Lincoln City supporter Keith Duncombe stepped into the murky world of the football internet forum in 1997 and, in spite of warnings from his doctor about the ill-effects that it is all having on his blood pressure, he is still there.
In 1997 I coined my first ever internet “handle”, and I’m still using it today. The reason that I had to do this was to sign up to a new-fangled internet message board for Lincoln City FC. With mild trepidation I made my first post (I can’t recall the content – I’m sure it was of astonishing value, however), and so it was that I took my first step on the road to perdition. Twelve years on, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, I’m still there.
In principle, there’s nothing wrong with internet football forums (but then, in principle, there’s pretty much nothing wrong with selling mortgage to sub-prime borrowers either, and look where that got us); what could be better than a place for fans to come together and exchange their views and opinions? In practice, though, they allow all the worst behaviour, prejudices and ignorance of the pub and terrace to be aired in public and recorded in perpetuity for all to see and, eventually, become received wisdom. Well, they will for as long as the forum isn’t sued out of existence or the owner loses all patience with its members and shuts it down.
Amongst the many crimes against reason and common-sense that have appeared over the years on my own club’s various forums (although I should point out that Lincoln City are certainly not unique here), this is a brief selection that may ring a bell with twohundredpercent’s eminent readership:
We’re Great!/We’re Rubbish! Football forums are the natural habitat of the knee-jerk reaction. If you were a psychologist and wanted to study this phenomenon in all its fallible human glory, a football forum would be the only place that you would need to look. Win a game (against even the most miserably poor opposition) and suddenly you’re world beaters with promotion is a nailed-on certainty. Lose, however, and God help us all. Relegation beckons with a grim certainty and grown men will ruin their entire weekends with displays of petulance not usually seen outside the bedroom of an average thirteen year old.
Sack the Manager! Need I say more? Guaranteed to appear from some nincompoop after two consecutive defeats. My own club recently won the “Sack Race” in League 2, and who knows how long before we return to the tiresome revolving-door policy of the 90s? And that’s without taking into account the additional burden on the wage bill of having to pay off the incumbent every time the team loses three matches in a row.
Sack the Board! Guaranteed to appear from some nincompoop after two consecutive defeats, especially if the manager is popular or the club hasn’t spent a couple of hundred grand that it hasn’t got in the last couple of weeks or so. I could ask: and replace them with whom, exactly? In fact, I have asked this and have yet to get a sensible response after years of trying.
Get Your Cheque Book Out! Usually directed at the Chairman, this perennial favourite ignores the fact that he is just a local business man who has put a fair amount of money into the club already (along with all his time for free, without claiming a penny in legitimate expenses) and actually isn’t really very rich at all. Never mind that, though, he’s Mohammed Al-Fayed to half the numb-skulls who post on the net. He’s richer than me! He should spend all of his disposal income on keeping me entertained! These people also – especially at this time of year – ignores the fact that we can’t buy anybody until the start of January.
Play The Yoof! Now, my own club has recently developed its own youth system quite extensively over the past few years, and with some success. Nevertheless, however, realistically you can’t look to see more than one graduate per year making it to even the fringes of the first team. That’s because League football (even in League Two) is actually rather difficult to do well at and because young players need time to develop and to spend time amongst older players so that they can learn the habits of being a solid professional player. Still, that doesn’t stop the usual brainless chorus of “Play the Yoof!” when some callow sixteen-year old bangs in a few for the reserves in the casual stroll-about that is second-string football.
Boycott the Club! There are clubs at which a boycott may be necessary – a last, desperate throw of the dice to try and unseat a poisonous regime, but ninety-nine per cent of the time, well, Jesus Christ. I’ve actually seen this twice in the last year when the club hasn’t (surprisingly) taken dim-witted advice from some forum chancer. There’s the exit, mate. Don’t smack your arse too hard on the way out, now. There’s a good chap.
Sell the Club! To anyone. Absolutely anyone. Don’t worry about who it is, as long as they promise to throw money at whatever you think the club’s biggest problem is this week, even (or maybe especially) if you don’t really understand that the club’s biggest problem actually is. Usually advocated by fans so desperate for success you can feel their angst oozing out of the screen all over your keyboard.
Little did I know the rank idiocy, short-termism, ill-informed nonsense and sheer mind-numbing brainless stupidity that I would have to endure when I signed up to a football forum back in 1997, and neither could I have fully appreciated a world in which the most ridiculous and angriest contributors would rise above the rest and become the “voices of the fans”. Twelve friggin’ years of it, but God help me, I just can’t stop posting.