Barbarism Begins Online: Football Trolling Gathers Pace
A few days ago I had the pleasure of hearing a short speech from the great socialist doyen and one-time Labour cabinet minister, Tony Benn. In his address, he harked back to his time as the Government’s Minister for Technology, noting a definition of the concept offered to him by a colleague upon his appointment. Technology, and its understanding in Marxian terms as ‘the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them’ was, said Benn’s colleague, what differentiated developed Western economies from ‘foreigners’.
This was, mused Benn, no longer the case. In an age where a mobile phone was the instrument of revolution, technology was now the facility by which the concept of ‘foreignness’ was being dismantled. Its democratising power is, in other words, both a great leveller and a spreader of civilisation.
Even as the profound words passed the old sage’s lips I found myself minded to disagree, at least in one respect. For perhaps the greatest, democratising innovation, the internet, can, on occasion, remind you just how foreign, how alien the behaviour of fellow members of the human race can be.
I’m talking, of course, about internet ‘trolls’. We’ve all heard the TV horror stories about them spamming memorial pages for lost loved ones and firing needless bile at the notorious and nefarious of the showbiz world, but I’ve noticed a recent trend bringing these actions into football – a transferral of the terrace boor to the multimedia platforms of social networks and email.
Before I go on, I must make a disclosure. As someone with a nominal public profile in a very niche field I’ve been on the receiving end of some scorn. I’m not talking about trenchant disagreement with my point of view – I’ve a thick enough skin and an open enough mind to cope with that. But just this week I’ve been called a cretin, been accused of ‘sexual obsession’ with my club’s manager and, due to my personal perspectives, compared to the ‘dog faced boy’ from a circus variety show.
So what, you’re all thinking. Internet trolls aren’t new, and finding them in football forums is hardly a surprise. Them taking a pot shot at a know it all who thinks he can string a sentence together, even less so.
But what if these emboldened spirits suddenly had direct access to the men who make them so worked up – the players, the managers and owners of their clubs?
Well, now they have. And it isn’t pretty.
Witness the following indicative exchange from last weekend…
Carlisle United captain Lee Miller tweeted the following message following the team’s 2-0 last day loss to Colchester:
“Thanx 2 most of the fans 4 all ur support.had 2 amazing seasons here.gutted I woznt fit 4 all of ma time.c wot the future holds. #COYB”
Within seconds he had his first response from a fan who will remain nameless:
“@leemillerscotia LEAVE. NOW’
Miller was clearly upset by the tweet as he shared it with his followers. It was followed by a slew of folks telling him to ignore the prat and passing on their best wishes.
To the uninitiated Lee Miller is, by a handsome stretch, Carlisle United’s best player. He’s scored 25 goals over the past two terms despite missing a large portion of the season just finished. He is the team captain. He is the single parent to three boys under the age of 10 following the death of his wife last year to cancer. He is the type of guy who will happily stop to pass the time with every fan. In short, he’s a role model.
He’s also out of contract and, most likely, now playing at a level out of Carlisle’s pay range.
Yet he seems to like the place. Despite equivocal noises about his future there’s an outside chance he will sign on for the extra year he’s been offered in Cumbria.
One can only speculate what impact reading messages such as that from our friend above might have on his decision, but I think we could make a pretty fair assumption – and it isn’t positive.
You have to wonder what goes through a person’s mind before typing something like that. Surely any right minded individual would stop at ‘this’ll be a laugh’ and think ‘but hang on, what if he actually DID leave, well, that’d be, well it’d be shit is what it’d be’. Seemingly not.
The same goes for those sending players on their merry way with uncherishable epithets as one charmer did to the departing Blues winger Andy Welsh. The left sided scamperer barely set Brunton Park alight but reading the words ‘good, you were fucking shite’ still made my stomach churn a little upon reading. Having an opinion’s one thing, being so direct and seemingly hoping to cause offence seems another entirely.
In some ways, as noted earlier, this is merely a manoeuvre of the traditional pitchside barracker to a more virtual world. And if we’re willing to tolerate a healthy level of abuse disguised as wit at our grounds, why shouldn’t we do the same online?
Well, firstly, we shouldn’t tolerate that abuse. In this era of ‘Respect’ we see all too little flowing from the paying patron to those who are there to entertain – the same folks who are quick to complain over facile issues such as players failing to clap the fans are usually the worst culprits in meting out their hearty, swear pocked bons mots from the touchline. But even here there’s the camouflage of the crowd, in some ways the insults thrown seem less impactful when hurled by a faceless idiot having a bad afternoon pressed against a freezing cold crash barrier.
