By Phillip Shaw
‘You just have to ask yourself the question. Do I need this in my life?’
It goes without saying that Villa fans are hurting. The loss to Fulham in the play-off final feels like a mortal wound to anyone that follows the claret and blue. One that’s had salt rubbed into it, with the news of financial woe that has followed.
It feels like the lowest ebb in my time supporting since 1990, yet I cannot kid myself that it could get worse. While drowning my sorrows and contemplating where we go next, I finally came to a realisation – social media makes sporting failure so much worse.
I’m from Northern Ireland, I’m 35 and supporting Villa has never been easy. From the moment I saw David Platt swivel on a volley versus Belgium, I was hooked. While all my other friends enjoyed Manchester United’s rise and rise, I was the one who reminded them that they couldn’t beat Villa in the first Premier League season. I could list all the ups and downs of supporting Villa like the two League Cups and European nights to the continual losses to Manchester United since that inaugural Premier League season and the disappointment of the way the ‘John Gregory season’ ended, but I won’t.
Looking back though, these peaks and troughs were far easier to emotionally deal with than what’s been happening recently, mainly because there wasn’t any social media.
When I joined Twitter, I started following Villa fans and computer game nerds, it seemed a good way to connect with the fan base and get the feeling that I was at least involved every week rather than sitting waiting on the result or listening on the radio.
Trips to Villa Park were expensive and thus infrequent, but now with Twitter there was this social media tool that let me follow the matches as if I was sitting in the Holte End.
Surely there was no downside?
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the addiction of social media to kick in. I was soon opening Twitter every five minutes in the hope for new news of any kind. When transfer season began it was like crack, as rumour after rumour appeared on the #AVFC hashtag.
This fuelled the addiction further and before long I was hooked.
It helped that Villa was undergoing a bit of a renaissance under Randy Lerner and Martin O’Neill, so times were good. All that came crashing down when Twitter broke the news of O’Neill’s walkout and the subsequent tailspin the club went into.
I’m not one to apportion blame in hindsight, but it was a typical Northern Irish reaction from the man and there’s even a word for it over here – ‘Thran’ (basically, it means stubborn, but like all local words can have a few meanings). So I was sitting in work with a phone that was just about smart, frantically refreshing, as all my work colleagues dished out the abuse.
Not having many Villa fans around me I retreated to twitter and was able to follow and interact with some fellow Villa supporters. This helped me, as I realised I wasn’t the authority on football I thought I was. I had little knowledge of South America and European leagues but engaging with other Villa fans helped open my eyes to this.
I was also able to enjoy healthy debates about tactics and such, having played my own fair share of amateur football and having managed as well. Yet despite this, the unfiltered nature of social media managed to make this difficult.
You could be having a back and forth about a young player when suddenly someone else would jump in, call you stupid and hijack the conversation. Rather than a simple pub debate over players, you suddenly had to contend with abuse even about the country you live in and much more.
Some people forget that we are all meant to be Villa fans on here. This seemed to intensify during the Houllier and Mcleish years before it reached a crescendo during our relegation season. Because of this, you are now less likely to put a positive opinion about a player up on social media and more likely to reply to others who are willing to put themselves out there. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself with an honest, positive opinion on one of our players.
Unfortunately, we all know where the following years have left us since. Most of us have followed it and expressed our pain on Twitter, Facebook and other forums. But after the ultimate tragedy of the play-off final, I’ve drawn a line. Using social media for anything other than getting the latest news on your team is emotionally unhealthy. One person expressing disappointment is bad enough but a few thousand in abject depression doesn’t help.
Before social media, I seemed to have my own methods of coping with bad defeats. The 2000 FA Cup final was a travesty of a football match, but I was able to resign myself to the fact that it was decided by a goalkeeping error.
Now, it would have been a combination of tactics, conspiracy theories, poor decisions or something worse. While these may all have been true for the play-off final, I don’t need to see it in every other tweet.
I know the goal was a combination of Adomah not tracking back, Hutton getting sucked in and Hourihane diving to intercept a ball in midfield. I can see these things with my own eyes and try to accept them. Yet I bounce onto Twitter and see people pointing this out and suddenly everything is worse.
None of these mistakes are as blatant as David James aimless flapping in 2000, yet they are so magnified by everyone pointing them out that I cannot get over them. Even now I feel sick thinking about the through ball and Cairney stroking it home.
‘Stop looking for excuses and miracles on social media and engage with other fans, as you would over a pint on a sunny afternoon.’
Speculation And Positive Action
Now it is time for positive action. You need to cleanse the negativity from your timelines. I unfollowed John Cross from the Daily Mirror for his London-based bias towards Fulham, I may have fired a parting jab but still, he is gone. James Nursey was next, no explanation needed there. I even left the Villa fans group on Facebook, after it kept getting trolled by other fans. You just have to ask yourself the question. Do I need this in my life?
A quick look at Twitter this week has shown that all the press are circling on Villa as it is a quiet news period before the World Cup starts.
In their eyes, we are basically bankrupt having gambled it all on promotion this season. As more and more stories break about takeover bids, how our chairman cannot get his money out of China to pay the taxman, the suspension of the CEO and the sale of our best players, it is time to take a step back.
Unless any of us are billionaires with a squeaky clean past and all our money based on these shores, then we cannot make the situation any better. In fact, all we can do is make things worse for ourselves.
So my advice is to use this period to cleanse your timelines and prepare yourself for the difficult times ahead. Whenever you see someone report on ‘our financial plight’ unfollow them, block them if necessary (Apart from the forthcoming MOMS articles! Haha – Ed). Focus on the people who talk about solutions to the problems.
I’ve even taken the local Birmingham press off my Facebook. If you have a trusted news source, then follow them, don’t even read every other journalist churning out clickbait by regurgitating the same themes and articles.
The time has come for a return to the way it used to be supporting your team. Stop looking for excuses and miracles on social media and engage with other fans, as you would over a pint on a sunny afternoon.
Give Phil a follow on Twitter here – @prsgame
These supporter opinion pieces are not necessarily the views of My Old Man Said