Football’s age of big opinions

Quickly, tell me what you learned from the weekend’s football…No, don’t think about it, tell me the five things that you know now that you weren’t aware of on Friday night.

It sounds like a parody, but that’s actually what football watching is becoming.  No longer satisfied with match-reports, casual observations or enjoyment, the contemporary community demands proof that, on every Saturday of the year, a series of decisive conclusions has been reached.

These can range from general points about a club’s short-term destiny to micro-specific concerns over a player’s skill-set.  Whatever; they must be bold and there must always be five of them. 

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about the way supporters judge the game.  Twitter, with its passive aggressive re-sharing of publicly-stated, erroneous opinions, serves to remind us that, for as long as professional sport exists, fans will crave intellectual superiority over one another.

“Look what this clown said about X, Y and Z…(retweet)”

We’ve all done that at one point or another and it’s such a transparently self-serving action that you can almost hear the smugness through the computer screen.  It’s fan one-upmanship 101 and, because social media now keeps a lasting record of these japes, it’s a perilous game to play. 

But, while this may have been a community staple for some time, in recent years the race for the biggest, boldest opinion appears to have intensified.  Just as it’s no longer acceptable not to have heard of every player of the face of the footballing Earth, now it’s also mandatory to have a point of view on everything - and that might be fuelling this Big Opinion era. 

The digitilisation of the football media changed the landscape forever.  It has been a force for good in the sense that it diversified the environment and allowed more tastes to be catered to than ever before.  But it was also bad, because it flooded the market-place and ensured that existing within it became as much about provoking attention as it did producing content of merit.

There were myriad implications, the most extreme being the culture of prioritising notoriety over sincerity; the internet is now home to a range of columnists who will say absolutely anything for the sake of a few more clicks.  Their opinions are brazen, poorly constructed and, almost invariably, entirely hollow; they exist purely to antagonise those without any emotional control and are typically aimed at a perma-trending topic. 

But, even at street level, that mentality has proven infectious.  The internet often teaches us that visibility is more precious than substance and so maybe football watchers everywhere have been coerced into believing that whoever shouts loudest and with the most conviction wins. 

Being a digitally active fan is a competitive business - and not just in the tribal sense.  Even when there are no games and no season, supporters are fighting on the social media battlefields in pursuit of followers and retweets.  They must be funny, they must be pertinent and they must appear to have conclusive, unmovable positions on absolutely everything. 

And it’s that, rather than necessarily fickle attitudes, which have taken us to where we are today.  Whether you work for a newspaper, a website, write a blog, or just ceaselessly opine on Twitter, it is no longer enough just to enjoy what you see.  Match-reports, you suspect, are being fazed out because they simply don’t say enough.  Even though a Henry Winter re-telling of a Premier League game could probably be packaged and published as a novella, populist tastes now demand more than just gentle description.

And that’s emphasised wherever you look.  This is the age of the big opinion, certainly, but it’s also been the dawn of relentlessly public polling.  Tune into Sky Sports News at any given time of day and you’ll be confronted by some kind of spectacularly unnecessary vote-taking exercise in which, whatever the issue, supporters are forced to pitch their tent in Camp A or Camp B.  

A new signing can only be a roaring success or jaw-dropping catastrophe.

A player’s performance in a game is either spectacular or dreadful. 

It’s a really binary world with no shades of grey.  Opinions not longer fit into boxes marked ‘fine’, ‘adequate’ or ‘hold on, I still don’t know’.  It’s one or the other, black or white - a world of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but never ‘maybe’.     

It’s a mild form of social conditioning.  If you only enjoy football matches or if you require longer than 90 minutes to form a stance that you’re willing to display from the rooftops, then the chances are that your opinion will not be heard or that your article will not be read.  

The middle-ground is gone; now is the time to round-up all your half-baked conclusions to the nearest definitive. 

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