HAS THE FOOTY INTERNET TAKEN US AS FAR AS IT CAN?
Mickey Blue Eyes
I was living abroad when the internet first became available to the public after years of sole military and secret intelligence or academic use. At first there was a lot of interest from expats because it enabled you to keep in touch virtually instantly with events at home. Naturally this extended to your hobbies, one of which is footy in my case. Prior to that the best you could do for football info was make hugely expensive telephone calls or tune into BBC Radio World Service and trust the signal was a good one. Either that or you waited a day or two for Brit newspapers - which left you at the mercy of notoriously bad journos, usually from a Lahndan Murdoch media ghetto - or you waited for a TV broadcast of short highlights a week later.
All of these alternatives were awful and left you in hobby purgatory. If the radio signal was bad you could die a thousand deaths if it faded just as a penalty was taken or a chance materialised. I remember driving around the desert outside Jeddah in the mistaken assumption it would provide a better signal during a Cup derby. I ended up axle deep in a drift for my trouble. I can smile now but digging out in that heat and humidity is not funny, as any veteran expat will tell you. On another occasion I was poised precariously with my family in a four wheel drive Pajero half way up a two metres wide dirt road in Jabal Al Akhdar Mountains near Wadi Bani Auf in much-loved Oman......when Everton scored a crucial goal. We nearly plunged off the road to our doom. Oh yes, it could be "interesting" alright.
So the internet was something of a blessing. And it had novelty value as well as incalculable potential for learning. But so did TV and we all know what happened there. Still, you could swap footy opinions, at first on mailing lists and then on what quaintly came to be called "message forums." Ultimately mailing lists were a waste of time because you had to wade through streams of utter tripe before you could find something interesting. Some of it was near-illiterate and spattered with the kind of phonetic spelling and non-punctuation that later became textspeak or forumspeak. The forums format was much superior but still not immune to that kind of quasi-hip stupidity. In reality much of it was simply an electronic extension of ugly personality traits, some of which were as tiresome and attractive as Anne Robinson having a heavy period. Sure, it drastically shortened information transmission, but it left you thinking, "So what? Who cares if it takes two days or two minutes? Is it that important?" The common sense answer of course was, "No." Once you knew the information was immediately available you could make a civilised choice how and when you accessed it to suit yourself. The immediacy of it naturally chastened the appetite. Consequently it was obvious that days were numbered for print journalism and its exclusive opinionating. Now, any of us can get an opinion out to a willing readership.
Then came the first fans' websites with free access, which initially were a boon and largely replaced pay print fanzines. Early websites were a real labour of love if fairly crude, though they improved with time. Evertonians were slow to take up the new fad but typically when they did sites started to reproduce like rabbits. Sadly the attrition rate was high because it took a lot of spare time to update and many fans didn't have the time or the inclination to be stuck in front of a VDU for long hours. So the sites came and went, many not lasting more than a few months. Last time I looked, about a year ago, it seemed as though Everton websites had settled down to a core number of varying quality and attitude. Naturally I think Blue Kipper is the best - forum excluded, because all footy forums are basically a basket of rotting fish heads.
For me the novelty value quickly wore off. Initially I posted on some forums and thought it as much of a laugh as it seemed to some others. At least it was until it became obvious too many contributors were very odd people indeed - they actually appeared to think the forums mattered more than the reality; many of them had the sense of humour of a kerbstone or the creepy paranoid intensity of a single issue politician. I even ran a forum for a few months until it began to sound as bad as any of the others, so I terminated it. Subsequently, occasionally I would revisit one forum or another to read only, only to find the same situation as a year or two before. It was like going back to a pub you used to frequent out of nothing more than habit, but find the place was just a dingy hole and, really, had been that way all along, where the same people stood or sat at the same place and said the same thing and kidded themselves (and anyone foolish enough to give them time) why they were saying it. Novelty had merely disguised reality. Then you stopped going altogether and dismissed it for good. It was of no more importance than your last candy floss as a child. You moved on.
When eventually I returned and re-settled in England I made a point of meeting a lot of people who previously were just text streams on a screen. From that I was fortunate enough to make additional firm friends, thus proving there is always something to gain in any new situation. By then I was sending footy opinions to Blue Kipper and they were posting them regularly. The opinions of course were only my own views and no more or less relevant than anyone else's. That suited me perfectly because then we could later indulge harmless footy chat and humour one-to-one, since we were all local and lived in or very near the city. But the gains were made because of a common interest and affection for Everton, football in general and a gelling of personalities, not because of the internet, which was a useful tool and nothing more.
