Thursday, April 08, 2010

Unleashing the forces of hell

We are hooligans.

That's those of us with the temerity to talk about football on this strange internet thingy.

Or at least that seems to be the argument Louise Taylor is making on The Guardian blog.
While the internet remains a wonderful invention, football supporters and the web are an increasingly noxious mix. With stewards and police no longer turning persistently deaf ears to racist or homophobic abuse inside grounds, a warped, and militantly vociferous, minority have moved from shouting venom to typing toxic thoughts before pressing Send.
Clearly in the upper reaches of the Championship where Louise Taylor spends her time the stewarding is somewhat more proactive than in Scotland. I also love the "while the internet remains a wonderful invention" line. She may have written this in 1996.

She illustrates her point with a couple of recent examples:
Others, meanwhile, simply prefer making hi-tech mischief. There have been two notable recent examples of such trends. At Newcastle United the alleged altercation between Andy Carroll and Steven Taylor, which left Taylor nursing a doubly broken jaw and feeding through a straw, prompted a surfeit of septic, completely unfounded, rumours on some Newcastle supporters' sites.

If Newcastle's enduring, ill-advised, silence on the Taylor-Carroll affair is a pollutant at the heart of an otherwise renascent club, Aston Villa were dumbfounded last week when fans' forums began buzzing with chatter concerning Martin O'Neill's supposedly imminent departure in the wake of Villa's 7-1 thrashing by Chelsea.

All it took was a post beginning: "I don't know if this is true but ..." on VillaTalk for the rumour to develop "legs" long enough to ensure its replication on national radio stations and newspaper websites.
In fact the only reason I know that Taylor is "feeding through a straw" is because Louise Taylor has dropped that little nugget into almost everything she's written since the fists started flying. If two highly paid players decide to have a fight over a text message then rumours will fly, internet or not.

And what new levels of cyber-hooliganism do we reach when somebody starts a forum post with the words: "I don't know if this is true?" That this was picked up and run as fact says more about the failings of the old media than the dastardly nature of this strange new breed of internet users.

There are total and utter arseholes posting on the internet about football. Nasty, petty, ill informed. You'll also still find them in football grounds up and down the country. Take a look at the Daily Mail comments section though. If we're talking homophobes and racists then Richard Littlejohn probably has a bigger case to answer than people trying to provide an internet presence for people who love football and want to share a love of their club.

And just like I don't need to share a pint with these people after the game, I don't need to get drawn into their fetid little corners of the internet. They make a choice to be idiots. I make a choice to ignore them. That's life.
There is an unfairness inherent in seeing people ridiculed and their reputations trashed by anonymous, factually challenged, half-wits who would probably never dare say "boo" to the object of their vitriol's face. Even worse, the suspicion is that witch-hunts are sometimes manufactured by the same numbskull submitting multiple comments via different usernames.
Is Louise Taylor now so far removed from the experience of the "ordinary" fan that she thinks people don't act like this at games? The internet is only reflecting the same cross section of supporters - good, bad, ugly, ignorant - that fill our stadiums every week.

On the other hand the internet can be a force for good. It's easier for fans to form a collective voice. Would the anti-Glazers campaign at Old Trafford have gathered such pace and visibility if information had to be disseminated by traditional fanzines or a local press frozen by fear and awe in the face of the omnipotent Alex Ferguson?

My own experience? I didn't start this blog to engage in cyber hooliganism (and is name calling and gossip mongering really on a par with hooliganism?) and although I will take a pop at people I try and do it with an amount of humour and only because I do care deeply about the game.

And, touch wood, I don't seem to attract comments from the dark forces of which she speaks. My experience of other Scottish football blogs is much the same and, although there are forums I would probably choose not to go, most share the same mix of fans that you would find "behind the goals."

I am certainly unable to recognise any of Taylor's overwhelmingly negative stereotyping in my travels around Scottish football online.

Ms Taylor concludes by calling for the FA to start an "Online Respect" campaign starring Beckham (chants about his wife were probably only ever heard on internet forums), Rooney and Capello. I think, given the success of their "Offline Respect" campaign, that she's just slipped that in as a joke.

Still, it's nice that The Guardian have provided her with an internet platform on which to rant ignorantly about internet platforms.

For info: Given the subject matter dealt with above a little note on comments to this site. Basically there is no policy as such. Anything that I felt was bigoted, racist etc would not be published and obviously spam gets deleted. Other than that I'm quite easy going and happy to simply publish whatever you write.

The only personal abuse I've received was on Twitter when a Rangers fan called me a "prick" minutes after they won the League Cup last month. According to Louise Taylor he was probably bang on the money.