Rotherham United, Doncaster Rovers and Bradford City united in support of social media boycott

THE silence will be deafening across football in more ways than one this weekend.

Backing boycott: Rotherham United manager Paul Warne.

Of course, stadiums will again be empty, while a coalition of English football’s largest governing bodies and organisations, including the Football Association, Premier League and EFL will go silent on social media in a show of solidarity against racism and discrimination.

The FA Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, Professional Footballers’ Association, League Managers Association, PGMOL, Kick It Out, Women in Football and the Football Supporters’ Association will also suspend all use of their social media accounts from 3pm on Friday until 11.59pm on Monday.

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Clubs across Yorkshire will take part in the online boycott.

Backing boycott: Bradford City's Callum Cooke.

It represents a collective attempt to try and put pressure on social media companies to do more, much more, to combat online hate following a depressing catalogue of examples of online abuse disgracefully meted out to footballers.

In February, Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial all reported racist abuse following Manchester United’s home defeat to Sheffield United.

Former Blades manager Chris Wilder later revealed that his own club had contacted South Yorkshire Police regarding separate incidents involving vile online trolls targeting his own players in 2020-21.

It represents a growing scourge across football and society with the onus firmly on the Government to make sure their forthcoming Online Safety Bill, which culture secretary Oliver Dowden has promised will be the “toughest and most comprehensive online safety regime in the world”, does not just talk tough and is armed to the teeth to force social media companies to clean up their platforms.

Backing boycott: Doncaster Rovers interim manager Andy Butler.

Across football, there is support for the boycott, but there is also a candid acknowledgement that it represents just a start and more needs to be done to keep the pressure on social media companies.

Offering a manager’s perspective, Rotherham United’s Paul Warne said: “The message behind it is great. Whether it will have the effect that it wants to, I don’t know. But what it does is open the awareness for everyone like us now to talk about it and say how unacceptable it is.

“It won’t erase it, but it will allow us to talk about it to put pressure on the powers that be and advertisers behind it to try and change it so we can somehow get to a position where you eradicate it because it is unacceptable and you do ruin people’s lives.

“For me, it (online discrimination) goes from bullying in school to all the way through. I saw in the news this weekend, sadly, that a 13-year-old lad in London took his own life. I have read into that and if that is due to bullying and social media, it is heart-breaking.

“I hope we get something after this. It is good what we are doing, but not enough as a solitary procedure.

“This whole social media (thing), the negativity on it is disgusting with the way you can abuse players for whatever reason – missing a chance, their race, what their wife wears shopping, it is just unacceptable.

“I used to love social media and I came off everything a few years ago.

“I begged my children to come off it because if they type my name in, the things that are put on there are horrendous.”

As with Warne, Doncaster Rovers interim chief Andy Butler also fully supports the boycott and believes as much pressure as possible needs to exerted upon social media companies to help eradicate online abuse.

He commented: “A stance needs to be made and it sends out a powerful message if everyone stands together and alongside each other.

“It is awful to see the abuse people are taking on the internet and I still believe there should be some ID next to your name when you join social media, so you can be held accountable for the words you say and not just hide behind a screen and type things into a computer, which is hurtful and abusive towards others.”

Given the proliferation in the number of footballers receiving online abuse, it is no wonder that many are taking the view that engaging in a social media world which is often toxic is simply not worth the hassle, and it is easy to sympathise.

In the feast-or-famine world where players are lionised one minute and lambasted the next, it is no surprise that growing numbers of accounts are being suspended or closed.

It is reinforced by the messages from many role models in football. Only last month, England manager Gareth Southgate advised his players to spend less time on social media, while Arsenal legend Thierry Henry deleted all of his platforms in protest against racism on online outlets such as Twitter and Instagram.

Providing a player’s take, Bradford City midfielder Callum Cooke said: “I know being here (at Bradford) last season about Twitter. To be honest, I don’t go on it anymore to look at what people say as it can affect you.

“I got caught up in it last season, I will hold my hands up and don’t look at anything like that anymore. It affects some people, it might not others. But I just say to people that if it affects you, stay away from it.”

On the boycott, he added: “I think it is a good idea. Obviously, there are a lot of pressures as a footballer, for the right reasons. But when individuals overstep that mark and line and it just becomes personal – and family, race, religion or gender or whatever starts coming into the picture – then it is no good at all.

“So this (boycott) is a very good idea. Listen, we want to win every football game, but realistically it never happens.

“We all get frustrated, players, staff, managers and fans as well. Maybe being at a big club like Bradford, there is that added pressure. We have got to keep trying and then one day, the penny will drop with a few people.”