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New. Age. Football. Fans.

Submitted by on July 26, 2013 – 11:49 amNo Comment
Crazy loads

Crazy loads

By Rob Allen

We’re a 24 hour, monstrous, unrelenting, self-publishing, self-publicising, self-conscious beast of a westernised population.

Throughout the developed world we’re at it constantly, launching ourselves on our public via various websites to tell the world about our achievements, challenges and ills.
Our preferences and our peeves demand attention and it’s now second nature for us to find a way of expressing it over the world wide web, to coin an outdated descriptor for ‘ye olde information superhighwaye’.

With online liberty comes abundant opportunity to make things happen, because things like Twitter and Facebook aren’t only useful for sharing pictures of your lunch you know?
Well, Facebook is primarily available for sharing pictures of your lunch, but other online forums can be a mine of instant information and, even better, places to encourage collaboration and sharing of experiences between like-minded people.

The reaction to being able to connect to so many people at the same time has been fairly predictable, in as much as humans have revealed themselves to be as tribal as they are in real life, if not more so.

The online world is much the same as this 3D, smelly and slightly moist version that we all schlep around in for real.

Just as indie and metal fans and reds and blues have stood in opposite corners of the playground for decades, online social networks support the same polarisation of society.

For example, people who work in human resources tend to form ghettos far away from ordinary, hardworking folk in the real world. They invariably do the same online.

Perhaps a more potent and appropriate example of the ‘us and them’ attitude of people you meet on the internet is that of football fans.

Never mind HR advisors and members of the Conservative Party, this lot can be really nasty when they cross the threshold of their enclave of like-minded ‘followers’ and start debating the rights and wrongs of their chosen opponents – clubs/players/stadiums/fashion sense – in the unsafe zone of free expression.

At best it turns into ‘banter’, at worst it turns into an issue for the law courts to resolve as racism, sexism and libellous discourse ruin the fun for everyone.

That people would go too far is no surprise, but what did offer a bolt from the blue in recent weeks was a ‘tweet’ from someone with a reputation for being a fairly solid sort of character. The good clothes, real ale and decent record collection type that many would aspire to be.

He remains nameless, but this particular message sent a shot across the bows, not because it was offensive, but because it unofficially drew a line in football culture’s sandpit. It crystallised the ‘us and them’ of modern football.

Suddenly, there was a line in the sand between factions that we never knew existed. It simply said: “Who are all these new age football fans talking bollocks about crap non-league clubs?”

New. Age. Football. Fans. Right there with four small words, used in a throwaway comment that could have barely registered with even his closest friends, one man invented a new, catch all term for a distinct genre of football supporter.

Worse still, I think he meant types of fans like me and I had no idea. There are numerous blogs and profiles hosted on the web by people who espouse the virtues of lower league and overseas ground hopping, investigate the economics of the game at all levels and peddle obscure tales about obscure clubs and individuals.

Needless to say, lots of what is written is borderline criminal in its forensic analysis of the terminally dull, but so much of it is absolute gold, borne of passion and intellectual stimulation. One can only presume that it is this type of football fan that our protagonist was referring to.

Yes, perhaps he was referring to the army of football fans who have inexplicably cut themselves loose from the shackles of blind partisanship. Some of them have decided it is more interesting sharing notes on the quality of the pies at Blyth Spartans, or the best time they visited Lewes FC, than it is to watch Champions League football. Oh yes, if there’s one thing a ‘new age football fan’ loves it’s Lewes FC, this much anyone with a passing interest can tell you.

But, before the NAFFs (you see how that works?) get in any way upset about our friend’s casually hurled insult, let’s consider the alternative. Does this mean that the opposite of a NAFF is an ‘old fashioned’ fan, perhaps perceiving themselves as ‘old school’ or somehow ‘traditional’?

If our assumption of what he actually meant by ‘new age’ is true, then this means an old fashioned fan (or ‘OFF’ for short) is disinterested in the game beyond the top leagues of the world. You shouldn’t trouble them with the trivia connected with a lower league transfer, perhaps involving £5,000 and a burglar alarm.

OFFs couldn’t care less about the trials of crap lower leagues clubs like Darlington, Wrexham or Northwich Victoria, but are interested instead in when their new Arsenal shirt will arrive, how many Fosters are in their miniature fridge, and working out how to set Talksport up on speed dial. They’re definitely eccentric, we’ll give them that.

Observant types will notice that there isn’t a single fact in that analysis, but if we’re working on assumption and sweeping generalisation, as self-proclaimed OFFs would in their criticism of NAFFs, then we’re a bit stuck.

However, one thing that we do know as fact is that many of our grandfathers will have gone to United one week and city or maybe Stockport County the next.

We also know that the ‘Football Pink’ didn’t only feature the results of United or city, but we still bought it by the yellow van load to see how our lowly neighbours had got on. That’s very ‘new age’ behaviour from those traditional supporters of the past now, isn’t it?

Based on these historical facts, one might suggest we’re much the same as we used to be and that being a NAFF is actually the very essence of being an OFF and, as such, the aforementioned OFFs are actually without a neat acronym to describe their fickle, one-dimensional existence. That’ll learn ‘em…

- This article featured in issue eight of A Fine Lung. That issue and others can be bought here: STALL

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