20 Years of Fan Culture Part 3

Posted by on Dec 3, 2010 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments
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In the final part of his highly subjective ramble, Lanterne Rouge attempts to bring the story up to the present day, with a certain amount of navel gazing inevitable and for which he partly apologises. Parts 1 and 2 of the story can be accessed here and here.

If the years following the construction of the Mandeldome saw a continuation of the commercialization of fandom, then this process was heightened by the liberating nature of the internet. That adjective can be read in two ways of course, for its meaning can be applied both socially and financially. Supporter involvement quickly reached a crescendo with message boards and phone-ins showing no sign of plateauing in number. Indeed, the powers-that-be welcomed Joe Public with open arms: with ever more mindless results and culminating in James Corden’s car crash of a show during the South African World Cup.

Collusion with the media seemed also to blunt fans’ willingness to mobilize politically, with the honourable exceptions of the vigorous anti-MK Dons campaigns, Let’s Kick Racism out of Football, Stand Up Sit Down and other blends of homespun and official involvement including supporters trusts. Less appealingly, a rash of fawn plaid threatened to reintroduce hooliganism in the early noughties, only to subside like the pimples dotting the wearers’ cheeks. If only the authorities’ attempts to foist the theme from The Great Escape upon us had been met with silence; instead, fans willingly participated in the organised fun.

Just as the game threatened to be drowned out by yet another caller denouncing Mike Dean or Roy Keane, Web 2.0 came along. An initial golden period saw every match you’d ever enjoyed recreated on youtube, until the intellectual property police intervened, with facebook and twitter providing room for yet more voices to expound. But, as shirking social networkers were publically humiliated by HR departments around the country, and the information overload became an inundation, a successor phenomenon to the fanzine had arrived.

Blogs started off as online diaries but soon became indistinguishable from websites in general. Some existed alongside the ever popular boards, some were lone wolf ventures. But this was a unique movement: characteristics included tip top production values (the zenith of which came with Run of Play), an almost entirely not for profit ethos (barring the odd exception such as Paul Tomkins’ Liverpudlian offering) and an often unabashed reliance on secondary sources: for this was a trend whose instigators didn’t see a problem with non-attendance on a game day.

Self-publishing was now easy and the blogosphere’s successes are still mounting, particularly following the demise of the controlling and ultimately malevolent Rivals network. A globalized fashion, with a strong North American contingent, the depth of politico-cultural analysis often knocked conventional media into a cocked hat. The theory of the long tail allowed supporters to read carefully prepared studies of the Port Vale or Perugia back four (far more interesting than yet another William Gallas interview in The Times on a Saturday morning), an independent spirit echoed those fanzine days and the medium’s superiority to message board hectoring was stark. All was accompanied by an extraordinary intelligence of writing in club blogs like BHaPPY (check out the paragraph 3 of a seemingly mundane report here), the sadly now defunct SmogBlog and Black & White & Read All Over as well as generalists such as A More Splendid Life and the aforementioned Run of Play.

Black and White’s Ben feels there is a danger of overstating the importance of blogs and certainly, the stats are still overwhelmingly dwarfed by forums (24 pages of comment had built up in reaction to England’s failed World Cup bid within a couple of hours of the announcement on December 2nd on the Plymouth Argyle board, Pasoti). News is never broken on a blog and the fact the modest amount of effort needed to hold forth on one’s favourite topic often pales into insignificance beside the labour of love that is the fanzine. But it’s still been a worthy effort to recapture a voice for fans, with examinations of the financial travails of the game an area where bloggers shine in particular.

So where from here? In a masterly six part series that recently appeared on Pitch Invasion, Richard Whittall concluded with a call for a partnership between old and new media in collaboration with advertisers: an honest attempt to acknowledge that web-wide problem of how to make money. Already, this site among others has benefitted gratefully from publicity from The Guardian Online and elsewhere and a communal attitude has arisen that has been a pleasure to take part in.

