Daily Archives: 24/02/2014

The Case for a Grown-up, Well-Moderated Leeds United Forum – by Rob Atkinson


Mature debate

What makes for a good football forum?

That’s a fairly vexed question, these days.  It may even be the kind of issue best looked at from the opposite perspective – in other words what are the elements to be avoided, at all costs, in order to have the best possible football forum?  In the case of Leeds United – where of course there is usually an elegant sufficiency of controversy, with plenty to get the old teeth into by way of intractable issues such as takeovers, transfer policy, managerial tactics and so on – the need for a really good internet forum is even more urgent than for most other clubs.

Sadly though, there appears to be a distinct lack of anything truly adequate out there.  Most of the existing resources are fundamentally flawed in one way or another.  Above all, there seems to be a pervading right-wing presence which makes for a hostile environment for anybody lumbered with, for instance, a social conscience or a bit of good, old-fashioned socialism.

This might be just about tolerable if all you’re looking for is simple football information and debate – but most forums seem to have pretensions to a wider and more eclectic scope. Some even have different sections expressly devoted to music, cars, politics, entertainment, topical issues, etc.  Now, this is all well and good, but when it goes hand in hand with the presence of a sizeable minority of vociferous right-wing boneheads, the debate (in some areas more than others) turns into a futile endeavour, with the more moderate points of view being shouted down by “I’m alright, Jack” tories, racist EDL apologists and other such unpleasant creatures.

The two most obvious offenders in these terms are probably the so-called Service Crew forum, and its more anaemic shadow, WACCOE – which, as I’ve previously pointed out, used to be half-decent – but are now dominated by cliques of what I can charitably term loudmouth smart-arses with unpalatably Thatcherite agendas.  I’ve recently found myself in a very small minority on both forums, and the outrage and resentment I’ve encountered, just for daring to be different, has – quite frankly – defied description.

The Service Crew forum in particular makes a habit of parading its right-wing leanings and is overtly hostile to anybody with a libertarian outlook.  A lot of this behaviour is, of course, motivated by a desire for peer approval. The overweening need to be “one of the lads” is very strong on this forum, and what used to be a reasonably useful resource for information and debate on all things Leeds has now had its waters muddied by the presence of a group of people who evidently need an outlet for the anti-social and otherwise reprehensible views they don’t feel safe expressing elsewhere.

This manifests itself differently according to the age of the contributor – there are clearly a few dinosaurs who hark back to what they think of as the good old days of football violence (FV for the ITK), and are forever re-living the days when they showed the world what jolly tough chaps they were by gratuitously banging heads with like-minded morons who happened to sport the colours of an opposing team.  Most of the younger contributors have no memories of such laddish behaviour, as organised hooliganism is largely consigned to the dustbin of history.  But this doesn’t stop the young and stupid tendency from wanting to ape their elders, and there is a lot of hero-worship going on, the objects of which are all too clearly those retired knuckle-draggers mentioned above.

There is a slight overlap from the SC Forum into WACCOE; some of the older boneheads have a presence there too, and again they find no shortage of young and foolish acolytes desperate for the approval of what are still comically known as “lads” (you have to remind yourself occasionally that the majority of former hooligans are now grandads of fifty-plus who are firmly in the “old enough to know better” club).  But WACCOE has another element too – generally these are a bit younger and frequently claim to be in some or other well-paid employment that doesn’t require much deep thought or originality, depending heavily on “I earn this much a year and I drive this or that inadequacy-compensating car”.

Again, this overly-defensive group are identifiable by a horror of seeming “different” to those they worship and by a poignantly-obvious need to bunch together with kindred spirits; to be accepted as part of a collective with a distinct and identifiably limited, conservative world-view.  The anonymity of the internet then affords these needy people the opportunity to jump on anybody with a viewpoint that doesn’t conform to the mainstream views prevalent on either WACCOE or the SC Forum, thus validating in their own minds the self-image they’re so assiduously cultivating.

