwise unobtainable knowledge.