Amid his Twitter row, Liverpool's Chang should know using the supporters as muscle is a dangerous abuse of power
06:35 GMT, 24 October 2012
Wherever Jen Chang is presently residing, it is to be hoped he was watching the match between Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United on Friday night. There, in microcosm, was the reason so many are taking his spat with a man who doesn't exist seriously.
Duncan Jenkins may be a fictional character but the man who created him on Twitter, Sean Cummins, says the threats he received from Chang, head of communications at Liverpool, were very real. It is the word of one man against another, so we should tread carefully but, if true, it is the manner of Chang's ultimatums that disturb.
Chang is accused of threatening to unleash the Liverpool supporters on Cummins, as if they were his personal heavy mob. This is outrageous, if correct. Football supporters are the biggest gang in town. And those with a direct line to their emotions need to exercise that power wisely indeed.
Dark side: Chris Kirkland holds his head after being assaulted by Leeds fan Aaron Crawley (circled)
Chang arrived at Anfield earlier this year, freshly imported from the United States where he worked for ESPN. He was supposed to be a safe, corporate pair of hands after the PR debacle of the Luis Suarez racism affair. Yet this season Chang became inexplicably vexed by a Twitter presence known as Duncan Jenkins.
The tag 'perspiring journalist' should have been the clue. Jenkins does not exist. He is the alter ego of Liverpool supporter Sean Cummins, a parody of an ambitious sports reporter.
As Jenkins, Cummins would search the ether for transfer rumours, team news and gossip, then issue it as fact. His judgment of the rumour mill, however, was uncannily astute and he got quite a lot right.
Chang, seemingly, missed the joke and the randomness of the enterprise and thought Liverpool had a mole. Believing the club's business to be damaged by these leaks, he set up a meeting with Cummins. From here it gets murky.
Accused: Ian Arye (left) is investigating claims of harassment against Jen Chang (right)
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According to Cummins, at their lunch date in Manchester, Chang threatened him. He said he would expose him as the source of harmful rumours and the fans would make his life a living hell.
Some of the fantasy menaces were quite bizarre: dog faeces through the letterbox; harm to the business run by Cummins' father. If the account is accurate, Chang appears patronisingly to regard Liverpool supporters as little more than thugs for hire.
Chang denies much of this and there are some who regard Cummins as little more than a self-publicist. It seems a strange falsehood to tell, though, not least for the awkwardness it may cause when Cummins next arrives to support his favourite club.
Ian Ayre, Liverpool managing director, is treating the affair seriously enough to conduct an internal investigation and met Cummins on Monday. Cummins felt he received a fair hearing. Chang, meanwhile, is keeping a low profile.
He did not take his seat at the annual dinner held by the Football Writers' Association in Manchester at the weekend, and may have to issue an apology before he can actively pursue his role again. It may be that Chang has been falsely maligned. Perhaps Cummins misunderstood, or misheard.
Only two men truly know what was said at that meeting. If Cummins' recollections are believed, however, Chang will be very fortunate to keep his job.
Using the loyalty of supporters as muscle is a dangerous and irresponsible abuse of executive power. What happened at Hillsborough on Friday demonstrates the extremes of behaviour that can be unleashed by club passions.
Nobody should toy with the most unhinged or fanatical element of any band of supporters. The thug who assaulted Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was not inspired by Leeds, but his actions most certainly stemmed from a misguided, misdirected fervour for his club.
Could Chang, or any club official, live with the consequences if violent behaviour towards an individual as good as originated from a club directive Leeds United did not contribute to events at Hillsborough last week. It was a Leeds fan, Aaron Crawley from Cheltenham, who got tanked up and attacked Kirkland, but there the connection ends.
David Jones, the Wednesday manager, was understandably upset that his opposite number, Neil Warnock, still made his players applaud the travelling fans after a night of vile chants and one unforgivable assault, but there is no suggestion Leeds stoked bad behaviour prior to the game.
Jailed: Leeds fan Aaron Cawley was handed a four-month prison sentence
Had there been a fall-out from the Duncan Jenkins summit, however, could Chang be equally blameless Every club manager, executive, player or administrator treads the line between demanding the fiercest loyalty and maintaining a sense of proportion. If Chang, new to the English game and impressed by how readily mobilised and unified Liverpool supporters were already by tragedy at Hillsborough, then sought to exploit this, it really would be the most reckless exploitation.
Yet if Chang lost his sense of restraint he would not be the first. Ken Bates has been the proud champion of a number of clubs and is still hugely popular with the supporters at Chelsea – no mean feat for the current chairman of Leeds – but has come perilously close to using tactics that went beyond the pale in the past, bringing public disputes into areas that breached the boundaries of personal privacy. This is a disappointing stance, when he has always been perfectly capable of winning his battles on his wits alone.
We do not know if intolerable pressure was what Chang intended when he met Cummins. Single source stories are frowned upon by Lord Leveson, so it may be that this one simply fizzles out with time, too.
Whatever was said that day, though, the timely juxtaposition of the Liverpool inquiry and the actions of a lone hooligan at Hillsborough should be a lesson and reminder for all. There are men enough out there who do not think rationally, without the saner members of society crossing to the dark side. We know the sort who would manipulate the disaffected proletariat for their own, violent ends. You'll find them in all good history books but not, one would hope, within any good football club.
