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Sunday, February 7, 2021

CORONA VIRUS TIMES: THE KINGS OF TWITTER

The last year or so has brought a great deal of misery, hardship and uncertainty for many people, and it is in large part thanks to the Corona virus. Football has not escaped its clutches, with league of all standards the world over being cancelled or, at best, interrupted. Due to the financial constraints heaped upon them by losing revenue because of the footballing hiatus currently being experienced in a number of countries, large number of clubs have mothballed or simply ceased to exist. 

Yet, for other clubs, 2020 was a time to regroup and, in some ways, expand. One of them is a Sunday League side from the English county of Berkshire, just to the west of London, who have emerged as the kings of Twitter thanks in no small part to their dynamic social media presence, which has seen them increase their following on the social media giant from a couple of thousand to more than 11000 in the space of two years or so.

The club hails from Caversham, now a suburb of Reading but once a town in its own right which was in southernmost Oxfordshire until 1911, when it was transferred to Berkshire and became part of Reading county borough. Caversham United, nicknamed the Billy Goats, were founded in 2015, but can trace its history back to 1996 when it was founded as RBC Unison. The club joined the Reading and District Sunday League, later going under the name FC Brettle, and was also known for a time as Miah's FC before yet another name-change in 2010, when it went under the name AFC Palmer.

Club manager Paul Gutteridge, one of only two remaining Caversham United members from its time as AFC Palmer and the man behind its social media boom, explained the reasoning behind the most recent name-change from AFC Palmer to Caversham United, which turned out to be much more. "In June 2015, the current management took over the club following the worst season in the club’s history, achieving just 4 points in the bottom division. Just two players from the 2014-15 team remain at the club now, both of whom now form part of the club committee. June 2015 saw the club change management, name, badge and kit, so essentially formed a new club."

On the pitch, the club's name might have changed but its fortunes didn't, remaining in the lowest reaches of bottom division of the Reading and District Sunday League and on the verge of folding once and for all. In the autumn of 2018, during the club's promotion season, Gutteridge, who described himself as being "a bored commuter-cum-Twitter admin" back then, decided to ramp things up a bit on social media, and this ultimately brought results on the pitch.

"The idea of using social media was initially to increase our recruitment of players, following a challenging 2017-18 campaign which decimated the squad. Then, seeing the engagement from teams like AS Roma’s English account, we thought we would try to become more active too. The club began to pick up a few verified followers, with the likes of AS Roma and Bayer Leverkusen among the ranks, and never looked back!" 

Gutteridge, who not only leads the way on Twitter but is also the team's player-manager, has a Twitter partner-in-crime in striker Joe Hales, who, in his manager's words "tends to head up the brilliant graphic design and illustration work" social media-wise (and, like Gutteridge, sits on the club committee). Having successfully attracted enough new players to bolster their squad for the new season to twenty-six, they and the rest of the committee decided to give the club a bit of a Twitter-inspired overhaul as well: "In November 2018, we launched a series of Twitter polls to decide a new club crest, club nickname and also a new home kit."


 

The new club badge featured the River Thames, which splits Caversham from Reading "proper", Caversham Bridge, which links the two parts of the city, and a goat, representing the club's nickname The Billy Goats. The club kit's main feature is, unsurprisingly, the shirt, which is a wonderful mix of purple, blue and white. 

Gutteridge, Hales and everyone else involved with the club haven't let up since, on or off the pitch. They gained promotion to the RDSL's third division in 2019, and find themselves in its top level this year after a bit of reorganisation in the league. Their fortunes off the pitch have mirrored those on it in that time, too.

Two years ago, they had fewer than 100 followers on Twitter. Gutteridge: "In September 2018, we had just 50 or 60 followers. It's just sky-rocketed from there!" Now, Caversham United have over 11000, with the majority of followers linking up in the last year or so since the advent of the Corona virus thanks to the club maintaining a near-constant media presence, connecting with fellow clubs who were unable to play due to lockdown or various other reasons, holding and taking part in many a Twitter poll and posting some eclectic posts. They've also done a lot of charity work, as Gutteridge explains. 

