Home and Away

Slam Dunc and Jen Chang saga exposes pitfalls of social media

Clubs have little hope of censoring fans online when they can't even stop their own players from tweeting whatever they want

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 October, 2012, 4:15am

Tomorrow's Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool will be the usual high-octane grudge match - just as tradition dictates and global audiences demand.

But amid the terrace hullabaloo, one Liverpool supporter, Sean Cummins, will maintain a vow of silence and keep a wary eye looking over his shoulder.

Many pairs of eyes will be scanning the VIP boxes and the Liverpool dugout for Jen Chang, the team's head of communications, who of late has gone MIA.

Cummins and Chang are involved in a sinister saga that has exposed the pitfalls of social media and the 24-hour football news machine's insatiable appetite.

Cummins is the man behind the infamous "Slam Dunc" tweeter, @DuncanJenkinsFC. Hong Kong's Liverpool supporters will no doubt have heard of him.

Slam Dunc is a fictitious blogger - a self-proclaimed "perspiring journalist" and social media personality created by Cummins.

The alter ego attracted some 40,000 followers, of whom many adored Slam Dunc's hackneyed prose peppered with cliches and malapropisms. Among his faithful were scores of pundits, fans, journalists and Chang.

In his guise of Slam Dunc, Cummins, a Reds fan of more than 30 years, broke a slew of hold-the-front-page scoops about the inner workings and going-ons at Anfield.

These exclusives included team line-ups hours ahead of matches and transfer rumours about players targeted by manager Brendon Rodgers - including the Fabio Borini transfer from Roma in the summer, Nuri Sahin, Joe Allen and Darren Bent.

Chang, who arrived at Anfield in the summer from ESPN's Sports Illustrated in New York, was among those refreshing his Twitter feed with religious regularity to see the LFC future, according to @DuncanJenkinsFC.

Hired to boost Liverpool's PR drive after last season's debacle during the Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra race row, Chang became increasingly concerned by Slam Dunc's accurate crystal-ball gazing. He smelled a rat - or rather, a mole - in Anfield.

According to an expose this week by Cummins and reported widely by the UK media, Chang hired some private detectives to track Cummins down.

Once Chang had found his quarry, he contacted Cummins and the pair agreed to meet in a restaurant in Manchester. (Cummins is one of those enigmas in football - he is a Liverpool fan living in a city of tormentors.)

Cummins alleges in his explosive blog that Chang challenged him about his mole and showed him the dossier he had compiled on him and his family.

Cummins says he denied he had a Deep Throat-like agent and said that the tweets by his fictional alter ego were all guess work.

After allegedly accusing Cummins of costing the club £300,000 extra in the Borini deal, Chang demanded he post a "confession" tweet, saying there was no mole and that everything ever posted by Slam Dunc had been made up.

Cummins then claims he asked Chang what would happen if he didn't agree to a confession. He claims Chang warned he would have him banned from Anfield.

Cummins also alleges that Chang threatened to hand over the dossier to journalists who could "run smear stories on me in the tabloid press" and "ruin my dad's online business". Liverpool fans would turn against Slam Dunc and Cummins, Chang was claimed to have said.

And, perhaps most shockingly, Cummins alleges that Chang warned him: "You know how crazy football fans are. You'll have dog s**t coming through your letterbox, you'll have to take your Facebook page down, you might even have to move house."

Now, CCTV footage of the two men's meeting is doing its rounds along with reams of media stories about the claims. Chang, who has confirmed he met Cummins in Manchester, strenuously denies he made such threats.

Of course, it would be wise to tread gingerly about the allegations. After all, it is the word of one man against another. But that has not stopped Liverpool launching an investigation into their PR chief.

This week, Cummins met with senior members of the board. Cummins told me: "I met with managing director Ian Ayre [and others] … on Monday, and with that in mind, I'd like to maintain a dignified silence, and allow the club to make their decision."

If found to be true, Chang's ultimatums cast another unwanted dark cloud over the EPL. Threats of football fans' mob rule soiling a letter box would naturally leave someone terrified so Cummins' claims deserve a thorough probe - more so with recent events involving Leeds fans.

Chang has gone to ground and could not be contacted. LFC refused to comment as it investigates.

If anything, the bizarre tale reveals the perils of social media and clubs' futile attempts to control the message. Yet if they can't stop the players from tweeting whatever they please, they have little hope of censoring fans.

Most of Cummins' treacherous insider knowledge was material pinched from rambling fans' forums. To his amazement, he observed the great and the good and the plain gullible lap up his fantasies with feverish greed to feed the machine.

That's the maddening thing about the EPL - unlike Slam Dunc, you just can't make up the endless controversy.