Ian Herbert: Liverpool tweeter who fell foul of club's paranoia isn't laughing now

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The Independent Online

This piece feels like a risky one, given that its subject is someone who finds himself on the wrong side of Liverpool FC and that the unspoken threat to sportswriters who articulate what clubs don't want to be told is the removal of access and privileges.

The Duncan Jenkins story is too extraordinary to ignore, though. At base, it is about social media, the manic search within it for people who are ITK ("In The Know") and about the futility of clubs trying to control it, now that the old news models have broken down. But it has a dark edge, too.

It all started out as a rather good joke. The protagonist did not exist until one night in the winter of 2009, when "his" creator Sean Cummins – a 35-year-old copywriter from south Manchester – was bored of posting on his Liverpool FC forum about the club he has supported since he was a boy. He decided to invent "Duncan Jenkins" – a Facebook character who would be inept, delusional and obsessed with the TV show The Bill.

After the crime drama's demise in March 2010, "Duncan" expressed his concern on a forum and – in an echo of what would follow – found The Mirror seizing on his words: "Speaking on forums yesterday Duncan Jenkins said: 'It is an absolute disgrace. For a police drama that pushes all the buttons, reflects reality and a regular Joe can connect to, you can't beat The Bill.'"

"Duncan" established a small Facebook fan club, with 150 "likes", and it was when the jokes seemed to evaporate and the character fizzled out in June last year that Cummins decided to relaunch him on Twitter last November as the equally delusional @DuncanJenkinsFC – the hapless "perspiring journalist". "Duncan" was the same as he ever was, only football journalism was his latest attempt at making it. It was slow going in the early days – 1,000 or so followers – but "Duncan", with his malapropisms, misspellings and Colemanballs, was very, very funny.

And then he stumbled on a gold mine. Posting on the Liverpool FC forum, est1892, he discovered how, two hours before kick-off, someone was repeatedly reporting the correct Liverpool starting XI – that holy grail of football writers. The 11 names and no more were posted. The aspiring, breathless "Duncan" immediately republished it.

Suddenly, the fantasist was credible, ITK, flooded by followers and wondering where to take the joke next. Transfer stories being the vital currency of the football writer – and devoured by readers whatever their likelihood – "Duncan" decided to "put my head above the parrot pit" (as he dubbed it in one of the Euro 2012 columns that goal.com invited him to write).

There was Climp Dempsey, Cheery Begiristain (spelt differently every time). And, since Duncan's creator was a Liverpool season-ticket holder, his hit rate was OK. Andre Villas-Boas, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Gaston Ramirez to Liverpool were all wrong, but who cares when you're ITK?

My comparison of details published by football writers and subsequent tweets by "Duncan" – which was the crux of the dispute which was about to follow – suggests that he simply took an educated guess on transfer targets the papers were writing about. Fabio Borini tallied with a tweet from a Liverpool Echo writer. A confident prediction about Nuri Sahin came seconds after a Times tweet. Joe Allen was based on an Independent report. Johan Cruyff as sporting director came from a BBC Liverpool writer.

"Duncan" also said rumours of Darren Bent arriving were nonsense and was early on to Brendan Rodgers. Good calls. Lucky calls.

His Twitter followers soared towards 40,000. Jenkins/Cummins was funny – a Harry Enfield type of funny – and was hardly masquerading as straight. Which is what renders particularly bizarre the decision of Liverpool's communications director, Jen Chang, to drive to Manchester in late August and spend two hours with Cummins in a Deansgate restaurant seeking the name of his Liverpool "mole".

Liverpool are entitled to investigate if some insider is betraying secrets. But with the absence of an explanation to counter the explosive blog which "Duncan" published last Friday, detailing what happened at that meeting, it is difficult to appreciate why Chang dealt with it as he did.

There has been no response from Liverpool to "Duncan's" claims that an infuriated Chang told him that unless he came clean there would be "dog s**t coming through your letter box" and he "might even have to move house" because "football fans are crazy".

His account of this meeting has gone unpublished for the past two months as he sought an apology from Liverpool. The days of "Duncan" are over, needless to say.

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