"Since those early days of social media, we’ve gone from strength to strength and aim to use our social media reach in a positive way to engage with and inspire fellow grassroots clubs and to raise money for charity. To date we’ve raised £5,000 for Balls to Cancer in the last 24 months." 

(Balls to Cancer is a British charity which raises money for, amongst other things, male cancer awareness and education, and also for chemotherapy packs to help alleviate somewhat the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The charity also has a couple of holiday homes which, subject to availability, house those cancer sufferers and their families in need of a short break, donates some of the money it receives to hospitals and research organisations, and has also set up a fund with the intention of helping cancer sufferers and their families suffering from financial hardship.)

But, the Billy Goats let their hair down on Twitter as well, with the Wheel of Misfortune being rolled out on occasion and lots of cheeky banter being flung around. And then there's the one and only Skid, Caversham United's record signing at a cost of..£25. Gutteridge again: "As well as the charity work, we do like to have a lot of fun with the platform and a cracking example of that is signing a goat, named Skid [see below photo], upon reaching 8,000 Twitter followers. This went down really well on the social media and even featured in Four Four Two magazine and BBC Radio 5 Live!" 

The manager is enthusiastic about the present, and also about the future. The club has plans, but they also remain realistic. "There are definitely plans to expand this football club. 2021-22 should see the emergence of a second Caversham United team, but the details are still being finalised and the specifics are under wraps for now... This is almost certain to happen now, though! 

"Scaling the English Football pyramid, maybe in the style of our friends Hashtag United, isn’t quite on the cards quite yet. The current Caversham United team plays in the Reading and District Sunday League, which in fairness, we have scaled a fair bit. In 2018-19 we were in Division 4 (Tier 6) of the Reading Sunday League. In the current 2020-21 season, we are up to Division 1 (Tier 3). Maybe one day we will make that switch to Saturdays and the official tiers, but not yet.

"Off the pitch, we have loads of plans of course. To continue to raise money for our partner charities is of course high up there. We would also love to hold another charity tournament one day but this summer may come to soon to do it the way we would want to. One thing is for sure though, we will not be quiet and will remain very active!"

Caversham United have just completed a World Cup of Twitter Admins, won by quite possibly the only English non-league club who have had a more meteoric rise on Twitter, Marine AFC, and are now busy whittling down the designs they have received for their proposed new kit. They received some 140 designs, and are currently, yup, holding another poll for the Twitter public to decide which kit the Billy Goats will wear next season. 

Gutteridge would not be drawn on whether his club will hold a World Cup of Blogs, but you can be sure that they will have something else up their sleeves fairly soon. They have helped keep the spirits of many a football fan and many a football club high during the past twelve months, and have helped out charities, too. (They have given their sponsor space on the front of their new shirts to Balls to Cancer, and will be donating money from their shirt sales to the charity.) There is much to admire about the club, both on and off the pitch. They are trailblazers for the smallest of small clubs everywhere, not least on social media. All hail Caversham United, the Kings of Twitter.

SQUAD-LIST

GOALKEEPER: Tom HIG

DEFENDERS: Euan BARKER, Zac DELLOW, Sam FOSTER, Olly FROST, Jack TAPSCOTT, Chris VOELKER, Seb YOUNG

MIDFIELDERS: McBriggs ANTWI-BOASIAKO, Ofori BOATENG, Dave BRAWN, Tom BURNETT, Iain GRAHAM, Paul GUTTERIDGE, Aneal SADIQ, Matthew WEBB

FORWARDS: Caleb ANTWI-BOASIAKO, Lewis DOWNES, Joe HALES, Josh HEMPHREY, Alex JENKINS, Brad PEMBROKE, Conner STURGESS

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to Paul Gutteridge, Caversham United player-manager, committee member and Twitter hero, for his help with the above article, and for also for submitting the photos contained within said article.

To find out more about Caversham United, visit: www.cavershamunited.com

To find out more about, or donate to, Balls to Cancer, kindly go to: www.ballstocancer.net


 

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