20 Years of Fan Culture Part 3
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.