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Friday, February 08, 2008

Perspective of a Football (QPR) Message Board Reader

Benjie Goodhart/The Guardian February 8, 2008
My secret addiction to message parlours

Posting on football forums is becoming a family affair - but beware of sibling rivalry if you dare to claim to be your club's No1 fan

I sometimes think it would be easier if I was having an affair. Or if I was caught visiting a house of ill repute. But my secret passion involves scores of other men, with the occasional woman thrown in for good measure. It's not massage parlours I frequent, it's message parlours. I am a lurker, skulking around in the shadows, watching, waiting ...

Football messageboards are brilliant. Well, I can't speak for all of them as I only frequent one - a QPR forum - but while the names and colours change, much else stays the same, regardless of site or team. It's the ultimate expression of democracy - everyone has a say, regardless of colour, creed or spelling ability. All human life is here. At least, all QPR-supporting human life, which I'm prepared to admit might be a slightly smaller sub-strata.

If fans of a football club represent a family (they don't, but the cliché is so established as to be accepted as fact), then the messageboard is that family's nuclear element. We share opinions, jokes, confessions, sadnesses and dreams. Sometimes we know each other's most personal, intimate thoughts - "I never rated Peter Crouch" - without even being aware of the poster's name, unless there really is someone out there called Cheesyhoop. As with all families, there are arguments. Sometimes there's little else. And these arguments can turn ugly. Cyber-bullying is not unknown. People can be reprimanded for the tiniest mistakes - the apostrophe police are everywhere, the Gestapo of Grammar - while failure to spell a player's name correctly can cause mass outrage. You'd be astonished at the variant spellings of Kevin McLeod. And God help anyone who doesn't observe a messageboard's own brand of (takes deep breath and holds nose before typing the word one-handed) netiquette.

There is a constant struggle on messageboards to be the alpha male, top dog, No1 fan. There are always discussions about who's been a fan the longest, with some posters ostentatiously choosing their all-time XI exclusively from players in the 1950s, and who goes to the most games - "You didn't see the reserves play Carlisle away last February, you part-timer! Your opinion isn't valid". But as soon as a common enemy hones into view, the family unites. Woe betide anyone who visits a rival club's site and says the wrong thing. Or, for that matter, the right thing. Last week, I visited the messageboard of a rival club. They shall remain nameless, but they're based quite near Luton. In Luton, in fact. I went to wish them all the best after being placed in administration. I then enquired how ageing striker Paul Furlong, a favourite player of mine, was getting on. Of the dozen-or-so responses I got, the most polite was "Knob off, knobby knob knob, you knob." And here was me thinking nobody on that board would know me!

It is said that the only people politicians dislike more than those in other parties are those in their own party. The same is true of football messageboards - the bitterest rivalries can sprout up between forums for the same club. And nothing causes so much bile as a messageboard that splits into two - think the SDP and the Liberals in the 1980s. Talking of politics, it is almost unheard of for a messageboard not be joined, on occasion, by right-wing nutters, who blame everything from a leaky defence to global warming on the politically correct liberal mob - except global warming doesn't exist. It's an anti-capitalist fantasy dreamt up by liberals. I have been accused of being a Guardianista for heretically suggesting that forced castrations for fare-dodgers isn't ideal. But then I've been accused, on this blog, of being a Daily Mail reader, so you can't win. For the record, I get my political news from here.

Messageboards are not just forums for debate - they are educational tools. Certainly the poster who bemoaned QPR defender Damion Stewart's call-up to the Jamaican team - "How long will he be at the African Cup of Nations for?" - has learned a thing or two. And I am reliably informed by a Scottish friend that he once saw a lengthy discussion on a Glasgow Rangers website on whether it was acceptable for a Rangers fan to drink Guinness. Some said the black stuff must have been invented by a Protestant, while others claimed that vodka and orange is the only true Rangers drink ... sigh. I had hoped to tell you what the standard of debate is like on Manchester United messageboards, but they've gone strangely quiet since the Middle East and swathes of Asia lost their internet connection ... Please note this is a joke, I know you're all true sons of Salford.

I suppose technically I'm not a total lurker - I post from time to time, though not regularly. There are those who seem to have a mystifying ability to hold down a job while posting almost constantly. One poster on my chosen forum has sent 5,078 messages since May, at a rate of 19.53 per day. That's a lot of emoticons. But I don't feel qualified to attend the occasional message board get-togethers before or after matches. This is partly because, safe in my anonymity, I might have implied once or twice that I am something of an Adonis. Hopefully GU will not have posted my picture with this article, so you're spared the grim truth. And if not, for fear of scaring little children bloggers, suffice to say I'm more Fester than Beckham.

Yet the anonymity of the messageboard is under threat. Last October, a judge ruled that posters on Sheffield Wednesday site Owlstalk should have their identities revealed so that the club's chairman and other directors could sue for libel. The days when the internet represented the last frontier of lawlessness, a virtual Oregon Trail, are long gone. Now, posters beware. You can't be too careful. This is why, henceforth, I will only ever post messages about my fondness for Ken Bates, my admiration for Robbie Savage and my approval of Rio Ferdinand's excellent no-Wags policy at Christmas parties. Or I'll just continue lurking. Watching ... Waiting ...
The Guardian

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