Offside, 5 August
Man bags, foot rubs and wasps: what football message boards discuss outside of football season.
Although no football is played in June and July, there is no such thing as a summer break from football fandom – that obsessive, unhealthy condition which afflicts millions of British men.
This summer, in the interests of sociological inquiry, I’ve spent a lot of time perusing the Crystal Palace Bulletin Board to study how fans cope when there is no real football action. It soon became evident that the end of the season does not bring a halt to football chat. It’s a bit like the phenomenon of chickens still running around after their heads have been chopped off. How long can football chat be sustained without actual football? Some theorists believe that, even if football was outlawed altogether, fans will still be debating tactical formations many decades later.
During the summer break, message-board talk tends to revolve around transfer speculation, rumour and gossip rather than football action. While rumours planted by football agents are the likely source of most transfer speculation in the print and broadcast media, the rumours that sweep cyberspace have even shakier foundations.
Rumours are typically based on fans recounting what a friend – who is invariably described as a ‘very reliable source’ – told them. ‘I have a mate whose sister is [Player X’s] girlfriend’, revealed a contributor to the Palace Bulletin Board recently. ‘About a week ago [Player X] was round their house and two of my mates were speaking to him. One of them was a Tottenham supporter and jokingly said “Why didn’t you go to Tottenham with [Wayne] Routledge?” To this [Player X] replied “I f*cking wish”.’ In the space of two days this thread was viewed over 1,600 times with the possible consequence that some Palace fans now believe that the player in question is a disloyal wantaway. It is on such flimsy foundations that extravagant mock Tudor mansions of football gossip are built.
However, it would be wrong to imagine that football is the only subject of message-board chat. A cursory glance at the discussion thread topics on the Palace Bulletin Board shows that the average Eagles fan is a renaissance man, equally at ease discussing politics, art, cuisine, or literature as he is trading insults with Brighton fans. ‘If you were a Jedi what colour light sabre would you have?’ enquires one contributor. ‘Who has seen a wasp this year?’ asks another.
While Palace supporters have spent the summer agonising over the future of striker Andy Johnson, they still found time to debate the crisis of traditional British institutions. Like the Great British Breakfast for example. ‘What is happening to our cafes?’ asks one fan. ‘Sick of it. Can’t get a decent fry-up anywhere.’ Another suggests that the culinary malaise is not just confined to the English breakfast. ‘Similar criticism extends to Fish and Chip shops. Getting a decent piece of fish in tasty batter (ie, where the proprietor changes the oil regularly so the flavour of the batter is not impaired) is virtually impossible these days.’
The vexed subject of modern sexual mores is another popular discussion topic. ‘Where is the strangest place you have had sex?’ begins one lengthy discussion thread. ‘In a rugby field over New Addington way’, admits one respondent. ‘In Pontypridd’, says another. No topic is taboo for the modern meterosexual football fan. ‘Is pink the new in colour for the summer?’ asks a perplexed fan. ‘Can we merge this with the male hair products thread?’ suggests a respondent.
One contributor starts a discussion thread on the use of man bags. Opinions are divided. ‘A man should carry a brief case but only if it is really necessary’, insists one traditionalist. ‘Any sort of hand bag is gay.’ Others are more open to experimentation. ‘I have a brown leather man bag which is both useful and stylish’, reveals one fan. Another contributor suggests that, while man bags may be tolerated in Spain, they would not be acceptable in Beckenham. ‘Is it ever OK to massage – or rub – another man’s feet?’ begins another discussion thread. The overwhelming majority of respondents disapprove of this practice though some are prepared to countenance exceptions on medical grounds.
During the close season the internet message board provides a vital service for football-starved fans – the football equivalent of warden alarm systems in sheltered housing units for vulnerable pensioners. But the problem is precisely that there are no quality controls on these message boards. Literally anything and everything is discussed. While some of the discussion threads are interesting or amusing, 99 per cent is unedifying rubbish. In fact, the longer fans are deprived of real football the more rubbish they tend to talk. After a couple of months of idle web chat the new football season can’t come soon enough. Then at last we will have something more important to talk about than mere life and death.
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