Everyone dreams of having their 15 minutes of fame but what happens when this backfires?
This is a cautionary tale about how a simple picture placed me in a social media nightmare.
The story begins February last year, when myself and my Dad managed to get front row tickets to Manchester United Vs Southampton in the League Cup Final at Wembley. United sealed a late win and I was subsequently papped during the celebrations.
A few months later a colleague of mine sent a link to a Sun article about United in the Europa League Final with me (and also a part of my Dad’s head) as the main picture. I was over the moon and within seconds I was sharing the article on Facebook and boring everyone to tears telling them about it.
Soon after the picture was used again in several other United articles, perhaps my chiselled jaw and gorgeous hair had seen me become the new poster boy for United Fans?
Like Kate Moss being talent spotted on a plane I was now a marketable face and after going to University to study Sport Journalism I had somehow finally made into a national newspaper! Everything was looking positively peachy but soon my dreams of minor celebrity stardom would take an unexpected turn.
Last summer United signed Romelu Lukaku, a 6ft 4in Belgian striker of Congolese descent who began his United career in blistering form which resulted in the fans making a chant about him. This chant was deemed as racist as the song exclaimed that Lukaku had a 24 inch…third leg? Alas, this is where this handsome Manxman gets caught up in this mess.
One day in mid-September my Facebook notifications goes out of control, 50 notifications by midday? What on God’s green Earth was going down in the Manx Social Sphere? I find that another United article had been linked to my Facebook wall, by now convinced I was now a more famous ginger United fan than Mick Hucknall.
But to my horror this picture was used for an article far different than before, The Sun had written a story titled “Man United Fans Make Shock Decision about Lukaku Chant”, with a tagline it’s caused a lot controversy.
The songs racial stereotype resulted in calls for the chant to be banned but the United fans refused to stop. The Sun then decided to use my Wembley picture as the cover photo for the story! Never the greatest PR move to become the face of racist football chanting.
What followed was an afternoon of sheer panic with me frantically explaining to everyone, including my bosses, that I was not a racist, not a conversation you plan to have on a Tuesday afternoon, and how that I wasn’t even at this particular match in question. The comments, texts and inboxes came flying in and my co-workers were a mix of fits of laughter and concern, one suggested I should complain to The Sun for wrongful image use. I did consider this option, I planned out my sympathy article with a picture of me sat looking wistfully out my window whilst explaining how I can now no longer leave the house. I’d gone from Manx Celeb to Enoch Powell in a few hours.
I knew my friends and family would know this is a case of mistaken identity but what about those Facebook Friends you’re not really close with? The people from School you haven’t spoken to in 6 years or some girl you worked 3 shifts with at Next, what will they think?! “Remember that guy George? ‘Yeah, why?’ ‘Well turns out he’s a great big honking bigot!”.
The days and weeks that followed saw the picture being used in another Lukaku article, my head being cropped with a Ku-Klux-Klan hood on Youtube and being greeted several times in Strand Street with the question: “Hey mate since when have you been a racist hooligan?”.
Since then the photo has been used on Sport Bible in a video for deluded United fans and a few another football memes but the main firestorm has died down.
A bizarre experience was had all round and perhaps I’ll go incognito to my next United game.
To anyone reading this just who is still aspiring for their moment in the spotlight, please be careful what you wish for!