A look at fan-culture on social media and ‘Football Twitter’
‘I’m just one of the people who stands on the kop. They think the same as I do, and I think the same as they do. It’s a kind of marriage of people who like each other.’ – The Godfather of LFC, Bill Shankly, once said that. It’s nice isn’t it?
What the great man didn’t foresee, though, was the advent of social media. This is the place where everyone gets a voice – a hotbed of hyperbole, reactionism (among all of the other -isms), anger, rage, joy, hatred, and Piers Morgan. Friendships are forged and fractured on social media; news broken, disputed, copied and pasted; teams leaked, identities stolen and people ruined on social media. And what happens when you tie a thing like this with something as volatile, sensitive, and world-famous as professional football?
I’m a Liverpool supporter, and always have been. Ever since my old man dragged me from my Ninja Turtles toys all the way to south London to watch Wimbledon play the Reds at Selhurst Park in ’97. My Dad is actually an Everton supporter (the poor bastard) but wrangled free tickets for this one and off we went. He maybe hoped that seeing a team in blue would help push me towards his beloved toffees.
What ever the plan was (and despite Wimbledon winning), it failed. I caught the bug and I was a Red from that day forward. I remember nothing of the game, only the horrible journey getting there and being blown away by the atmosphere of live Premier League football. As it turned out, this was Michael Owen’s debut and I witnessed his first professional goal.
Anyway, the reason I’m giving you the life story is to provide a little context. I was one of countless young lads of my generation – absolutely obsessed with football. I had my team, my mates had theirs, it was war. The playgrounds, pitches, that place ’round the back of the garages, and later, the pubs – were our battlefields. What is now called ‘banter’, was prevalent, and it was glorious. I vividly remember calling a man I’ve come to respect massively, Sir Alex Ferguson, a donkey nonce gaylord numerous times.
So what’s the point?
Well, Twitter is a bit like this. But on Twitter, the people aren’t necessarily joking, and you have no idea who these people are. When my old mates would call Houllier, Gerrard, Hyypia (my hero), and Rafa useless shit-turds, I could stomach it. These were my mates, they were people I knew, enjoyed being around and, usually, respected. They weren’t voicing these views with the intention of being liked – that wouldn’t make sense. They said these things because it was expected. It was infantile, ludicrous, but most of all, it was funny. Today, on social media, the opposite is true. They might say things like –
Now, I might be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure I’m not – this person isn’t joking. They’re talking about one of the greats, a player that comes around once in a generation, an absolute hero. They are talking about a player that he/she (probably he) is almost certainly too young to have ever seen play during their prime. And not only that, they’re trying to quantify the ability of one footballer in comparison to another (Lampard was another great, for the record). It makes absolutely no sense.
But why do they do it?
Well it’s all about those hearts, baby. Those ‘likes’, or ‘favourites’ as Twitter once called them, give us a little shot of dopamine. When our tweet “bangs” (*shudder*), we are basically reveling in the same feeling we get when a room erupts in laughter at one of our top-drawer jokes, or when we shoot skag into our gooches. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but in much the same way as receiving hand-relief from ‘Mrs Brown’, these likes are addictive. It’s probably related to our need, as humans, to feel socially accepted – because when we were living in the caves, the outcast of the group who told the worst jokes was the next one served on the buffet table; that’s my best guess anyway, science isn’t exactly a strength of mine.
So when one of these creatures realise how to obtain this sacred ‘like’, they then need to understand the best way to maintain their rotten standards. It’s practically the Holy Grail for these urchins, the secret to unlock the universe, the key to all of that sweet, sweet attention – it is of course, controversy.
The post above doesn’t deserve rebuttal or disputing, it’s clearly a steaming sack of shite. And this is so often the case. They are always throwaway comments made solely in the desperate hope of recognition within fan-made communities on twitter. This tweet might get picked up by fellow United supporters, or supporters of other rival clubs, and Mr ‘elitemartial’, like the local village junkie, will get the attention he needs to survive. I would hazard a guess that Anthony Martial, an excellent player and, seemingly, a decent bloke, would be ashamed to have his name associated with an idiot. But such is social media.
So like I said, I love Liverpool. And like every club, we have our own strange bunch of oxygen starved individuals. But guess what, I’m not going to talk about them. I’m hugely biased, have my own addiction to positivity and besides, I’ve blocked them all. What I’m going to talk about is a trend I’ve noticed, that isn’t part of the ‘Football Twitter’ cunts cults, but is significant, and fascinating enough for me to take a look at.
Last week, I sent out a tweet of my own –
I was inspired to ask this question to my swarm of followers (405 and falling) because I was reading a lot of interesting opinions and thoughts on these four players. I wanted to see what Liverpool supporters really thought, away from the ‘football twitter’ soundbites/eggy brain farts that were polluting my timeline.
So with the assistance of a retweet from one of the big boys of Liverpool twitter, I received a fair few responses. Here are a small selection of the original tweets that had me rattled –
There are a couple more, but we’ll get to those later.
You may have noticed that these posts have no likes or real responses at all, this is what sets them apart from the type of twitter fuckery I explored earlier. These aren’t comments made for the sake of controversy or the quest for attention, they are real opinions. I can respect that. We are all entitled to them and we are all entitled to call out others’ when their opinions stink.
I’ve written before about my view that supporters are supposed to support, and how the difference between a fan and a supporter is positivity. I wrote a comprehensive piece on Karius when he was being torn to shreds by his own fans, putting forward a case (proving really) that he is a far better player than he was given credit for (*understatement alert!*).
So now that those shameless plugs are out of the way, I can get to the bloody point – I think that it pays to be positive.