Whether the majority of blogs are distinct or indeed plain good enough to turn a profit is doubtful and fanzines, despite the cover charge, were never more than a sideline for their founders at best. There is also a refreshing modesty that leads many to spurn the label “journalist” (although both Lloyd and myself are fully paid up NUJ members). Having a relatively fulfilling day job eases the financial pressure and although there’s nothing wrong with trying to make it all pay, fulfilment of the happiness index is for now the main aim, with a hope that the odd article such as my fellow blogger Lloyd’s recent publicity for Scunthorpe United’s terraces predicament may strike a tone and make a difference.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. gerschenkron
    December 3, 2010

    Excellent series of posts.

    Only fans of Ingerlund “willingly participated in the organised fun” as regards THAT song.

    In order to successfully build a paywall around a blog I think you need to truly add something that readers couldn't get anywhere else on a regular basis about a topic that people either need to know about to do their job (thus it's on expenses, e.g. FT.com) or people love (e.g. TomkinsTimes) and as you say “Self-publishing [is] now easy” which means you might have to pay a fee to filter out the crap and be assured of top line posts every week.

  2. Lloyd
    December 4, 2010

    Would certainly agree that the net and social networking sites have had a liberating effect. You'd be overstating things if you started making comparisons with Iran, Burma, etc. but as a Plymouth supporter, they’ve been a Godsend over the past few weeks.

    Whereas in print-only times, it would have been up to the local media and irregular issues of our fanzine to probe the powers that be, our crooked board are being exposed for all they are today. Indeed, the admirable pressure that the Guardian has exerted through its Digger column has been nicely complemented by good work from our friends at 200%. Pasoti, our most popular messageboard, keeps things ticking over nicely, and even those fans who might be described as 'head buriers' are being made aware of all that's going on upstairs.

    Cardiff and Leeds fans have been able to contact us with their warnings about Ridsdale, and we've been able to raise awareness of our plight via twitter. A Trust, still very much in an embryonic stage, has been discussed and a meeting proposed all in the space of a few days via Facebook amongst other websites.

    But will any of it actually have an effect other than merely isolating supporters further from the board? Watch this space…

  3. Bill Turianski
    December 4, 2010

    This was an enjoyable read, Lanterne Rouge. Being from the USA, I don't have much insight into the majority of the topics covered, but will say that I have come to realize how great When Saturday Comes is (I subscribe), and that FourFourwo has gone downhill in an alarming way in the last couple of years, becoming too full of… advertising features masked as actual articles, sycophantic coverage of prominent figures, and generally shallow articles. And they got rid of those great round-table discussions among topically-connected supporters. I will only buy FourFourTwo for it's season preview issue now.

    Btw, congrats on making the Guardian.co.uk's 'Our favourite things this week' section, LR !

  4. William
    December 5, 2010

    The conclusion to a very thoughtful footballing triptych. Some have attempted to divide fan-generated content into different camps. One method, which came about in the 80s and 90s, was to talk about 'new football writing' and that produced by 'the lads'. The former tended to be contemplative, searching for a context to the fan's relationship with the game (like Hornby). The latter style would be more direct and assertive of football's masculine image. It might explain some of the tension between WSC and a fanzine such as Red Issue – at least that's the impression I have. I wonder if it might be possible to draw a similar distinction between blogs and message boards.

    After reading part 3, I must say I'm pleased that a lot of the sites mentioned are already familiar to me. Refining one's blogroll takes a lot of time. There's so much to read out there. It's what makes getting noticed so difficult, as I know only too well, but as ever it's the quality of the content that will bring about the breakthrough.

    @Bill FourFourTwo has gone downhill recently, I agree. The recent Pele issue included some interesting pieces but was a thinly-veiled promotion for the attempted rebirth of the NY Cosmos.

  5. Lanterne Rouge
    December 6, 2010

    Thanks fellas. I am sure there are plenty of good blog and websites (and especially fanzines) that really deserved a mention in my posts – space was naturally a consideration.

    I think you are right William – the WSC influenced strand of thinking definitely seems to predominate in the blogs – and for the moment, readership levels are still pretty modest of course. Increased exposure thanks to the Guardian listing will help of course.

  6. The Jet Set
    December 7, 2010

    Good Stuff!

    Hopefully fans will continue to shape football. Thankfully where there's a will there's a way and the more intelligent stuff will still come out.

    I have hope in the future because most fans see through the bullshit.

  7. Lanterne Rouge
    December 9, 2010

    Cheers Jet Set – your site is certainly at the vanguard too – I'm a big fan.


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