On Footballers And Super-Injunctions

By on May 22, 2011 in Latest | 9 comments

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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    9 Comments

  1. There is a need for the libel laws in this country to be severely re-written.

    The Libel Reform Campaign is working to this end and I would urge all bloggers – and those that find this whole debacle absolutely risable – to visit this website http://www.libelreform.org/ and sign the petition.

    SJ Maskell

    May 22, 2011

  2. Two points.

    1) Yes that particular newspaper is having a bad time of it, having had a revamp at the start of the year that backfired in a spectacular fashion. But newspaper sales are declining generally too. Sales of that newspapers Edinburgh based rival is also in decline, as are sales of the scottish versions of the English based papers.

    2) We will see how seriosly this newspaper is about freedom of speech if it chooses to publish details of the less gossipy superinjunctions in force. For example will the publish full details of Fred Goodwins affair which went on at the time of the purchase of ABN Amro or the name of the chief executive of a global company who had dubious financial dealings when his company was in financial trouble.

    Allan

    May 22, 2011

  3. It’s not a case of freedom of speech but of freedom of information. They’re not the same thing and certainly don’t carry the same moral imperative.

    Most of us have known from early on this player’s identity. Personally, I don’t care which footballer has been shagging which reality TV slapper behind his wife’s back. But, if I did find myself with so little of a life of my own that I was interested, I certainly wouldn’t try to compare it to Trafigura in an attempt to make my prurience appear principled.

    FFFFFC

    May 22, 2011

  4. The Scottish newspaper wouldnt have published the name if it was such a ridiculious state of affairs re super injunctions. Maybe if the legal representatives knew their law they would have known that they had also to apply in Scotland, I think that is due to arrogance. The newspapers in Scotland are having a hard time but that is because they have been printing labour party releases verbatim and no one believes that rubbish anymore.

    Bill Connor

    May 22, 2011

  5. The issue is hypocracy, if you stand alongside your wife and children whilst accepting plaudits/medels then “playing away” becomes fair game for exposure.

    MG

    May 23, 2011

  6. What a farce. Everywhere in the world except for England and Wales the details of this footballer are allowed to be published, and of course even here we can all read about it online.

    This footballer has made a fool of himself and the legal system. I’m making my own small contribution to circumventing this undemocratic law by re-posting links which disclose all the details.

    There is no freedom of speech or democracy in England [and Wales.]

    Lee

    May 23, 2011

  7. The sad thing is, when I heard of this unnamed footballer I was straight on to Google to find out who everyone (except myself) knew about, I just felt left out. Schillings made so much smoke that we all came to look at the fire.

    Lennon

    May 24, 2011

  8. The issue surely has to be about whether there’s a public interest? You move it away from this principle, and it’s no longer about freedom of speech, it’s about open season. The chap in question – or indeed any chap who’s gone down this road – or are we saying that everyone who’s ever posted on twitter or this site is an angel – surely has the right to dispute the public interest of such a story? And the fact that it’s not effective, well THAT’S the bit that needs addressing.

    Imogen Thomas, she’s breaking my heart by the way, the way that this whole saga has affected her blooming career. If only she’d decided to keep it private.

    Gervillian Swike

    May 24, 2011

  9. Wouldn’t it be nice if you – or anyone, for that matter – could publish the real issues around this case, such as the blackmail?

    http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/QB/2011/1232.html

    The so-called ‘super injunctions’ are there to STOP the media from going around doing whatever they want.

    Surprise surprise, newspapers are told not to go through with it, and then act like they’re the victims.

    charlie

    May 25, 2011

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