Bothroyd celebrates Ross Barkley’s equaliser.

by Richard Brook

Queen’s Park Rangers striker Jay Bothroyd, currently on loan at Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, has offered an apology to the South Yorkshire side’s supporters following comments made on social networking website, twitter, after the team succumbed to their fourth straight defeat, at home to Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.

Bothroyd was annoyed initially by the reaction to his 75th minute substitution, against Bolton, which saw him leave the field to a chorus of boos, from sections of the Wednesday supporters. His mood would seem to have worsened upon reading the responses to his criticism of the boo-boys, and his tweets became more confrontational.

The Premier League man’s initial response was a fairly tame tweet of “Boo all you want. I didn’t get any chances. I was up top alone and I hobbled off because I was injured”. As fans began to respond, the tone of Bothroyd’s tweets became apparently more agitated: “Bit of effort? I won every flick on. Should I get my own flicks as well? I’ll accept criticism. Today I don’t deserve it”.

His next comment was the one that really caused a controversy amongst Wednesday fans: “How can you say I don’t care? You lot are f****** thick… The select few obviously”. This comment was later removed from Bothroyd’s twitter account. Bothroyd then exited the conversation with an apology: “I’m going to stop interacting with the fans until the stupid ones stop tweeting rubbish. Apologies to all the good fans and thanks”.

As someone who was present at the match on Saturday, and as someone who has attended Hillsborough for more years than I care to own up to, I must admit some surprise as to the crowd’s reaction to Bothroyd on the day. I have a good deal of sympathy for his case, if not for the way he made it. While the striker’s performance might have been below par, so were those put in by several other members of Wednesday’s team on the day. Irrespective of the performance of other players, in my opinion the booing of Bothroyd  remains very harsh, on the part of the section of Owls support responsible. In fact so inexplicable did I find the reaction of the crowd, that I saw the fourth official’s board go up and looked away for a split second, and when I heard the crowd’s jeers I was unsure what had happened. I looked for a poor reaction to having been substituted, some unrest in the stands or some other such reason for the fan’s disquiet but could see nothing. It wasn’t until I found Bothroyd’s tweets that I was fully sure that the booing had even been a reaction to the substituted player’s performance.

Bothroyd was, as he points out, left to plough a lone furrow up front, a role that often leads to strikers becoming frustrated, as they are asked to hold the ball up or flick on the aerial balls, for runners to chase. Bothroyd will justifiably feel that he worked hard, and indeed it seems to be suggestions that he did not care, that brought the most extreme reaction from the forward.

Bothroyd must feel particularly aggrieved as, unbeknownst to his vocal critics in the ground on Saturday, his substitution just a quarter of an hour from full-time, has been explained by Wednesday manager Dave Jones as having resulted from an injury that was sustained during the first half. The Wednesday coaching staff made a decision to keep Bothroyd on the pitch for as long as possible. Given this apparent willingness to play through the pain barrier for the club, it is easy to understand the player’s annoyance at having his commitment to the cause called into question.

As much time as I have for Bothroyd’s feeling hard done by, to have been so received by the fans, the way with which he addressed these grievances deserves no time whatsoever, and it is quite proper that the player has deleted the offending tweet, and apologised to the club’s supporters. It is the danger of the digital age that as soon as a player leaves the field he has immediate access to the club’s entire online fan base, who are of course hungry for their idols’ every word, and to have their own say. Such episodes as this frequently lead to questions being asked as to whether clubs should permit players to use social networks. However we are talking about grown men who ought to be able to use such tools responsibly. I can’t imagine too many other walks of life where it would be seriously suggested that adults between 20 and 35 should not be allowed to use social networks in their free time. Additionally players who use these websites sensibly tend to build up a very good rapport with the fans by doing so, and as such the sites can be beneficial to supporter, player and club.

Publicly commenting, via social networks or any other platform, about work is a potential pitfall for us all in modern society. If the man on the terraces referred to his customers in terms of expletives and insults, similar to those used by Bothroyd, over a matter that occurred at work, he would soon find himself unemployed. Indeed, if those of us that write on football, chose to believe that everyone that disagreed with us were “thick”, then we would quickly find ourselves without, both readers, and a place in which to publish our efforts.

It is understood that Sheffield Wednesday are taking Bothroyd’s comments seriously and are considering their options amongst which is issuing the forward with a fine in regard of the matter. However the club have leapt to the player’s defence as regards the booing that greeted his efforts against Bolton. In the build up to the midweek Capital One Cup tie against Southampton, where Bothroyd along with many starters from the Bolton match, was not involved, Owls assistant manager Paul Wilkinson moved to protect the player pointing out the Bothroyd may be behind other members of the squad in terms of fitness: “It is difficult. Jay has not had a pre-season at QPR and he has come in and there is an expectancy when you come from the Premier League, that people are going to see you light the world, but it is going to take time for him”.

Wilkinson also backed Bothroyd to be able to put the incident behind him and to respond to the criticism from the terraces in a positive and productive manner; using it as motivation on the pitch, rather than fuel for conflict off it. “He is big enough and strong enough to deal with the fact that some people may have got on his back. We have been in football long enough to know that some players will get booed. The important thing is to respond in the right way”.

Wilkinson points out that the entire team must take a portion of the blame for the Hillsborough club’s four game streak of defeats, rather than just one player: “I think all fans in any team, when you are on a run like we are on, are going to vent their frustrations somewhere along the line – to people and the team. It is difficult but we are determined to turn it around as quickly as possible”. Wilkinson speaks wisely. Sheffield Wednesday need both players and supporters to put this incident behind them and to pull together, to arrest the current run of results, as they have a squad that is certainly better than the current Championship table would have you believe.