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The Mark Catlin column: The rise of online football

In the ‘old days’ us fans met once a week at the match, talked about it in the pub afterwards and on the way home, and pretty much that was it (unless we bumped into fellow fans during the week) until the next game.

I often remark that ‘in my day’ we never ‘slagged off’ players, or the manager, but is this really true? OR was it more of a case that after a poor performance you had a beer down the pub, everyone had a moan, but after a day or two your feeling pretty positive again and looking forward to the next game all optimistic and forgetting about the poor performance that had just passed.

Now, in an ‘online’ World, with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, various fans forums and messageboards at our disposal, supporters are in constant touch with each other, and throw away remarks talked about over a pint are instead there online in perpetuity. At one time you would talk in a pub with your circle of friends and say X player had a bad game, or is just not good enough for whatever team you support.

Now, if this is posted on a forum (for example), it can effectively become the modern day equivalent of a public flogging, and it’s very often not a pretty sight!

It’s not just the players that can become the victim of an online ‘witch hunt’, it can now be the manager, his assistant, board members, goalie coach, groundsman, club staff, physio even your own supporters can come in for stick, in fact anyone and everyone that is associated with YOUR club. Don’t you just LOVE free speech!

New online mediums

Personally I have always accepted that the new online mediums are just extensions of days gone by down the pub. I have no real problem whatsoever with a supporters view or opinion on club matters, whether this be how a player/manager, or the club in general is performing (however draining and negative these remarks can sometimes be).

My biggest gripe with these new mediums is when rumors become online ‘facts’ which can have a generally damaging, negative, influence on the club. If you read something about someone on a messageboard for example, this can shape your opinion of that particular person, and if the original ‘intel’ is wrong then this can stain your views and opinions regarding that person forever. Someone can throw in the grenade, walk away into the online sunset, and just let the grenade explode leaving a trail of devastation behind it.

It seems to me that most supporters, at almost all clubs, tend to look at things from a ‘glass half empty’ perspective, rather than a ‘glass half full’ viewpoint. It takes many, many games for a fan to say ‘bloody hell, we’re brilliant’, whereas even after just one or two bad results and performances there seems to be a ‘we’re crap’ attitude!

I am not ‘having a dig’ in any way, shape or form, I think it’s always been the same, it’s just that online mediums now give supporters the perfect platform to vent frustration in a very public environment. Only a few weeks ago a Premier league manager was sacked and partly blamed his demise on being ‘poisoned’ from those inside and outside the club, naming ‘Tweeting’ as a contributing factor.

Despite various football bodies constantly advising players on how to act in the new online social media World, players themselves are pretty easy bait for supporters wanting to ‘wind them up’. When things are going well everyone want to follow them, or become an online ‘friend’. A few bad games or results later and the mood can turn pretty nasty, and it takes a big man to ignore some of the things thrown at some players after a poor performance.

Spiral out of control

The problem is that what can start off as banter can very quickly spiral out of control. A supporter can get under the skin of a player, he reacts, and before you know where you are the player is engaged in open online warfare with supporters of the club that he is playing for! The worst thing is it is very rarely reported what ‘sparked’ the row, just the end result of a players rant against a fan.

Just like being down the pub, or even walking down the street, players need to walk away from ‘trouble’ as they are representatives of the club, but let’s be honest if you was being abused in the street, in full view of the watching public, OR in your line of work, could you just ignore it or would you want to have a ‘pop’ back?

I am not by any means defending players that do ‘cross the line’, but just putting across the view that because someone is an employee (or director/chairman!) of a football club does not make them immune from having emotions, and sometimes feeling the need to defend themselves.

My last observation on this topic is that supporters, on the whole, are from a working class background, and working class background or not the economic situation for people generally is pretty difficult at the moment. Players, in the eyes of many fans, are now rich and overpaid (and this perception runs throughout the leagues).

If a fan spends what little disposable income he has going to watch a game, and the team gets beat, or plays badly, then rightly or wrongly I do believe that this frustration boils over, and the new online World gives the perfect platform for many to vent their frustration.

Safeguard a prosperous future

It’s a shame if this is the case because my experience is that yes, players, like all of us, want to safeguard a prosperous future for themselves and their family, but as soon as they cross that line on a Saturday afternoon they give 100% to the cause.

It does not matter how much, or how little they are on, very few (if any) players that I know, or see at other clubs, give anything less than 100% to the club that they are employed by. Players naturally have bad games, or months, or even longer periods, its football, but take a trip home on a team coach after a defeat and one thing hits you, just how badly players take it.

I know players that can’t sleep, constantly replaying the game over and over in their heads, so to then come home and have your own supporters openly criticizing you on a public forum must REALLY hurt.

Whatever the ‘pros or cons’ of this new online environment may be, one thing is for sure, it’s here to stay and will undoubtedly become a huge part of how supporters interact with players and the club for many years to come so we had all better get used to it!

By Mark Catlin, Bury FC director

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