On Footballers And Super-Injunctions
There is a Scottish newspaper which has had a difficult time of it of late, with its circulation having fallen by over one-fifth year on year between February 2010 and February 2011. This may or may not be behind the decision to print a barely censored – so barely that they may as well not have bothered – picture of the Premier League footballer believed to be at the centre of the superinjunction concerning the reality television “star” Imogen Thomas. As a Scottish newspaper, it isn’t covered by the same laws as publications based in England, but Scottish newspapers have shyed away from revealing his identity because their publications are available to buy in England and because of the ease with which copies could be obtained by people in England.
That it should have come to this is a pretty sad indictment of the state of free speech in this country. The decision of the player to sue – or, more correctly, to attempt to sue – anyone on Twitter that has made reference to his indiscretions is obviously and clearly a stupid one. Had he simply allowed the kerfuffle over the story to blow over, it would be largely forgotten by now. That, in essence, is how Twitter works. It’s a lengthy conversation and is transitory by its very nature. As things have turned out, though, his actions – or the actions of his solicitors – have now sent this particular story ballistically around the world. It has been reported that said player’s name has been being reported in newspapers all over the planet. The cat, as it were, is out of the bag.
If you have come here solely to try and establish the name of said footballer, by the way, you are probably wasting your time. This site is run from England and our servers are also based in this country. To err on the side of caution, we are not even going to mention the name of the newspaper that has identified him (although it is worth pointing out that the newspaper’s website more or less collapsed at lunchtime, presumably under the weight of traffic seeking to read up on the subject). The most important matter about all of this is not, specifically, which footballer it is that is being talked about, though. The point to be made is about a ruined reputation and legacy.
To err is human, and had this matter been left to lie at the fact that he had an affair, well, that would probably have been forgotten in the fullness time. To pursue the action that he seems to be choosing to pursue, however, only really makes him look stupid and damages his legacy as a player. Ultimately, a footballer’s career – any footballer’s career – is transitory in nature. It may last for weeks, it may last for decades. Nearly all players, however, spend a greater proportion of their lives not being footballers than being footballers, and when being involved in the game itself fades from view all that is left is our memories of them. If this story runs the course that it may well run, he runs the risk of his achievements as a player being overshadowed by the decisions that he has made over the last few weeks.
This has a prosaic value to him as well as being a matter of moral consideration. Will sponsors be interested in being associated with him in the futures? The media is already straining at the leash – hell hath no fury like a journalist scorned – and it seems unlikely that his private life will be made any easier in the future, quite aside from the likelihood of any post-football media career evaporating overnight. There may still be time for his reputation to be revived. The policy that the journalist Andrew Marr – who placed a superinjunction before regretting his behaviour in doing so – followed, of admitting that this was an error of judgement and apologising for what had happened, has resuscitated some of the respect that was held for him. At present, there seems to be little indication that this particular footballer will do so.
He is being represented by the London-based legal firm Schillings, who have form for this sort of behaviour. In a recent interview on BBC 2’s “Newsnight”, the media lawyer Mark Stephens accused them of having turned this player into “the King Canute of footballing fame” and stating that they have “made a disaster out of a crisis”. Furthermore, the Mail Online has reported that “lawyers for the soccer star have persuaded a High Court judge to ask Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC to consider a criminal prosecution” against a journalist and television presenter who reportedly published the player’s name. If the story is spinning out of control, Schillings must ultimately claim a degree of reponsibility for it having happened.
What, you may well ask, is this to do with football? A footballer may have initiated this injunction, but it may as well have been an actor, politician or anyone else in the public eye that did so, after all. Well, this is a reasonable question, but we would ask you, the reader, to bare in mind that football in this country remains encircled by vultures, whose behaviour is often questionable to say the least. Uncomfortable though it is to be defending the right of tabloid rags to print tittle-tattle abour celebrities, it is also worth pointing out that superjunctions can apply in the case of considerably more serious matters, as the Trafigura case confirmed. It is critical, if we are to be able to continue to write what we write on this site, that such injunctions are banned and, as such, our enemies enemies may need to be our friends in the name of free speech.
We would ask you to bear in mind the potential ramifications of naming the footballer discussed in this article, and request that you do not name him in the comments. Any comments that do mention his name will be deleted.
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