Tag Archives: debate

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

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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…

WACCOE: What to do When a Good Leeds United Forum Goes Bad? – by Rob Atkinson

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WACCOE – used to be good

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.

Capital Punishment – It’s Not Quite As Simple As It Seems

ImageIn the wake of recent atrocities abroad, and our own tragedies here in the UK, we can sadly reflect that the gap in between these appalling stories seems to grow ever shorter, as we look ahead gloomily and wonder: whatever next? That the proliferation of different types of news media is quite probably giving a skewed picture of how common these calamities are, is pretty cold comfort. Bad things are happening out there, all the time it would seem, and the world doesn’t feel a particularly safe place to be.

Another effect of rolling 24-hour news stations and the exponential growth of social media is that, as fast as the information comes out to the public, so we – the recipients of all the bad news – are able to give our own instant reactions. All too often this will take the shape of lurid demands for death to be answered with death; the calls for a return of capital punishment grow more vociferous with every awful case that hits the headlines. Facebook pages will see a rash of images, prominently featuring the symbolic noose and demanding support for the view that the latest culprit should face the ultimate penalty. Feelings run high; the anti-hangers are just as passionately convinced as those who shout “Bring back the rope”, and the debate waxes hot and emotive.

Perhaps the most emotive argument put by the pro-hanging brigade runs as follows: If it were your son or daughter who was the victim of the latest murder or rape – wouldn’t you want the culprit to pay with his or her life? My answer to that tends to be an honest “yes”. If my daughter were to become a tragic statistic, I’d certainly want to kill the perpetrator myself; I believe this to be a normal human reaction. But it is also the reason why the relatives of victims don’t sit in judgement of those accused, and aren’t responsible for deciding the penalty that the law shall hand down. Justice requires dispassionate and impartial appraisal of the facts and circumstances, something that would surely be beyond the ken of anybody personally involved or actually bereaved.

I’ve tried, when defending my anti-capital punishment stance, to explain this distinction, but I’m usually accused of fudging the issue. But what if we were to put the opposite or reciprocal situation? Imagine this. Your son or daughter is accused of a murder, and the evidence against them is incontrovertible. You see them convicted, you watch in horror from the courtroom as the judge dons the black cap and pronounces sentence of death upon your flesh and blood. You, a lifelong proponent of capital punishment, a vociferous campaigner for the retention of the rope, see your offspring led, terrified and weeping, down to the cells to embark upon the wait that will end with a walk to the gallows.

Time goes by. Legal avenues of appeal are exhausted; pleas for clemency are entered, to no avail. Justice must take its course. You’re on record as enthusiastically backing the death penalty; you’ve written strongly-worded letters in the past to the quality press, emphasising the folly of removing this ultimate sanction, this absolute deterrent. Now your own child’s options have run out, and they will be put to death early tomorrow.

At home, you’re up at seven after no sleep. You can’t eat anything. You can’t meet the eyes of your family; they know your views from a lifetime of theoretical but heated discussion. Now that the reality you never foresaw is here, there is no appetite to go over those old arguments again. The clock draws closer to eight o’clock. There is a priest in the cell with your child, trying as best he can to ease these final moments, to give the comfort that you’re barred from providing. As the clock strikes eight, you know that there is a sudden burst of activity, your offspring ordered to bolt down a measure of rum, then arms and legs pinioned, a hood jerked over their head and assisted, blindly stumbling, into the neighbouring execution chamber. Within seconds, the trap has opened; your precious son or daughter has plummeted downwards to a sickening jerk as their life is snuffed out at the behest of the law. Your child is dead.

In your silent living room, you join together with your grief-stricken, heartbroken family, seeking such comfort as you can give each other as the awful reality sinks in. You look at each other, and you see the real victims of capital punishment, of so-called judicial execution. You have just embarked on a life-sentence of mourning one of your own family; killed by the state in the name of justice, condemning you and the rest of your kin, who have done nothing wrong, to years of misery and bitterness. You will live with the effects of this sentence, your miscreant son or daughter is beyond all that, and right now their body is being recovered by the functionaries who saw sentence of death carried out.

Anybody who supports the return of capital punishment should do themselves a favour; think about it in these terms. It’s beyond unlikely that you might ever be called upon to deliver a vigilante-type summary justice to someone who has harmed your son or daughter. But in a country regressive enough to have a law to enable the state to kill, it would always be possible that the alternative scenario could become a shocking reality for you and yours. If you really think you could accept it, as the price of a principle you hold sincerely – then go ahead and campaign away, post those images of a noose on Facebook, demand death for someone you’ll never know. You have more resolve than I could muster.

But I honestly beg leave to doubt it. I frankly defy anyone to say that they could accept becoming a collateral victim of capital punishment, bereaved by the law, forced to live out their own guiltless life in the knowledge that their country killed their child.

Capital punishment is no easy answer. It is a barbaric, horrific and out-dated relic, tainted by the nightmare grisly ceremony of the whole process, something incongruous to a modern society and rightly consigned to the dustbin of history. It must never return.