How To Do Football On Social Media: 2019 Edition

Everybody’s a conspiracy theorist, nowadays, and that’s fine, because it’s not a conspiracy theory if there actually is a conspiracy against us. Everybody’s an expert, whether on lip-reading, racial abuse in foreign languages, or the offside and handball laws. We must never introspect or think for one single second that what we might have just said was stupid, offensive, or just plain factually demonstrably incorrect. Everybody’s a victim, even if they already hold all the cards and have every advantage that life could conceivably offer them, and in those cases the disadvantages that others carry around in their lives don’t matter in comparison with the small amount of perceived offence that we might have momentarily taken. Cognitive dissonance is hereby banned.

Everybody is right all the time (except when they disagree with us, of course), and anything that hints otherwise must always be the other person’s problem, and never our own. Everybody must understand that we now live in a world in which nuance is infinite when it suits us and non-existent when it doesn’t. Verbal abuse is the norm because hey, who cares what effect our volley of sexual swearwords might have when everybody else is piling in. There must be no sympathy for others except for when there must be, and when there must be there is no limit to how mawkish it must be.

Everybody must run to the comments section with their pre-written opinion, or to the replies on social media, where we must never admit any fault, because to do so is a weakness and in the twenty-first century we must never admit weakness. We can disprove any confounded “facts” we like if we believe enough, and we must never allow people with differing opinions to our own the same courtesy that we allow ourselves. We must be shrill, caterwauling, and always on alert for the next thing to get viscerally angry about. We must come up with derogatory names for anyone whose opinion with which we disagree. We must other. We must dehumanise. We definitely must not listen. And we mustn’t listen to the heart beating in our throats or other signs of what this tornado of anger might be doing to us.

There is no room for moderation of opinion, and there is no room for shrugging one’s shoulders or even thinking, “You know, maybe this time I won’t say what I’m thinking publicly.” There can be no moments of beauty that unite us, because a moment of beauty for one person must be a point at which we can berate somebody else. We must understand that correlation does not equal cause, except for when it suits to for this to not be true. We must push everything to the wildest extreme we can. And if all else fails, we have a century and a half of history to refer back to for examples of whataboutery which may not win an argument but will at least derail it.

We must read the headlines but not the story. We must call out before we know the full facts. And when the full facts do come out, we must attempt to debunk them rather than considering that we might have had it wrong all along, if that was the case. Everything that veers from what we already hold to be The Truth, even when it is laid out before us that we’re demonstrably incorrect, must be smothered in a white noise of delegitimisation. We can tell outright lies should we wish to, though, because they cease to be lies if we want them to be The Truth enough. Any article written is only “good” if we agree with its central premise. And anyone who disagrees with us must by default hold the polar opposite opinion, because everything must be viewed through the prism of being right and wrong yet still part of an infinite circular loop of hot takes.

Our club is always right. Our club is always just. Everybody has God on their side. Except for when they don’t, at which they switch from “we” to “they” and become the devil incarnate in the process. There are never two football teams on a pitch during any one match, both trying to win. If we lose, we must blame the referee for failing to be superhuman. We know the laws of the game better than they do, and we are the only people to be trusted on this because the entire punditocracy, the entire media, all the referees, the Premier League, everybody, is biased against our team. We will abuse them until our faces turn puce, unless they do exactly what we want them to do or say exactly what we want them to say, at which point somebody else will start making the same complaints that we were previously making. We will institutionalise this to such a point their jobs becomes impossible, and then we will hector them because their jobs are impossible.

If the referee can’t be blamed, we will hold the manager responsible for every loss of points, even when the deck is loaded against them and despite the fact that no professional club has ever gone anywhere near winning every match throughout the course of a season in this country. We must hurl abuse, because the louder we are the more likely we are to be heard, and the world no longer cares whether how coherent any particular shouting match becomes. The concept of giving one’s best is no longer relevant to anything. We must want it, and we must want it enough. We will demand that our managers lie, if telling the truth pricks our bubble. Our clubs must spend tens of millions of pounds whenever we think they should on shiny new players on the basis that we deserve better than this, even if what we already have is considerably better than everybody else. We deserve it.

Losing a football match is a character flaw. There is no space for honest mistakes, and there is little for collective responsibility. There can be no such thing as a bad day at the office. We must reach for our thesaurus to express how angry this failure on the part of others has ruined our self-image. We all deserve to be pushing for a play-off place until we’re in one, at which point we all deserve automatic promotion. And if we’re in an automatic promotion place, then we deserve the league championship. Nothing must ever be “good enough.” Our lives must be extreme rollercoasters of emotion, because no-one is allowed to enjoy the good times unless without the authenticity of having suffered as much as humanly possible when we haven’t been winning every week.

Winning isn’t enough unless those who lose suffer, too. “Disappointment” isn’t strong enough. They must be humiliated. Berated. Owned. They’re not even real people unless they’re on the same side as us, after all – just pixels on a screen. We must let competitiveness seep into everything we do. We can’t even allow our children to enjoy playing football, not when there’s the tiniest possibility that they could be worth millions of pounds to us one day, and if that means verbally assaulting a volunteer referee on a park pitch on a Sunday morning, then so be it. Hell, we might even film it and upload it to Facebook or Twitter. It’s good for the #clicks, the #numbers, and the #engagement.

Because that’s what it all comes down to, really, isn’t it? It’s all a competition. It’s not a pastime that we should try to enjoy. It’s not a way of building a sense of community when most other community institutions have faded from view. It certainly doesn’t have the potential to make the world a nominally better place, should it choose to apply itself to the task. It’s a competition, and it’s a competition that we have to win. Because winning is everything. And we are everything. We must win, because we are important.

It’s enough to drive you crazy.