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The new season is upon us like a farm dog on a passing cyclist. You may have noticed that discussion about abuse on social media has been become rather prolific in the last couple of weeks. As pernicious and vile as much of what has been in the news is, it doesn't come as a surprise to those of us who have been writing and reading about football on the internet for a long time. Abuse is a way of life and endemic to our football culture. Indeed, the opportunity and facility to abuse other people is clearly an attraction of the sport for some.
Although football has long been at the fore front of the culture of online nastiness, first in forums and message boards and now via social media, it currently seems to be losing its bad boy status to misogynists, arguments about what is and isn't funny on TV and global warming.
However, it will only take one major incident for it to re-emerge triumphant atop the mound of crapulence that is internet abuse.
Whether this is because football attracts a lot of people with low self-esteem who can only feel good about themselves by unloading their self-loathing onto others, or if it's like this across all walks of life and football, being one of the more popular subjects, will therefore just have bigger numbers of these people, is hard to tell, but the worst offenders for this sort of thing are those who seem completely imbued in the tribal culture of football.
By tribal culture I don't mean the allegiance or empathy one has for your fellow club supporters, I mean the 'my club right or wrong' mentality which blinds the fan to anything and anyone else. It means believing that your club, its players, manager and employees are always right and anyone who disagrees is not only wrong but a fecking idiot with a blind hatred for your club which they are seeking to visit on you, the sane, cool, calm, rational, even-handed fan of the club. The tribal whack job always thinks they're the reasonable, objective balanced one and the critic is the biased fool.
I know that this is a small minority of fans in total and that those that exist usually do so in support of a few of the 'big' clubs and rarely make themselves known outside of that context, though I'm sure there must be a few at every club, but frankly, they are the bane of all of our football lives. They're not really interested in debate or the to and fro of varied football opinion because there is no viewpoint they can consider other than their own. Unless you are with them, you are de facto against them. All or nothing. Nuance and reason has no place in this universe, only adherence to supporting the club matters and they see their enemies everywhere.
Anyone not blowing smoke up their club's ass is biased and hates them. Anyone with a critique of their players or manager has an unspoken agenda against the club. This makes them very attractive to some media outlets who love nothing more than a tribal warrior to ring into a phone-in and make outrageous comparisons, stupid assertions and over-emotional conclusions unaware that it makes the rest of us turn off. Only nutters want to sit and listen to other nutters.
The club loyalist has their head in the sand and up their own arse at the same time, living in a very dark universe where they can only talk to other crazies who share this affliction. To each other they seem like the sane ones but we know what they are.
Worse still, cynical managers and players will often appeal to the tribal nutter for support in the siege mentality they want to create in order to deflect from the fact that things are not going that well. They will talk about how 'our' fans are very knowledgeable, other clubs or players have 'no class.' These are dog whistle words for the tribal nutter designed to make them leap out of their kennel and start barking.
Because they get themselves so worked up about how the world is against them, from referees to the media to other fans to the bloke in the pub who is wearing the wrong coloured shirt. Because they hurl so much abuse, clutter up phone-ins and hugely dilute the intelligent and funny elements of football culture. Because of all these things, we shouldn't tolerate them any more.
Tribal loyalists need marginalizing and isolating from the rest of us. As soon as you spot one, walk away. Don't engage with them. Let them howl at the moon on their own or with their fellow crazies.
As they jump to the shameless, often unsustainable defence of a player or a manager as though that person is one of their own family and not just the employee of a huge business they are seemingly unaware that these big football organisations are not small, local athletics clubs with an investment in the social and civic fabric of local society, they're sodding huge companies owned by distant billionaires whose main employees are just passing through and whom don't demand, nor deserve such vehement defence for their behaviour on or off the pitch. Tribal football culture applied to a big football club in Britain is little different to having a tribal loyalty to Boots or Barclays Bank. It's an insanity.
The tribal loyalist may well be a keyboard warrior these days rather than the sort of person who would glass you in a pub, so perhaps that's a weird sort of progress. Their contagion is largely based in electronic media so maybe we need some quick, collective social media action to outlaw them; a withering hashtag seems to be the modern way. #tribalnutter. Dish out the hashtag and then walk away. There's no arguing, nor reasoning with them. It will drain your of your sanity.
Distressingly, they are often conflated with the passionate but sane members of football's community; people who are not hypnotized by their club. Although we know they're a small but noisy minority, the rest of society thinks the tribal nutter is definitive of us all.
Of all the things that don't matter in life, football may be one of the most engaging but let's not forget that it doesn't matter at all. Indeed, that's one of the most brilliant things about it. As I was watching the Sky pre-season preview for two hours, no-one who is a football enjoyer could fail to feel cheered and a little bit excited by the prospect of another instalment in football's on-going sporting soap opera. But we all know that the crazies, at some point in the season, will make you want to scream and will make you want to walk away from football all together as the foaming insanity they both feed on and exhale becomes overwhelming. So take a stand early. Say no to the tribal nutter.