POLITICALLY motivated Boro fans have launched a tongue-in-cheek twitter campaign to free hashtag hostage Jelle Vossen.
In an Amnesty International style spoof, Boro fans claim the Belgian footballer is being held against his will, incarcerated in Genk in a plush prison especially constructed from money and legally binding red tape. Detained dreamweaver Vossen has publicly appealed to be released from the constraints of his contract and called upon his captors to honour their pledge to free him from his sentence. And now he is asking for asylum on Teesside. And fair-minded Boro fans, crusaders for truth and justice, have responded in their thousands with a humorous on-line attempt to spring him from his jail.
On hearing his plea, Boro fans have rallied around with a #FreeJelleVossen twitter campaign. After tagging in both the player himself @VossenJelle and his jailers @KRCGenkofficial into their tweets there can be no mistake in Belgium that fair minded football fans in Teesside are taking a close interest in what is starting to look like a shocking breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
For a few hours last night the #FreeJelleVossen hashtag was trending nationally and for a while was jostling with #Gove, #reshuffle and #CherylCole at the top of the twitter charts.
Even the player himself joined in. He has already gone public in the Belgian press with his desire to break free Genk and has said Boro is his preferred place of safety so the twitterstorm will boost his morale during his fight for freedom and justice. He didn’t actually retweet the hashtag or endorse it but he acknowledged it. That was enough.
After that things went crazy. The Boro twittersphere was already at Def Con 1, staking out Teesside airport for income private flights and monitoring Rockliffe for the arrival of cars with darkened windows with the reg plate V055EN. That the player was clanging his tin cup against the bars of his cell in a coded “come and get me;” message was too much.
Within minutes banners and placards were being knocked up along with some evocative photoshoppery that captured the political prisoner’s plight.
And soon there was a celebrity endorsement. No worthy campaign over an obscure issue in a far-off little known country is worth a candle unless it can get a celebrity on board. And the #FreeJelleVossen bandwagon got a hefty push as Boro fan Bob Mortimer added his own cry against this historic injustice.
And there was a poignant tearstained personal video plea for amnesty for the incarcerated hitman on YouTube from @Andymcc007 that struck a chord too
How we laughed. Vossen was quickly offered files in cakes, the obligatory culture-crime of a free parmo and a life membership of Club Bongo International. There was flattery, spin and thinly veiled threats of violence against his jailors and then some tweets in “Belgian” (Walloons? Dutch?) as Genk fans caught on. I don’t know if they are indignant, dismissive or joining in the laughter. I think some are slagging him and telling him to sling his hook and some are goading Boro fans asking why he would want to step down a level. So are just enjoying the light relief. It is shaping up to be a multi-lingual slanging-match. Where’s the Teesside-Flemish tab on Babelfish? Building bridges. The power of football.
As the campaign rumbled on during the day it went viral across the Low Countries as the local football websites picked up on it with a mild sense of “those crazy English” bemusement. It even made Belgian TV with both of the bits of artwork above getting airtime as an overly serious anchorman delivered it as a straight story.
Of course there are some serious points in all this and it will play differently to different audiences. For one thing, you would imagine that while the Boro fans making a racket as part of their cyber-courtship of a player most will have never seen play is amusing to the Genk fans (and heirarchy), the player having retweeted will not have gone down too well.
Had it been us and a player wanted by another club did something similar – Albert Adomah say responding to Forest flattery – we would be howling for blood and demanding a public act of sackcloth and ashes contrition. Look at the stick Kei Kamara got for a little non-specific sulk rather than public bridge burning. This is a bit different in that the war-of-words between club and players has already been splashed over the press but it won’t help Genk that he is rattling his cage.
And if Vossen ends up staying it could leave him with a fractious relationship with his own fans… although, on the other hand, if the mooted move does come off then he has already curried favour with Boro fans. “Jelle Vossen, he’s one of our own.”
That said, as the season looms, having a clearly unhappy playing will become a more pressing problem and the pressure to sell will grow. And if he continues to say Boro his his first choice then Genk are faced with a problem. They may be determined to stand their Euro 7m valuation now but how will they feel in mid-August and they need to think about replacing him. Their resolve may weaken with time.
And there is always wriggle room in a deal. Boro could weight the fee to build in a big promotion bonus that could meet Genk halfway if they go up. Or maybe a sell-on clause may be attractive. We’ll see. There are other targets to wrap up first. It’ll keep.
You can follow the unfolding political machinations by going on twitter and searching for the hashtag #FreeJelleVossen