Non-League Football

Social media incident highlights lack of understanding

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NOBODY can defend the behaviour of anyone using social media to abuse individuals, it was there for all to see. Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times that people feel they can exploit this medium, which allows a certain degree of anonymity, and throw insults and anti-social comments in the direction of anyone they choose. Social media, to some extent, shields the coward.

However, the reporting of the case of Alfie Barker leaves a lot to be desired and reflects the mainstream media’s lack of understanding of non-league football. Of course, it was far more sensational to say that Barker was a “Hitchin player” than a “Codicote player”. That’s not to say that Codicote were any more responsible for the incident than Hitchin, but let’s be clear about the facts.

Barker barely played for Hitchin Town in 2016-17. He signed Southern League forms with the club but also signed on for Langford and Codicote. He was not “on loan” to Codicote, but merely playing for that club under the terms of being dual registered. Apparently, there was no sign of him returning to play for Hitchin.

Somebody, somewhere, decided that Barker was a Hitchin player. Local media got this very wrong and anyone who knows anything about non-league football would be aware that clubs like Hitchin sign on dozens of players over the course of a season. The Canaries chairman, Terry Barratt, admitted he did not even know the player, and it is hardly surprising, for players come and go with alarming regularity in non-league circles.

Some segments of the national media also sacrificed accuracy for the sake of a good story. One newspaper even suggested that the incident had deterred another club – Stotfold, I believe – from “buying” Barker. Again, such a suggestion borders on the verge of ridiculous.

And as for reporting the outcome as “Hitchin sack player” is also misrepresentation. Barker was not a contract player, was not employed by the club. His registration was cancelled.

Hitchin Town reacted positively and swiftly to the incident, a tribute to their organisation and willingness to be transparent about the issue. It is to their enormous credit that they have decided to make a donation to a charity that supports people who have suffered the loss of a child at birth or post-birth. This is an honourable gesture, but really, the club should not have to do this.

The entire incident does underline that sections of the media, too saturated with the superficial world of Premier League football, lack a basic understanding of the mechanics of non-league football. This could have damaged the reputation of Hitchin Town, but the manner in which they responded only served to highlight the club’s integrity.

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