Tag Archives: internet forums

Where Did All Those Leeds United Thugs and Racists of the 80s Go? – by Rob Atkinson

The darkside of the net

The darkside of the net

In the early eighties – and for much of that sorry decade – the experience of being a match-going, non-racist Leeds United fan was lonely and disgusting. The atmosphere around Elland Road was rancid with bigotry, skin-headed, bone-headed racists sold “The Flag”, a right-wing snot-rag, outside the ground. It was done openly, brazenly.  Dissenting voices, when raised, brought upon their owners the risk of violence.  The club was inert and complacent.  The police sat by and watched.  It was depressingly, shamefully awful.  And then, things started to change.

Civilised, intelligent Leeds United supporters, unable and unwilling to accept the evil being dispensed in the name of their beloved club, organised themselves into Leeds United Fans Against Racism & Fascism.  Fanzines were sold expounding the voice of reason against the bigoted filth being peddled by the racists.  More decent supporters woke up to what had been going on, joined the anti-racist movement, bought the fanzines, started to raise the voice of protest against the ignorance and malice of the terrace chants against visiting black players.

Even the slumbering Leeds United itself reacted positively to the changes afoot. Black players were signed, the first since the brief but bright Leeds career of Terry Connor. Noel Blake, affectionately nicknamed “Bruno”, loved by the Kop. Vince Hilaire, quicksilver winger reviving memories of Albert Johanneson in the sixties, the first black player to play in the Cup Final and a Leeds hero when the Revie revolution was still new.  It was a painfully long, slow job – but Leeds United finally managed to all but rid itself of one of the most degradingly awful reputations for racism and bigotry anywhere in the game – and they largely did it as an institution, by the efforts of enlightened fans supplemented by the club’s more enlightened transfer policy at a time when there was still an unofficial bar observed by the likes of Everton FC.

I’m extremely proud of the way my club tackled its problems.  The Leeds United of today bears no resemblance at all to the sick club being brought to its knees 30 years ago, dying of the cancer of racism.  The whole world has moved on, though pockets of the disease still exist at home, yet far more significantly and overtly abroad.  We now live in a time when these manifestations of hate and ignorance are a palpable shock to the system – and that in itself is a massive change for the better.  Such inhuman behaviour has never ever been acceptable, but now it’s seen to be completely unacceptable, and that is the very essence of progress and reinvention.

But what actually happened to all of those who revelled in the racism and violence that was so much more prevalent in the 1980s? Have they given up on football support altogether?  Have they, perhaps, defected en masse to Millwall, where both problems still rear their ugly heads with depressing semi-regularity? The sad fact is that, far from removing their loathsome presence from the world of Leeds United, many of these idiots are still very much around – older, but no wiser; and still determined to espouse their Daily Mail recycled views even if they’re no longer up for a barney in the physical sense.

As you can tell from the match-day experience, the people physically present at the ground are more prosperous these days, less inclined to fisticuffs as a means of recreation and certainly not given to racial slurs and abusive chants based on those slurs.  It’s become unfashionable – and as that cultural change has occurred, so the attraction of being at the match has waned for those of the more extreme attitudes.

Like it or not, the tendency towards racism and xenophobia is closely linked to the extremes of right wing thinking – I use that word in its loosest possible sense.  Those of a more left-wing outlook do not, as a rule, tend towards racial abuse and other such prejudice-driven behaviour.  As with any rule of thumb, there will be isolated exceptions – but for the most part, racism and the tendency towards its expression in violent and abusive terms is a right-wing phenomenon.

This is still relevant today, despite the fact that the physical manifestations of such behaviour are greatly reduced at our football grounds, notably Elland Road. It’s relevant because there is one remaining stronghold where these people gather together, share their views, yearn for the “good old days” and jealously guard their out-dated views against infiltration from what they see as left-wing or liberal weakness.  That stronghold is the internet, or at least isolated parts of it. Where Leeds United is concerned, my experience as someone who feels the need to challenge the uglier tendencies of the Right is that some boards and forums – notionally just about support for Leeds United FC – are no-go areas. You’re not welcome if you try to push an agenda that runs contrary to the prevailing right-wing views; indeed you are likely to be gagged for “provocation” if you persist in this.

Such has been my recent experience on the WACCOE board, where the resident hard-of-thinking types get very hot under the collar if they feel that their cosy, right-wing, casually racist views are being challenged.  The same sort of thing applies equally if not more so on the Network 54 “Service Crew” Forum, where people who are decidedly old enough to know better still talk in fondly nostalgic terms of the days when a good old punch-up was part of the weekend’s entertainment, and when no away trip was really worthwhile unless a pub or two had been smashed up, and there’d been an “off” with some opposing “lads” with maybe the chance to bait an identifiable ethnic minority, just for fun.

The sad thing is that, on both of these sites, there is frequently plenty of interest to read and to get involved in discussing – but, inevitably, as you become more of a contributor, your own views become known – particularly if, as I have done, you share blog posts and argue your corner. Then, the moderators or admin types move in, because they feel that you’re rocking the boat and upsetting the precious little racists and ex-thugs that seemingly make up the bulk of the membership. It’s all so depressingly juvenile and exclusive – when it could actually be a valuable resource for thrashing out the real issues that face Leeds United and its fans today, in a world that has changed radically from that of 30 years ago.

It was only going to be a matter of time before I was silenced on one or both forums – and now I have no voice on WACCOE; something that fails to fill me with regret or chagrin.  My offence was to speculate that UKIP are set fair to harm the Tories at next year’s election, by splitting the racist idiot vote.  It was a mildly provocative line, calculated to upset and draw out the real xenophobes on the site – but naturally it descended into a free for all, and now I’ve been found to be an unhealthy influence – so I’m gagged in order that the resident mini-Farages can chat happily among themselves – frequently starting their comments with “I’m no racist, but….”.

The fact that I’ve now been silenced is not something I’ll lose any sleep over for my own sake – but it did make me think about the type of person who is still out there, parading under the banner of Leeds United supporters and identifiable as such to those outside the club – who might then judge us all by what a few unreconstructed idiots have to say, while more moderate views are being suppressed.

I honestly believe that the problems of racism and gratuitous violence in football stadia are virtually solved now; that the perpetrators of both types of unpleasant, anti-social behaviour have either been chased away from the grounds, or are so outnumbered and closely monitored that they have no option but to keep their nasty little ways to themselves – and to other venues. Even though you still do get the odd isolated incident – as with the moronic Aaron Cawley at Hillsborough last season – they’re rare enough to be virtually a thing of the past.  But we live in a digital age, and the fact is that Leeds United FC is a massive presence on the net – much, much more popular than all but a few Premier League clubs.  That being the case, we have to look to our reputation in the virtual world just as much as we do in the real-life match-day environment.

The presence of at least two relatively high-profile web-sites, which appear to harbour many whose views and tendencies are inimical to modern-day standards, is not good news.  It’s to be hoped that, maybe, more enlightened moderation could yet induce more grown-up attitudes and behaviour – or at least so alienate the extremists that they fade out of view altogether.  At the very least, I’d earnestly hope that – whoever from opposing or rival clubs ever takes a look at WACCOE or the Service Crew Forum – they won’t judge the bulk of genuine Leeds United fans by the childish, ignorant and prejudiced rubbish they might read on those particular two sites.  It’s not big, it’s not clever – and it certainly has nothing to do with 21st century Leeds. 

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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…