On the internet, and on Twitter especially, these people aren’t faceless idiots. They aren’t those frustrated by a poor day’s work, they are people who have wilfully made the choice to click a button and waste 30 seconds of their sorry lives to tell Adebayo Akinfenwa he is a ‘fat cunt’. And that is inarguably worse, inarguably more personally hurtful.
That isn’t to say that the two can’t be one and the same. At Carlisle a couple of years ago we had a striker called Craig Curran, he had an iffy scoring record but nobody worked harder. Every week he spilled his guts onto the pitch and he got nothing in return – the fans took against and an unfortunate short fuse led to more than one fiery post-match contretemps. Curran, now playing in Ireland with Limerick, recently appeared on Twitter where he extols the virtues of his current club’s fans and those of ex clubs Tranmere and Chester. He never says a peep about Carlisle. Little wonder when he opens his mentions columns to see a slew of Cumbrians enquiring whether he’s ‘still absolute shite?’
As someone who always had time for him as a player I messaged him myself to say that not all Carlisle fans thought that way. I noticed that, as is the wont with players, he had a habit of retweeting and responding to compliments, but I haven’t heard anything back from him. I’m not so facile as to expect (or care about) that but part of me did wonder whether he thought it might be sarcastic – that the crap he took from the terraces and from the keyboard warriors was so ingrained that a compliment couldn’t be true.
The game works both ways too. Footballers can be just as base and childish as fans. Step forward Danny Cadamarteri, ex of Everton, Huddersfield and Her Majesty’s Pleasure FC, and current Carlisle forward. Following a spell out of the team Cadamarteri took to twitter to complain at his treatment and posted a daft, provocative photo of himself queueing at a job centre.
Unsurprisingly this hardly endeared him to club fans – a striker who’s scored two goals all season and spent a lot of it on the treatment table has little recourse to complaint when left on the bench. One or two fans perhaps went a little far in challenging Cadamarteri’s ego, but he proved willing bait.
On several occasions over the past fortnight he has tweeted ‘calling out’ a young Carlisle fan for a few jokes made at his expense (suggesting that the Cumberland Cup was the biggest achievement of his career was one of the funnier ones). You may ask how this differs from the Lee Miller example.
Unlike Miller, Cadamarteri invited mockery through his childish reaction to being dropped – it suggested he was bigger than the club and no fan of any club ever takes kindly to that. Secondly, there was no direct abuse involved – the young tweeter didn’t even use Cadamarteri’s ‘handle’, just his name, so it’d clearly been found by a man vain enough to search.
Thirdly, he then waged a pretty nasty torrent of scorn, over several days, even after he’d received a direct apology and explanation that it was all in the name of fun. What football fan could fail to be charmed by the following scripture:
24 April: “Has anyone ever heard of @tweeter or know him ? Apparently he’s a carlisle die-hard fan but he has beet tweeting shit about me and recently even tweeted that wining the cumberland cup is the pinnacle of my career . Some fan he is doesn’t even know that I didn’t even play in the game hahahaha what a #topnugget . #knowshisstuff #truecarlislefan #NOT #haveueverseenagame
28 April: “@tweeter morning muppet thought u would of come 2 see me at Brunton yesterday 2 voice your views face2face saaaaan #poopiepants”
One of those two is a 33 year old professional footballer, the other is a daft 16 year old kid.
You do have to wonder whether this actually will impact on the game. In future, will the named wunderkind of the day choose his destination club based on its Twitter follower count? Perhaps not, but the age where a prospective signing visits the club Facebook page to get a feel for the place he may be plying his trade are probably already here.
And in Carlisle’s case I desperately hope that they either don’t bother, or their computer crashes in the process, for they won’t read there a story of sweetness and light about the land of milk and honey but a self-selecting echo chamber of self-important blowhards trumpeting well rehearsed cliché and circle jerking their own narrow-minded opinion with a smorgasbord of likes. ‘You there, what’s all this attempt to engage in reasoned opinion which fails to take a truculent, shelf formed view of things. Why aren’t you blaming the manager? Well have no trouble here! Are you even local?’
English football is plagued by talk of foreigners polluting the game, ruining our national side and even, this week, steering the Newcastle United Toonhorse sideshow into the relegation mire. That is, of course, a load of claptrap leant on by latent bigots to justify their engrained prejudices.
But perhaps it’s also right in a way – ‘foreigners’, in the technological sense, these aliens from outer space who use technology for their own industrial mien and at the expense of those who merely want to love the game, are ruining the game.
To borrow again, as Tony Benn did, from Marx: “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.” Where football and the internet are concerned, that certainly seems to be true.