On both sites, the moderation is insipid at best, so the abiding tendency of the rabid defenders of the current draconian government, to shout down voices of protest, is generally quite unfettered.  Any lone voice which does demonstrates a determination to have its say, or which defends its position vigorously, is left in no doubt that such views are unwelcome. Not altogether in the spirit of free speech, there are frequently appeals to the moderators to close threads where the cosy prejudices of the anti-intellectual hoi polloi are too enthusiastically challenged.  At the end of the day, it is likely to be the voices which shout loudest who prevail; free thinkers tend to get shouted down and any rational debate is drowned out.

One odd irony in this process is the tendency, during the initial part of the shouting-down phase, for those who wish to impress their heroes on the forum to attempt put-downs of a distinctly aggressive and/or abusive nature. However, if the response to this is in any way aggressive or abusive in return, then hurt, shock and outrage are tearfully expressed – and there is usually some petulant demand for the minority party to be banned, ironically for “not being able to debate rationally or without descending to abuse“. Clearly, then, reciprocity of invective is unwelcome.  Such a blatant contradiction is comical on the face of it, but the double-standard it exemplifies is deeply unattractive.  It appears that these forums are not primarily about debate, but are instead much more about that old demon of “wanting to belong”. All of which tells us much about those who wish to form and belong to cliques – but it doesn’t help in the search for a useful and stimulating, diverse forum with Leeds United AFC as its focus, but with an eye on other issues as well.

The key to having an internet forum which satisfies the requirements of those who don’t crave the approval of a boorish majority, would seem to be strong and impartial moderation.  This is where some of the better blogs out there probably score heavily over the anarchic babble which so typifies too many of the forums.  But, really, there should be a place for both forum and blog as, ideally, they exist to meet different needs.  The typical blog will, initially, carry the views of a strictly limited number of people.  This particular blog is a one-man operation; some, such as the excellent We All Love Leeds, have a group of able writers moderated by a dedicated editor. In either case, a lot of the diversity is achieved through the comments received to blog articles, frequently amounting to a thread of debate.  On this blog, I am extremely fortunate to have a collection of regular contributors who enhance and enrich the content with their entertaining and informed viewpoints.  I exercise quality control by eliminating the unacceptable trolling, and the result is – I firmly believe – a balanced resource which reflects viewpoints from all shades of opinion, without any need for recourse to childish name-calling.

The content of the typical forum, by contrast, is led by its public; there is no particular editorial position. Pretty much anyone can say pretty much anything once they are accepted onto the board and, without strong leadership and continual monitoring, many of the threads swiftly descend into slanging matches, pack hunting or – probably worst of all – escalating competitions where the desperate-for-approval strive to out-do each other in appearing successively more zany or off-the-wall witty than the contributor before.  That’s a skin-crawling thing to witness, and by no means conducive to grown-up debate, which consequently tends to wither on the vine.

I’m probably on the point of being ejected from both of the above-mentioned forums just at the moment, and it’s not something I will waste any time in mourning over.  What I am really wondering is: are there any resouces out there which are much better?  Any more enlightened forum where the young and yappy aren’t falling over themselves to gain the approval of older members who undeservedly gain this foolish cabal of admirers simply by regaling the ether with tales of what tough guys they used to be?  I do hope so.  Even these days, both the SC Forum and WACCOE occasionally produce little gems of information, scandal or gossip that remind you they used to be much more useful places, and not the barren wastes of time they have become more recently.

I’m well aware that many who read this blog will be frequenters of one or both of the forums I’ve mentioned above.  It may well be that some will wish to defend them against what might be seen as unfair criticism on my part.  That’s great – non-abusive disagreement has always been welcome on this blog.  So bring it on, I welcome all views that add to the debate and my position is not set in stone. But if anyone out there sees the smallest merit in what I’ve written – and especially if they know of a forum I could try which might not make me want to throw rocks at my screen – then I’d be grateful to hear about that, above all.

After this little rant, I do feel a bit better about things, thinking I may perhaps have touched a nerve here or there.  Now I just need a cup of coffee, some good TOMA news and maybe – just maybe – to have my faith in that whole “Marching On Together” thing restored a little.  Over to you on that last one…