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Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Social Media: Football Fan's Forums

The latest publication of my 'On the Social' column from the Bristol City matchday programme, Red Alert: Portsmouth, August 20th 2011

There is no news like bad news. The adage has proven particularly fitting this week as there has been a tremendous surge in online activity involving City fans following our opening two defeats. For a number of years now the radio phone-in has been an avenue for a few to express disappointment in performances and results, but for the masses, Twitter and fans’ forums, as well as the comments sections of online regional papers are now readily accessible. I’ve even noticed a couple of extra bloggers pop up this week. 

It has always been this way of course. Poor results fifteen years ago would have caused the same consternation and unrest amongst fans, however once a few pints had been washed down on Saturday evening, that would have been as far as the discussion went. Lost in a cider-induced Sunday morning hangover, perhaps relived slightly on reading the match report in the Evening Post on Monday evening, but then forgotten, wrapped up by match-day optimism by the following Saturday. Now however, the disappointment and criticism can be widely aired instantaneously (during the match for many) and is accessible to everyone.

Forums in particular can be feverish. They are largely uncensored and views on the team, the formation, the players, the manager, the coaching staff, the board of directors – probably even the mascots – are analysed in great detail. Many of those who try to stay positive are slated for being overly optimistic and blind to what is really going on at the club.

Fans argue and bicker and pretty much divide themselves into camps, often leading to long-standing arguments. Tempers can boil over, insults are exchanged and I wonder what might happen if some of these simmering participants ever bumped into their adversaries? Fortunately, most of these sites are facilitated virtually anonymously.

The net result of all this, is that the unhappiness languishes, the feelings of negativity continue right up until the next good performance and pressure builds to fever-pitch rapidly. A player whose performances have been criticised needs to make only one misplaced pass to suffer again in the next match. Managers are given an ever-decreasing window of opportunity to achieve success before a large, vocal minority start demanding change. Chairmen are under the cosh for not investing enough, or not reacting to the on-field troubles quickly enough.

It is, of course, unstoppable in this modern age, and if anything will only become more prevalent. The interactive culture surrounds us now, and just as shows such as Big Brother and X-Factor have encouraged members of the public to show their hand, the chance to easily air criticism and call for change has enticed many fans, previously discreet with their opinions, out of the woodwork. 

Can it be stopped? No. 
Should it be stopped? No. 

However damning the critics, we live in a country where the right to freedom of speech is cherished and supporters pay a lot of money to watch their team and are entitled to air their views.

Fans need to be mindful of the impact of these negative comments in the immediate lead up to a game however. One thing that hasn’t changed is that when a team is struggling, they need their fans behind them more than ever. That used to be guaranteed for each and every match, but does not always appear to be the case these days. Could this be partially attributed to the world of online interaction?

The Exiled Robin

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