"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Bristol City Programme Update: Leeds & Palace

Unfortunately a manically busy few weeks at work has disrupted the normal flow of posts to the site so here's a chance to catch up with a couple of my recent pieces for the Bristol City programme, Red Alert:

Firstly from the match against Leeds on February 4th, a guide as to some of the best footballers to follow on Twitter - many of the programme readers are either new to Twitter or aren't a member so it was a bit of an insight as to what they could expect.

The second offering was for the Crystal Palace game (Valentine's Day) and is a view as to why I set up my blog in the first place, whilst also touching on some reasons why other writers have recently hung up their keyboards.

Football follows on Twitter

With more than 50 million users logging in every day and a billion tweets per week, it would be easy to get lost in the jungle that is Twitter. If you’re new to the game and have only recently signed up, or have been active for a while but still see only confusion and mystery where others see timelines and hash-tags then this might be for you.

The players:
Whilst most new football fan users instantly cotton on to the fact that the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Savage and Stan Collymore have millions of followers between them and join like sheep, their entertainment factor is generally average at best with Rio largely using his notoriety to promote a series of off-the-field interests for instance, whilst Savage has reined in the wind-ups and outbursts that were a feature of his early days on Twitter since becoming a TV star, perhaps mindful of the public image he is now expected to maintain.

Best of the rest? Michael Owen (@themichaelowen) sporadically intermits the tedious ‘straight from the PR coaching course’ with an outburst unbecoming of the man we think we all know. A number of journalists, Piers Morgan (regularly) and even a fan who questioned his ability have received bucket-loads of reaction and although he stops short of personal abuse and swearing the replies are stinging and unexpected.
It’s often the case that some of the more random player accounts are the most entertaining. Arsenal’s Emmanuel Frimpong (@Frimpong26AFC) is fairly carefree without ever going over the line, in particular enjoying winding up Spurs fans about their lack of success in the past couple of decades when compared with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners, whilst further down the leagues Peterborough’s Gabriel Zukuani (@Gabs50Zakuani) enjoys riling opposition fans like few others and much time can be spent scouring for other players who are on the network for a laugh and not just to tweet standard interview fare.

The Spoofs:
Although it may seem a bit odd, people spend a lot of time and effort setting up accounts and pretending to be famous ‘somebody’s’. The ones who try and fool people into believing they are actually the person are just a little sad (someone set up as Nicky Maynard in August and after laying the ground with a few believable comments, eventually began insulting Bristol and it’s residents).
However, those that are blatantly spoofs and take on an almost Spitting Image like characteristic of their imitation are often highly amusing and followed by hundreds of thousands. The most famous is probably a take-off of Sam Allardyce (@TheBig_Sam) who presents a gritty, foul-mouthed Northerner stereotype whilst Fabio Capello, Jamie Redknapp and Darren Fletcher are amongst the many others parodied.

Bristol City:
On a more local level then City’s official Twitter account @bcfctweets is obviously a must, whilst Head of Media, Adam Baker @bean_head adds detail to all the breaking news from Ashton Gate. Other employees are also best followed to catch all the angles you need from your favourite club. The best way to find them is probably to see who is followed by @bcfctweets – most of them can be found here.
The senior players at City have been slower than most around the country to log on with only Jon Stead (recently returned as @JonStead9), Brett Pitman (@BrettPitman34), Martyn Woolford (@MartynWoolford) and Yannick Bolasie (@YannickBolasie) regularly tweeting members of the first team squad, but the younger members are at large in numbers. Loan signing Chris Wood is also active and can be found @officialcwood.

And finally, of course, there are the fans. The 200 or so members listed in these pages are only the tip of the iceberg – they’re the ones who have ‘opted in’ on the page but there are hundreds more out there. Some you won’t agree with, some give you FAR too much information on their personal lives whilst others simply tweet too often and you’ll get bored of them clogging up your timeline (probably including myself!), but by & large it’s a great community and a way to get to know many more of your fellow fans.

Comments and reactions to blogs

As someone who spent many years discussing all matters Bristol City on forums, primarily the BBC’s now-defunct 606, part of the reason I set up my blog was that when I got involved in topics I tended to want to write in more depth than most would bother reading amongst the multitudes of one-line put downs and smart remarks.

I found myself cutting huge swathes out of my comments from time to time to fit in and thought to myself, why should I do this? Why do I argue with my fellow fan on the internet? I have little doubt that had these discussions happened in person we would argue a couple of points back and forth before eventually agreeing to disagree, nodding sagely as we went our separate ways and back to our pints of cider. Yet on the forums arguments raged for days, weeks even. Many of the posts on the main City forum, One Team in Bristol, have had thousands of views, some even tens of thousands with a considerable number sadly heading towards personal abuse and a certain lack of dignity.

Forums of course have their place – if fans want somewhere to vent their frustrations then why not hammer something out on a keyboard, at least perhaps it helps it get out of the system by the following week’s game. As I have touched on previously on this page, this doesn’t always help, with frustrations not allowed to rest and be forgotten but you know what you’re going to get when you log on.

The intention of my blog was a more reasoned and balanced approach to discussing all matters City. I’d had enough of arguing the toss with people who clearly had only one view on things – not that those people aren’t entitled to a view, or are perhaps even right, but I wanted to analyse topics in more detail, provide a more thoughtful, independent view. I hope I largely achieve that, but what is noticeable is that whilst readers seem to appreciate it (that’s what they tell me anyway!), very few comments are left on any posts, even when views touch a thousand or more.

I’ve found that blogs tend to be an outlet for those that enjoy writing rather than necessarily wishing to enter into debate. Often it’s a starting point for those trying to break into journalism. Whilst an article may result in a handful of comments, generally readers tend to enjoy (or otherwise) and move on. Undoubtedly the birth of Twitter and the insatiable demand for smartphones has helped greater reading capacity – posts are now read on the train, in the pub, at half-time perhaps and almost certainly in the toilet – as information is readily available anywhere and everywhere. Yet maybe that limited window means people don’t have time to reply or comment?

However, without this feedback how do you know what you’re writing is any good? How do you know you’re writing about the things people want to read about? Is it the case that people don’t rush to reply on ‘balanced and reasoned’ pieces and things need to be controversial to incur a reaction? The most commented post I’ve received was a piece in which I defended want-away striker Nicky Maynard and his right to choose what he did and when he did it. Some of my views caused (understandable) consternation and almost got onto the forum-esque track (thankfully it didn’t quite get there).

So is it a case of being careful what you wish for? Quite possibly. A very talented writer has recently closed his Doncaster Rovers website ‘Viva Rovers’ because of the single-minded and often personal abuse he started to receive on every article. He held (holds) certain views on the club’s new ownership structure and articulated them. One particularly well-argued post was being used by the author on his c.v. to try and gain a job in the world of writing. An unstemmed flow of negativity and personal criticism followed on the website’s comments which unfortunately went beyond straight-forward debate and rarely actually made comment on that post itself. Potential employers would have seen language used about the writer that would have hurt anyone. The author, to his credit, refused to block the comments or remove them but has had enough and nearly a decade of fine writing for the public has come to an end.

A large part of the reason forums thrive, because they’re anonymous and people can hide behind usernames. Writing a blog or for a website on-line leaves you open. It’s fun and enjoyable most of the time, but encouraging comments and feedback should be done with hope rather than fear. And by all means, criticise the writing style or the views of the author but do it constructively. After all, that’s what good old-fashioned debate is all about, isn’t it?

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

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