FORZA THE ANTS

How a Glaswegian semi-pro club formed a special bond with the mighty Roma through Twitter

Martin McKenna remembers the morning of October 13, 2018 well. Woken early by his wife, he was immediately ordered to check Twitter. When he did, he could hardly believe the flood of notifications waiting for him.

Martin is Media Officer for Saint Anthony's FC, a Glasgow-based semi-pro club in Scotland's West Region League Two. Responsible for running the club's social media accounts, he quickly established the cause of the spike in activity: a single tweet, sent at 5:37AM from the mighty AS Roma.

With Serie A clubs not in action due to the autumn international break, Roma's English language Twitter account - having long since amassed a huge following - had taken an interest in the UK's Non-League Day initiative. To mark the occasion, their tweet explained, they would be pledging their support to Saint Anthony's as they hosted Johnstone Burgh in a league fixture.

"Roma had been promoting a number of lesser-known teams around the world while their team weren't playing," Martin recalls. "They'd been backing a team in Namibia a few days earlier and my cousin James saw this and tweeted them suggesting they make Saint Anthony’s their Scottish club.

"That was on the Thursday, but we weren't expecting to hear anything. We were wrong.

"It was all so surreal. My phone was going crazy. It’s not really stopped since."

Prior to the Roma tweet, Saint Anthony's had an audience of 3,000 on Twitter. Eight months on, it stands at nearly 10,000, counting other high-profile European clubs such as Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Zenit St Petersburg amongst its followers. The 12,000 impressions Saint Anthony's tweets used to receive on a monthly basis are now achieved in a single day.

It was the start of special relationship between the two clubs, who have continued to exchange tweets. Only last month, Roma donated shirts and merchandise to be auctioned off by Saint Anthony's as part of a fundraiser to build a stand at the club's home ground, McKenna Park.

"They contacted us on Twitter and asked if they could send some things over to be auctioned off for the fundraiser," Martin says. "Obviously, we're very appreciative and this should help us get nearer our target.

"Funding this ourselves is a tough ask for us as a small semi-pro club. We simply can’t afford things that other clubs in our league can. We can't even pay our players. They all play for the love of the game, not money."

Established in 1902, the Govan-based club was saved from financial difficulties by Martin's grandfather, Felix, in the late 1950s. It has remained in the family ever since, passed down to Martin's father, Felix Jnr, three decades later.

"I’ve been coming here since I was about two weeks old and I’m 36 now," Martin laughs. "For as long as I've known, it’s always been about keeping the club in existence and doing the best you can."

A modest target of £3,000 has been set for the new stand and, when reached, the club will apply for grants to cover the additional costs of the build. The Ants have some way to go: currently, £374 has been donated via a JustGiving page - barely 10% of their goal.

Despite the surge in their Twitter audience, there is no urgency to push their fundraiser to their new followers. "It's not about that," Martin insists.

Instead, they are following the example set by their friends at Roma.

Since launching in 2015, the Italian club's English language Twitter has accumulated close to half a million followers, catching the eye with a string of humorous transfer announcements in 2017. More recently, however, they have adopted a different approach, seeking to use their large audience to raise awareness of issues beyond football, including the plight of missing children, which they recently spoke to JOE about.

Making such a widespread impact is beyond a Scottish semi-professional club, but Saint Anthony's are attempting to use the voice they have on social media in a positive way. Before last Christmas they announced on Twitter that anyone attending their matches would be granted free admission if they brought an item of food to donate to the Glasgow South East Food Bank. Amongst other things, they are also backing On The Ball, an initiative calling for the provision of free sanitary products at football grounds. 

"All exposure on Twitter has been great for us as a club," Martin explains. "But if you can use it to help people - like Roma have - then that’s what it’s really about."

"It’s not to make ourselves look good. It’s just we’ve got more of a platform now, so why not use it?

"It’s trying to make the world a slightly better place in a small way. If you can use football to help people with problems, why not do it?"