You don't need a ton of context to appreciate how batshit amazing this story is. Out of nowhere, a Twitter account emerges, claiming to have inside information. He floats some transfer rumors, scores a few hits, and all of a sudden becomes one of the more trusted sources covering Liverpool FC. So trusted that the club becomes convinced it has a mole, and sics its press pit bull on the rumormonger—only to discover that he doesn't exist.
Like, I said, read the whole thing. You'll be hooked.
Duncan Jenkins isn't real. I mean, he's real in the sense that there's a real person behind the Twitter account of the "perspiring football journo." But that's not his name, and he's not a reporter, and has no club sources. Duncan Jenkins was a character. In this world of Twitter, people were still eager to believe—especially because Duncan seemed to get so many things right.
How did he know the lineups before they were announced on TV? (He got them from an online forum, he says.) How did he know that Fabio Borini would sign with Liverpool? (He saw Neil Jones at the Echo mention it.) How did he know that Nuri Sahin would join LFC on loan? (A complete guess.)
This is what frauds like Eklund and HockeyyInsiderr do, and if they're good at picking their spots and predictions, their accuracy can be astounding. So it was only natural that Duncan gained a following, and expanded beyond Twitter. He held live webchats at his site. He wrote a few guest columns for Goal.com. People were listening to what he had to say.
Liverpool was listening too. One day, Duncan received a direct message from Jen Chang, Liverpool's director of communications. (If the name is familiar, that's because before Chang joined the club this past May, he was a soccer writer at SI.com, and before that, ESPN.com.) Chang wanted to speak with the man behind Duncan, so they set up a date, and met outside a restaurant in Manchester.
He commented that I looked different in person to my Twitter profile pic. I noted I was wearing sunglasses in my profile pic, and also that I was currently a bit nervous. That was true, I was a bit nervous - it was a surreal situation for me to be in - but I presented it as a joke. He replied, without any humour at all, "Well you should be."
Chang wanted to know who Duncan's "mole" was. I told him the truth straight away, that there was no mole. He found it difficult to believe. This went on for a while and I explained how Duncan worked, that it was all a big ruse. I asked him why on earth were the club so upset/obsessed with me about Duncan, why all this nonsense.
He went on to tell me that Duncan had cost the club money, specifically on the Borini deal. He told me LFC had been involved with difficult negotiations with Roma over the transfer of Borini. He claims Roma asked for absolute discretion from LFC, that if news of the proposed deal got out Roma's fans would be unhappy about the sale of a young Italian international. Talks were then concluded for the day, he said.
Later that very day, Chang claimed, Duncan Jenkins tweeted about Borini to LFC being a genuine possibility. Chang claimed Roma were furious about it, and that they then upped the transfer fee by around £0.3m (£300,000). Chang gave me an analogy - he said it was like promising to take your wife out for meal, only to have an argument before the meal, and by the time you'd made up with your wife you have to agree to take her to a more expensive restaurant.
I then asked him how they caught me. I'd been convinced someone had grassed me up to the club, and I thought I knew who was responsible. To my absolute shock Chang told me he had hired people to find me. He told me what they knew about me, about my family, about my Dad's business (he named the business) and about the work I did. I was absolutely stunned and it seemed clear to me that this much was in fact true - given the level of knowledge he had about me and my family.
He then claimed the cost of pursuing me had come out of his budget, and that that money could and would have otherwise been spent on charitable projects, such as projects involving disabled kids in Toxteth (for what it's worth he actually used the word 'handicapped'). I immediately suspected this was more bullshit, a blatant attempt to emotionally guilt trip me.
He said he suspected someone inside the club of being a "mole", and that he'd run checks on him and expected to find links (emails, texts etc) to me. He said they'd not yet found any. I assured him that they could run the most thorough checks imaginable and they would never find a single link to me - because there weren't any. I urged him to run more checks, to be as thorough as he possibly could, and repeatedly guaranteed to him - indeed I swore on my young son's life - that he would find no links to me because I/Duncan Jenkins did not have a mole inside Liverpool Football Club.
Chang gave "Duncan" an ultimatum. Reveal, on Twitter, that he was a fake, and had no inside information, or "Duncan" would be banned from Anfield for life, and his real information given to angry reporters to smear in the papers.
He said "they will make your life hell, and will turn all Liverpool supporters against you. The papers will say you cost the club you claim to love serious money, that you wilfully damaged the club".
"You know how crazy football fans are", he said, "You'll have dog shit coming through your letterbox, you'll have to take your Facebook page down, you might even have to move house."
He then said the papers would also "ruin your dad's online business".
"Duncan" did not own up, not initially. He writes that since he thought Chang had believed him about not having a mole, he thought there would be no further repercussions. But then Sahin did join Liverpool, as Duncan had predicted—remember, that was just a shot in the dark, that just happened to come true. So Chang followed up, in a series of emails. The last one read:
You had stated you'd tweet what was agreed as an amenable solution.
If it isn't done by end of day today I'm going to assume that you have no real interest in an amicable resolution.
As I already said, I would strongly prefer an amicable resolution.
There were also calls—lots and lots of calls. "Duncan" says he still has "20-odd unanswered calls on my phone" from a single day, continuing until midnight.
Fast-forward to a week later, transfer deadline day. Duncan had remained quiet, hoping for the whole thing to blow over. It seemed like it had—"Duncan" received a call from a third party, passing along a message from Chang. All threats were now off the table, if he was willing to forget about it and move on.
He did. Duncan didn't tweet for more than a month, as rumors flew. To set the record straight—and to bring some closure to one of the truly odd sagas in sports media—"Duncan" laid out the entire story on his blog. His side of it, of course.
When I came out of the meeting with Chang my head was all over the place. I was affronted about being threatened, and having my parents' business brought into it, their livelihoods threatened. I knew the threats were unrealistic and pretty ludicrous, but nevertheless I'd been threatened and intimidated by a board member at the football club I loved.
Liverpool FC have had enough bad PR in the last 12 months to last a lifetime - so did I really want to go public with this? The thought of taking them on was not appealing, and fairly terrifying if I'm honest. Little old me had absolutely no chance against the behemoth that is Liverpool FC with their limitless resources. And why would I want to fight *my* club?
Ultimately I realised it wasn't the club I was fighting. The club is the fans, the goals, the songs. Not some hired Comms Director. During the meeting Chang told me no-one at the club knew he was having this meeting. He came out with a phenomenal amount of bullshit during the meeting, but I suspected this bit to be true. I don't think this was a Liverpool FC thing - I believe it was Chang flying solo. For some reason he had become unbelievably paranoid about Duncan Jenkins and his behaviour was borderline demented.
I don't have anything to gain from this. There are rumours on Twitter, forums etc so I just wanted the truth to come out.
Thanks to everyone who helped make Duncan's little adventure such fun. It was a blast.
For us too.
We've reached out to Liverpool and Chang for comment. We'll update if there's more.
Such a Little Thing Makes Such a Big Difference [Duncan Jenkins]