With this in mind, I asked my question. The responses I received varied in style and level of detail, but they were all similar in one, rather annoying, way. They were all positive. I was pleased, naturally, but this didn’t suit my agenda. I needed negative hyperbole, not positive truths.
My favourite response came from a user who calls herself EkyShirley (go follow her, she’s a good’un). Her answer was deep, and comprehensive enough to write an article of her own; so I’ll paraphrase –
Solanke, she said, is “one for the future…a good presence in the box…“, he “needs games…I hope he is provided them in the cups“.
Adam Lallana “is one of the first names on the team sheet when fit” and “integral to the high pressing and attacking football we play“.
She said Henderson “had very big shoes to fill as captain after Gerrard“, is “underrated…and does more than he is given credit for“.
And Lovren “on his night, is the best man on the pitch“, “consistency is his biggest issue” but “much improved“.
How dare this person be so rational and present these balanced opinions? And on the internet, of all places. The sheer audacity.
Another decent response came from user Dave Smith.
According to Dave, Hendo is “underrated“, “a good leader” with “a fantastic eye for a pass” but “should score more“.
Lovren “has improved a lot since van Dijk’s arrival” but “needs to improve to stop Joe Gomez taking his place“.
Lallana “is a great squad player” and “very comfortable on the ball“.
On Solanke, he simply stated “not good enough“, but I suspect he couldn’t really be arsed with this one.
Again, this is the general trend of the responses I received. Honest, balanced, fair, rational and positive; oh sweet positivity. But where is the social media hyperbole I was harping on about?
That second post is part of a very good answer. It’s far too long to post here but you can read it in the replies to my original tweet. I also loved the first tweet, it was possibly my favourite individual response. Yes it’s completely unrealistic, exaggerated and almost certainly untrue – but it made me smile. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re going to present hyperbolic statements, make them positive ones.
I truly appreciated the responses I received, even if they did ruin my plans of mocking all of the miserable-arses I expected to hear from. It demonstrated to me the real, and intended reason for using Twitter (and incidentally, the reason I signed up myself) – it is a wonderful tool for expressing yourself, interacting with like-minded people, and sometimes debating/arguing with gobshites. If you manage to ignore (or block) those you simply don’t want to hear from, much like you would ignore gobby John from the pub who tells the same dead joke over and over again, you can begin to enjoy social media for what it is best used for.
Earlier I mentioned that there were two more tweets that riled me a little, and led to the construction of this judgmental, over-the-top, hypocrisy-riddled article of mine.
The subject of these tweets was a personal favourite player of mine, Dejan Lovren. And to provide some context, the player recently revealed that he played through his World Cup heroics nursing a stomach injury which he also carried over into his holiday. He returned to Liverpool unfit for service and this revelation sent many on twitter into full-on Alex Jones nutjob mode.
In the interest of balance I should mention that both of these people generally aren’t full of shit. I’ve had a good read of their tweets, and they are not part of the bad crowd I previously explored. These posts pointed to another aspect of the dark side of social media entirely – impulsive reactionism.
I have no idea who began the rumour/conspiracy that Dejan withheld news of his injury because he was sure Liverpool would replace him, but it spread like herpes. Though unlike herpes, it was cured and eradicated within hours. Our lovable German manager casually explained that he was aware of this issue and had been for the entire season, and Lovren had actually performed admirably considering he probably hasn’t taken a good dump for 12 months.
There was really no issue. Gomez played against West Ham in the league opener, and performed well. Lovren will probably be out for a few weeks more but in the end, will come back and (hopefully) continue the form he showed during the latter half of last season and then the World Cup, where he was superb. So why did these two fans, usually passionate and supportive, decide to either invent, or endorse, a rumour that he was cheating the club we all love so much? Not for likes, love, or attention – that’s for sure. No, they ran with this story because they simply do not like Dejan Lovren.
‘We can do better!’, they might argue. ‘Remember Spurs away!’, ‘he’s cost us more than he will ever win’… rabble rabble rabble.
It’s really not about any single event in Dejan’s career, they just want him replaced, or upgraded.
And what is so striking, disappointing and in a way, confusing – is that they do this in love and support of their club, of our club. Much like the helpless father, angry at his only daughter for growing up and falling for the bloke in the shell track-suit with gold teeth. They want better for the thing/person/football club that they care about.
I can relate to, and respect, this. I understand it. But what I can not understand is why a grown man would either create, or embrace, a story that is clearly untrue like some bottom of the ladder tabloid journalist needing a pathway to the top table of shite bog-roll journalism. It’s a dirty tactic, even more so when you’re definitely not being paid to do so.
Yes, Dejan does make silly videos on Instagram, he does, at times, cause higher blood pressure than chicken parmos, and he is generally a bit of a nutter. But he’s our nutter. He’s a Red, he leaves his heart on the pitch, and he is capable of being a very, very good football player. And besides, he’s Mo Salah’s best mate.
So what do we make of all of this?
Well, go down to The Albert on a match day, or any pub in the Anfield area; failing that, go to your local LFC supporters’ club when we’re playing – and see how many negative comments you hear. You won’t hear many. This is the “kind of marriage of people who like each other” that Shanks was talking about.
Writing out your thoughts, the way we do on social media; being able to push a button to erase that thought or prevent other people from disputing it, and having the possibility of a million billion people seeing your thought and ‘liking’ it – is all a bit inhuman. So next time you’re angry about something a football player has done, and you’re writing out a tweet that you are sure will ‘do numbers’, think about this ridiculous article. Think about ‘ClinicalEden’ and ‘elitemartial’, and think about what massive twats they are.
You don’t want to be a massive twat, do you?
For more heavily biased, generally ridiculous, LFC orientated ramblings – follow me on twitter.