Nowadays I scarcely bother with the footy internet except to check some of the specialist sites for information or to settle an argument. I can't be arsed with internet crazies and their peculiar obsessions, though it is a safe bet you can drive them even further up the wall if you can be bothered to press the right buttons. Logically they should start their own website, but that is probably beyond someone with the intellect of a gnat and the concentration assets of a moth. After Blue Kipper posted one of my opinions every now and then I would get communications from someone I had never met and certainly didn't know asking weirdly, "Was that aimed at me?" Most eerily of all you could get electronic "stalkers" who were plainly very disturbed souls indeed. Even now you get some poor sods mailing me helpfully to tell me what I should think and how I should think it. Why they don't write their own stuff and send it to the Blue Kipper boys is beyond my ken. At one time I even stopped contributing to leave the field clear for others, but precious few appeared. It never seems to occur to the weirdoes that I couldn't give a caber toss about their views one way or the other. And if they don't like my opinions they can always exercise their democratic right to explore their own sphincter. I have far too much to do than waste time responding to their neurotic anal impulses. There are too many family and friends I might be neglecting. Internet technology can never replace the warmth of flesh-and-blood contact......except for those who don't have family or friends. This is why I have never bothered to even look at "new" developments such as Facebook or Twitter or other algorithmic novelty sparklers. After all, apparently they are basically the same function and ultimately just as empty of real meaning as a forum. In short I prefer human beings to hardware and software.
Now that we have made yet another lousy start to the season I am willing to wager (but don't know) the internet loonies have once again managed to loosen their strait jackets and emerge spitting feathers and rabid foam. Some of the insanity that gets spewed out against individuals beggars belief. In truth, that kind of mentality has no real interest in football; they are more concerned with peculiar notions orbiting in the vacuum between their ears. The game of football is the least of it. Maybe this is fortunate for society because at least it keeps them away from the rest of us and out of the custody of the gendarmes or out of a highly expensive secure unit in the wilds of Cheshire.
In reality the internet in its present form doesn't have much more substance to add apart from improved methods of displaying text and moving or still pictures and speed of access. This will only alter when TV broadcasting is formally established as reliable quality streams. Which naturally leads you to ask: so my broadband speed improves by, say, ten or twenty seconds........so what? Is it really worth subjecting your life to that kind of micro-mutability? And will better displays make any difference to the essence of opinions offered? Answer, again surely: No.
Where the footy internet can be of practical use is in support of a single issue, though even that is limited if it cannot summon enough numbers to a meeting and maintain consistent, determined organisation. Example, when I first returned home out of interest I went to umpteen fans' meetings which were supposedly called to have some affect on club policy. Usually these gatherings were preceded by the appearance of a short-lived website full of "revolutionary" rhetoric. Invariably the attendance didn't exceed more than about seventy or eighty and usually they were the same people. There were a lot of uninspired words and some gossip. Then everybody went home. And that was it. What it showed was that electronic "support" is utterly useless without physical presence and a show of solidarity - and you can't get that if someone lives in, say, Godalming or Bermondsey or Ballymena and just posts shite in message forums. The best demonstrations of this were (if my memory is correct) (a) a long-ago call to leave a match at half time, and (b) another long-ago call to assemble outside the ground for some demonstration or other. Unsurprisingly, nothing at all happened. The poor buggers who tried to provoke some action instead ended up like Don Quixote jousting with a windmill......with the windmill as victor. They over-estimated themselves and what a few postings on the internet could achieve. I don't know what happened to them afterwards but it's a safe bet they retired to the nearest ale-house to mutter to themselves and wonder why they weren't greeted as the new Ché Guevara. Plainly, they have a lot to learn about human nature - if they don't, it's a racing certainty they will see themselves as martyrs when all they are is a sort of failed mime of Harold Lloyd and Forrest Gump.
In fact there are plenty examples of successful fans' use of the internet. Ironically, the best one is the website set up by the last government to promote fans football trusts and greater participation in the game. It has hugely helped those fans whose clubs went into administration and then converted to formal trust status. Andy Burnham, Evertonian, take a bow. German fans have also organised themselves brilliantly to stave off attempts to reduce their controlling interest in their clubs, though that has much to do with German political/sports culture. Those fans who are serious, honest and determined in their intentions could do worse than analyse and use the trusts method. They could ready themselves for the inevitable. The present ownership pattern is bound to end at some point in the future when the socio-political tide turns away from the miseries of extreme right wing economics. Those who aren't prepared could well see their clubs fall on difficult times.
So clearly the internet has its limits as well as its benefits. It has wonderful teaching potential that is scarcely touched, but is threatened by the kind of hot air blowing nutters and ludicrous behaviour I have described previously. Future development is up to the fans and how they use it. At the moment the internet is in the Stone Age and still subject to Neanderthal knuckle-dragging tribalism. The sooner evolution takes its course the better. It wouldn't do any harm to give it a nudge every now and then, though. And smile when you do it. Humour always puzzles Neanderthals.