For Leeds United fans of an enquiring bent, anxious to keep up to date with what’s being discussed about our great club, keen to be in the know as regards the latest rumour, scandal or joke – the internet forum is frequently the resource of choice. Football fans of the last couple of generations are lucky like this. It’s not always been so easy to communicate your point of view, or to take counsel of others. Every football fan everywhere is more or less in touch with every other football fan these days; nobody who wants to be informed has to remain in the dark. It’s all out there for the finding, and some pretty knockabout “banter” into the bargain.
Naturally, this plethora of information and opinion has its downside. It’s quite easy for any football forum, fansite, call it what you will, to become dominated by “banter” to the detriment of information or serious discussion. If you think about it, there’s a place for banter as there is a place for pepper on the dinner-table. It’s a useful and piquant seasoning to the main course – but you wouldn’t want to just take the cover off the pepperpot and swallow the whole lot on its own. It would be unpleasant and unseemly.
In some corners of the internet, some sites are falling prey to just this syndrome, and any attempts at moderation are proving inadequate to stem the prevalence of pepper over good wholesome fare. The banter is taking over and – more and more – you find yourself having to dig deep for anything of any content or value. Even items – “threads” – that start off by highlighting some real issue, or by asking some highly pertinent question – even these are swiftly pounced upon by a clutch of self-appointed wits, scrambling over each other to post some fantastically funny reply, busting guts to out-do everybody else in showing just how awfully pithy they can be.
The WACCOE forum is a tragic example of just this sort of problem. Time was – and not so long ago at that – WACCOE was virtually indispensable as Leeds United fans tried to keep themselves up-to-date with the unfolding saga of the takeover. A legendary thread called TOMA (Takeover, My Arse) extended to an incredible length over months and months, documenting each twist and turn of the epic battle for Leeds United. Initially anonymous buyers were struggling to wrest control from the evil grasp of Uncle Ken, and TOMA readers followed the story for what turned out to be significant portions of their lives.
There was some banter, sure – but it served just to season the staple diet of information and debate. Refresh buttons were worn out, sleep was dispensed with, coffee was imbibed by the vat full, jobs were lost, as fanatics out here in fan-land gave themselves body and soul to the outcome of this elemental battle. Where would we have been without WACCOE and TOMA? The mainstream press had nothing, the club was tight-lipped. We relied on those allegedly in the know – the ITK-ers – and we rode a seemingly endless roller-coaster, elevated by the highs and cast down, crushed by the lows, time and time again. It was a hell of a trip.
Before that – a few years back, we had a comparable event with the whole Minus 15 thing. WACCOE was seen at its best then, too – people with some knowledge and expertise in the complex issues behind the Leeds United administration and the subsequent actions of the Football League and rival clubs, were able to shed some much-needed light. Again, our interest was captured, for weeks, months on end.
Despite the gravity and possibly disastrous consequences of those issues, they were great days for any forum, and particularly auspicious for WACCOE as it facilitated some quality work by the people who troubled to find out what was going on and to communicate this to the rest of us. But oh dear me, what has happened since?
WACCOE now is merely somewhere to go if you have some masochistic need to grind your teeth to powder, or to have your blood pressure raised to unhealthy levels. It’s a showcase for the yappy student type which used to infest – and for all I know still does infest – the BBC 606 site and its various spin-offs. You get elderly idiots reminding themselves, each other and the poor bloody rest of us how tough they used to be and how hard they still are. You get young, attention-starved look-at-me types, striving desperately to jump on some admired bandwagon in the hope of getting a “lol” or a “like” from some nobody who doesn’t deserve their tragic hero-worship. The standard of repartee – never all that high – is plummeting downhill like a greased pig. Egos abound, nobody feels able to let anything go without adding their own two penn’orth, and threads worth maybe two or three comments stretch out to page after agonising page. It’s dreadful to behold and an awful indictment of the mindset we – the collective of online Leeds fans – seem to have sunk into now there is no more Minus 15, no more TOMA.
Maybe it will take another major issue to restore WACCOE to its former glory (a strictly relative term). Maybe – because you just never know with Leeds – such a major issue is just around the corner. It could be. It usually is. I have some hopes for the forthcoming January transfer window, which should be good for some debate, some sort of relevant, on-message chat. I’ll have my fingers crossed and – if I’ve not been booted off the site by then, I’ll be ready to have my say, for what it’s worth. But I have this horrible suspicion that, for far too many contributors, WACCOE is now some sort of cabaret arena for them to show off their own little party piece, or maybe try desperately to gain the approval of some other nonentity who has somehow managed to attract a following. Then, it’s like watching some lurid re-enactment of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, as the yappy classes yap loud and long enough to be noticed, and the few dissenters find themselves savaged, Geoffrey Howe-like, by dead sheep.
It’s a pity, it’s even a bit of a loss. But there are other forums out there and some excellent fans sites – these tend to be rather better moderated than the once half-decent WACCOE. So, what DO you do? Well, if you don’t want to grit your teeth down to gum level, if you don’t want to feel your head creaking as hypertension threatens to blow the top of your skull off – why, simply browse elsewhere, for the sweet voice of reason still speaks in certain quarters. Leave WACCOE to stew in its own self-adoring juices, let the yappers yap to each other, let the various bandwagons trundle on into an uninspiring sunset. Give it a break, and maybe go back when lack of attention has starved the attention-seekers as the shortage of oxygen will extinguish any flame.
Whatever they might seem to think, it’s not all about WACCOE and its covey of self-regarding wits. It’s still about Leeds United and those who want to talk about football – yes, and have a laugh, but not be too juvenile about it. That’s how WACCOE used to be. I do hope it gets better one day.