This is going to be one of those pieces without a proper conclusion.
There’s a lot about contemporary football which is hard to explain and the extreme strain of fan behaviour is one of the many entries on that list. “Fan” is becoming a looser time, I think, and whereas once we wrongly assumed that feverish tribalism was always a barometer of commitment and a sign of someone’s dedication to their club, now it’s becoming apparent that the more aggressive supporter - the sort which patrols social media looking to create conflict from benign situations - is more typically remote.
That’s not a universal truth and there are still many match-going fans who are mindlessly one-eyed, but online rage seems increasingly like the currency of those who feel they have something to prove. It’s as if, wrongly, that fan believes that the more ridiculous their behaviour is, the greater their chances of acceptance.
“Look what I did, look at how many people I antagonised today.”
More than anything, though, I’m staggered by the relentlessness.
It’s not a secret, a lot of supporters really are quite intolerant. Not in the murky, anti-equality way - although some of that sadly still lingers - but rather in dealing with opinions that they don’t want to hear. Of course, nobody enjoys listening to brutal truths and so scathing assessments of a team’s tactical or technical flaws will always be unpopular, but even harmless observations are now met with scathing incredulity.
It’s important to recognise the difference here between debate and rage. Football is a subjective game and part of its appeal lies in its non-binary nature.
Was that a penalty?
Should that player have started the game?
Is this manager doing a good job?
That’s all healthy stuff and very much part of the sport’s texture. Some supporters get loud and angry when they debate, some try to shout their way over opposing reason, and others just calmly exchange views.
This phenomenon - sentry-post culture - doesn’t relate to that. Rather, it refers to a condition where a fan is so unable to entertain anything other than their own precise interpretation of the sport, that being exposed to even the mildest variation of their chosen truth pushes them into a visceral rage.
It’s a curious, curious thing. Stranger still, the intention behind these rages is not really to contradict the dissenting opinion or to force the holder to recant, but just to ensure that the topic isn’t even discussed. It’s the hands in the ears, fuck off, fuck off, don’t talk about it stance and it’s baffling.
It’s not confusing within the context of human nature, but it is from the perspective of what football fandom has traditionally been concerned with. The game is about winning and losing, of course, but it’s also built on its rivalries and all the natural back-and-forward with which they’re associated.
This new strain of militant fan is spawned from something different, though, and the notion of what a supporter is seems to be entirely different. These aren’t regular loyalists whose minds have just been overcooked by partisanship, they are aggressive PR men determined to end unfavourable conversations by any means necessary. They use block capitals and exclamation marks, they refer to players by special nicknames, and they end furious letters to websites with trite acronyms which they cheapen with empty use.
The game is almost peripheral to some of these people. The 90-minute matches are incidental and they live only for the skirmishes which take place during the prelude or the aftermath.
Where does this come from?