Toxic Twitter ‘fans’ are not just a Liverpool problem

John Nicholson

There used to be only ‘fans’ and ‘supporters’. But now every club – not just Liverpool – have a third strand of toxic Twitter follower.


When I was growing up, we used to argue about the difference between a fan and a supporter. It was generally held that a supporter meant someone who paid to see the club, thereby literally supporting it. A fan was just someone who liked them and followed their results but didn’t go to games at all, or at least rarely did.

The fan was thought very much inferior to the supporter. “You never go” was a real accusation thrown around and, in many eyes, invalidated the fans’ views or made them lesser. So when I was a kid, I was a Boro supporter but now I’m living 220 miles away and can’t face a 440-mile round trip for home games and even further for away ones, I’m a fan.

However, these definitions are now apparently out-dated. A new divide has opened up between those who go to games, those who only watch on TV and a third group: those who engage with their club largely via social media.

Journalist Dean Van Nguyen wrote about this phenomenon in relation to Liverpool, while arguing that the same divide exists at all clubs. It’s an absolutely fascinating read which I highly recommend. He peppers the piece with loads of examples of this phenomenon.

Liverpool fans

He calls them ‘Twitter fans’. They’re mostly in their 20s, almost always male and very loud, aggressive and perennially negative. They share common characteristics. They’re obsessed with transfers in and of themselves and see that the whole point of being successful is to generate money to spend more and more on players. They don’t really care what a player does or doesn’t contribute once he’s signed; they’re only interested in the acquisition itself. Once made, they move onto craving another and another and another. To them, football is entirely commodified and defined by how much you spend on transfers.

Secondly, they hate other Liverpool fans: ‘Their mantra is very much that any fan who isn’t with them, is against them.’ This involves taking the mickey out of Scouse accents and mimicking the Scouse vernacular. They hate the so-called ‘Top Fan’ who goes to games and would be what we might traditionally call a supporter. They are dismissed as a self-regarding elite.

Thirdly, these people are totally pessimistic and think everything to do with the club is basically shite. This is essential to make those transfers necessary and to give them reasons to slag off the ‘Top Fans’. In other words, they become invested in the club failing and thus proving them right about everything – and being seen to be right on social media is very, very important to these people.

They are detached from the joy that football brings regular fans and just want to be angry about whatever the club is or isn’t doing. They appear to follow the club to assert some sort of massive degree of entitlement, but have no real idea of how a club such as Liverpool is run, doesn’t see nuance in the slightest and experiences everything through a binary lens where everything is either right or wrong; usually wrong.

Dean reckons that this cohort is only a small percentage of the whole but it is a loud, invasive, aggressive, abusive and thus a dominant one. They are the people who harangue journalists and media people. They are the ones who hunt in packs, savaging anyone who is perceived to be a critic or basically someone who diverts from their viewpoint. But ironically, they are the sort of very active social media user that clubs are appealing to. They provide lots of clicks and interaction, even though much of it is very negative and disparaging. Trying to monetise hate, even if it towards yourself, is a very 2022 thing, isn’t it?

As I read his piece, I realised that, though he addresses the issue in relation to Liverpool, this sort of football fan is everywhere now. There are hundreds of thousands of them ‘following’ every club. They are the people who are horrible online, who are abusive, who we all mute. They are the ones shouting ‘Announce’ in every transfer window, who seem obsessed with the club spending money on new players and are not really engaged with the actual football.

Even if a murderous regime buys their club, they welcome it because it means more can be spent on transfers, even though it will never be enough and such owners, like the last ones, will eventually and inevitably have a ‘lack of ambition’ by not spending enough often enough. This is a negative mindset that can never be happy because to be happy is to invalidate their position.

In short, they are the people who we’ve all edited out of our lives as much as possible. Their mindset is alien to normal football fans. Having experienced the wrath of some of it and even seen it among some of Boro’s fans, I’ve long been puzzled with their behaviour. It seems unwell, unhinged, unbalanced. So much so I think it must be linked to some sort of psychological disorder, which must flood through the rest of their life. In a way I feel sorry for them.

As Dean says in the piece: ‘Not getting what you want from football all of the time seems completely intolerable to them.’

Can you imagine being tortured by having such a frame of mind? Football and life in general must be a constant disappointment and yet you’re wedded to it being disappointing to prove yourself to be right and superior. This is a spiral of logical disorder that is unresolvable. It also sounds a lot like the mindset of conspiracy theorists and indeed, why wouldn’t it? All of these things are linked to the same sort of mentality.

Do they know that they are exhibiting disordered behaviour? Are they aware they are creating their own discontent to validate themselves? Or are they so far into this semi-psychotic state that it is an alternative reality to them? Has anyone been part of it, but since escaped this cult?

There’s no doubt they’re a pain in the arse and they drive some of the worst aspects of online football behaviour, but maybe we need to bear in mind that these people have got themselves into a self-defeating mental knot to validate their sense of self. So if you’re reading this, get some help, lads. You bloody well need it.