Fair Kop, Andy
Andy Carroll says he was never given a fair chance at Liverpool. He was there 18 months and cost 35million. If he seriously believes that having paid such a huge sum the club were not desperate for his move to succeed, he may have that ponytail wound a little too tight.
England need more than saviour Jack…
Jack Wilshere may play for Arsenal this week and already, with the England team floundering, he is being promoted as The Answer for Roy Hodgson. Stuart Pearce would like a piece of him for the Under 21s, too, and predictably this has brought a wary response from Arsene Wenger.
'If you have to wait for one player to come back that means something is wrong,' he said. 'If Spain are world and European champions, it is because they are spoiled for choice.'
Welcome back, Jack: Wilshere is closing in on a first-team return for Arsenal after 15 months out
Indeed. If the season stopped right now, Juan Mata would have a fair claim to be Footballer of the Year. In tandem with Eden Hazard, he has been magnificent in Chelsea's rise to the top of the table.
Yet after being active for Spain at senior, Under 21 and Olympic level in six out of the last seven summers, Mata asked for a rest and missed a friendly with Saudi Arabia and a qualifying fixture in Georgia. He has not been picked in the squad since. This is the power that England lack, always waiting for a saviour to rise from the ranks.
Mind you, much the same could be said of Arsenal. It wasn't England who played Wilshere into the ground the season before his ankle injury caused him to miss 2011-12 in its entirety.
And while we're at it
Steve Evans is back in the dug-out with Rotherham United, having served his six-game stadium ban. So where is the T-shirt protest over that Where is the mobilisation of player power, the splinter group, the righteous howl of outrage
Evans was charged with exposing himself to a female official from Bradford City, during a match with his Crawley Town side last season. Witness accounts say he deliberately dropped his trousers in the dressing-room area after the game. His ban was two matches less than Luis Suarez's for racist abuse; and not a peep from anybody.
Charged: Evans is back in the dug-out with Rotherham United having served his six-game stadium ban
We are acutely aware of the years of discrimination and oppression that make race such an issue, yet the same prejudices have also helped maintain sexism and misogyny in our society.
While John Terry's four-game ban is denounced for its perceived leniency, however, the skewed message relayed by Evans's six-game ban passes unnoticed. Women rarely come out well in the psychological warfare waged on the pitch during football matches. Wives, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, ex-team-mates' ex-girlfriends, they are usually only good for one thing.
Had Evans behaved in a racist or homophobic manner, there would almost certainly have been a T-shirt for the occasion. As it is, he is still in the boys' club.
Bacra drop away strip
Barcelona will ditch their latest second strip at the end of this season. The horrid orange top, merging into yellow at the bottom of the shirts, made them look like cheap ice lollies. Not even the finest footballers on the planet could appear cool in that outfit. They will now wear a new shirt based on the red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag.
End of the road: Barcelona will ditch their away strip
How convenient, though, that this design flaw comes with its own boosted revenue stream, as fans replace their out-of-date replica tops with the updated version.
If Barcelona truly were more than a club, as they claim, they would let supporters exchange the offensive merchandise for free. Don't hold your breath.
Why the FA's code is just not credible
The compromise at the heart of the Football Association's brave new code of conduct is there in black and white. On one page, dire warnings about the use of drugs and alcohol, on the next the evils of wearing unofficial issue sportswear. So what are they trying to protect here The integrity of the game or marketing rights
Watching Pat McQuaid of the International Cycling Union wriggle under scrutiny over the Lance Armstrong affair this week reveals the bankruptcy of merging principle with commerce. McQuaid could see no wrong in his organisation accepting 78,000 in donations from Armstrong between 2002 and 2007, when rumours were flying that he was corrupting the sport.
Indeed, McQuaid said he would accept charity from riders again. At this point, he lost all credibility, as do the FA when they equate a failed drugs test with a pair of unsanctioned training shoes.
You've been tangoed
Phil Brown, former manager of Hull City, was discussing racism on Radio 5 Live this week. 'I've been called Tangoman,' he protested, 'I've been called Orangeman. Is that racist I want to know what is racist.' Not that, Phil. Definitely not that.
Sticking to the rulebook
There has been much fuss about the FA council decision to make chairman David Bernstein stand down, according to the rulebook, in his 70th year. Why Bernstein knew the position when he took the job.
Suit you, sir: David Bernstein (left) will soon relieve his position as chairman of the Football Association
To get his feet under the table and try to introduce different terms of engagement is pretty much the approach taken by Michel Platini over the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Platini voted for a summer tournament and, ever since, has campaigned for a winter one. Bernstein accepted a short-term role and like most at the FA will now have to be dragged out of the place by his heels. Must be a nice little number.
Time for El Tel
Gerard Houllier is right to highlight the great flaw in the FA's St George's Park development: nobody at the top. Houllier cites the absence of a technical director, a respected former manager to act as the coach of coaches.
The FA already have Sir Trevor Brooking and, from July, Dan Ashworth, but neither possess the gravitas of a renowned and experienced top level manager. An entire generation of England players – many now involved in coaching – insist Terry Venables was England's best technical brain. He is certainly available, but maybe not in Burton-on-Trent.