Another side effect is the new empowerment of your average football fan. This very article is a great example. It wasn’t that long ago that Joe Punter would be doing well to get their opinion across to their mates in the pub or their colleagues at work, or their mates in the school ground. That’s where it stopped though and you and your mates and colleagues moved on awaiting the next game, the conversation lost among countless others at work or school, or possibly just in a drunken haze.
Now though one person’s opinion can appear on the internet and it spreads like wildfire. Message boards and sites like Newsnow ensure that the audience for the articles are as big as possible. The message boards allow fans to read what others think and add their own opinions. Then of course, because these are written words and not spoken words, along comes your journalist who prints some of it – usually whatever is controversial enough to try and lift the flagging numbers that day – so those fans that haven’t ended up on the internet yet can read it all too. Not to mention that the fact it’s been printed then ends up being mentioned on the message boards too – usually with a link to the article because the newspapers aren’t quite that far removed from the reality of the world today.
Unfortunately, as is human competitive nature, there are those who want to stick their head above the rest and be noticed. The best way to do that? Be controversial. Frankie Boyle has made a comedy career out of just that. He says what others won’t and his rise to fame because of it has been as impressive as it has been quick. It works in his industry and fair play to him for it.
Message boards are no different, and don’t I just know it. In my “younger” days I had the audacity to try to point out that the O’Neill years had a slight tinge of disappointment because we were nearly but not quite competing with the best of Europe in the Champions League knockout rounds. I’m fairly sure most Celtic fans would agree that if only we had been able to get out of the group stages with the likes of Larsson, Sutton and co in the team then the knock out stages could have been even more than just the last 16 like they were under Strachan. We knocked out several Champions League quality teams on the way to Seville after all. Nothing said it better than seeing Monaco get hammered in the final of the Champions League by the same Porto team that we’d taken to extra time just 12 months previously. That proved to me that we could compete with the best. Of course, wishing to put my head above the parapet and get my point across on the message boards backfired spectacularly as it often came across more that I didn’t like O’Neill and thought he was a failure. The truth is, the O’Neill years are easily some of the best memories I have as a Celtic fan and I enjoyed them immensely.
The sad fact is, I don’t trawl message boards any more like I once did. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their value to the Celtic support, it’s that I don’t have the mental energy for it any more. To read just one message board takes a good deal of time to get through all the threads and posts. What you notice when you do that is just how reactionary a lot of them are. It’s the nature of the message board – someone says something and you feel like you need to reply to it. That would be another thing I was often guilty of in my time – as my ridiculous post counts will testify – I was like a dog with a bone at times and just wouldn’t know when to step away from the keyboard.
This particular phenomenon is so widespread that there’s something known as “Godwin’s Law” for the internet. For those that don’t know it, Godwin’s Law takes into account that as debate continues the points will get more and more extreme until such times as someone goes to the ultimate extreme and mentions the Nazis or Hitler. The minute that happens, you automatically lose the argument, no matter how right you might have been to start with. The point behind Godwin’s Law is that it helps to illustrate that so often on the internet the best points in debates are often lost in the heat the debate.
Unfortunately, in the game of football, such things have further consequences. Apparently there’s a note in one of the newspapers today that the bookies have installed Neil Lennon as favourite to be the first SPL manager to get the sack this season. I find such a claim to be extraordinary, but sadly it’s not without basis. If you read all the social media, all the message boards, and the Celtic fan web site – including Celtic Underground – you’ll find post after post, article after article, trying to work out what went wrong in Utrecht on Thursday night. Almost all of them at some point will point the finger of blame squarely at the manager.
If you just read these articles and posts, you’d think the Celtic support were calling for Lennon’s head already. Indeed, I actually saw some say just that on Thursday night – and that’s without going near the message boards remember! I’m sure the bookies have looked at them, looked at the fact Celtic are out of Europe and the calendar still says August, and thought “we’d better do something about this or we’ll lose money”. So despite the fact Hamilton Accies have a goal difference of -8 after just two games and all their good players from recent seasons now play down south, Billy Reid’s job is apparently safer than the man who manages the team that currently sit joint top of the SPL.
Can you imagine if the internet had been around in 1967? Celtic – having won the league two years in a row and who have the European Cup sitting proudly on the sideboard along side all the other trophies up for grabs – lose at Ibrox to THEM and then just four days later lose AT HOME in the first round of their defence of the European Cup to some Soviet team most have never even heard of. I dread to think what the message boards would have been like around then. I guarantee you there’d be some calling for Stein to go as his time had obviously come and gone and there was no way he could take us any further, or moaning that we hadn’t kicked on from a position of strength by introducing some fresh younger blood as they’d heard from a mate that some 17 year old called McGrain would be a better choice than Craig at right back – after all, he’d been the one to give away the stupid penalty in Lisbon and we were lucky that we’d got back into that game after that.
I was hurting with that defeat in Utrecht as much as the next Celtic fan. I still am as it won’t really go away until we get another crack at Europe. I can’t explain what went wrong – admittedly that may have something to do with not finding a decent stream until we were 3-0 down already (see, the Internet’s not that great!) but I could hazard a guess – may as well, everyone else has! After all, I may not have played football at the highest level, but I’ve taken part in enough games to know what I’m talking about in certain circumstances and I’ve watched enough to know how I feel as a passionate fan watching the events take place.
If you work really, really hard to establish a good lead, then you’re rightly proud of your hard work. If you then see that evaporate through means that you believe are harsh – say through two penalties you don’t think were penalties – it affects you mentally and drains you. That affects how you play the rest of the time. That’s what we had in the first 20 minutes against Utrecht – the 90 minutes at Celtic Park were rendered null and void so very quickly. Whether the decisions were right or wrong doesn’t actually matter – they were given and the team felt like they shouldn’t have been.
So we stumble our way to half time. We’ve made it there and it’s still only 2-0. Somewhere along the line our captain’s been booked for being headbutted which only goes to strengthen the feeling that this referee is against us. It’s up to the manager to lift us out of this gloom. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. I don’t know, I wasn’t in the dressing room. The tactics were changed about a bit though, we know that much as Mjallby said so after the game. But then you go out and immediately, before you’ve even finished organising things and adapting to the new tactics, bang it’s 3-0. Anything that was said in the dressing room evaporates and your back in your “everything’s against us” mood again.
So by the time I get my stream up and running, I’m looking at a Celtic team who have already been shuffled about by the manager, and who have been mentally drained not once, but twice. It’s no wonder to me they were a shambles. Lennon said after the game it was more a mental thing than anything else. He may have been talking about the awful away European record weighing heavily on us again but I think he was talking about more than that.
This one hurts more because the previous few games had looked great for us. It’s the first time in a long time we’ve put together a couple of decent performances in a row. Too many times before we’ve had one game where we looked good only to follow it up with an awful match to watch and you stop getting excited again. But you have to remember that we’re still building too. Izaguirre and Forster have yet to feature for Celtic since signing. Some others haven’t even made it to five games for us yet. There may yet be more signings to come in before the transfer window closes. Lennon’s Celtic is still very much a work in progress and it appears that what Eddie has been saying on the podcasts is spot on – we may have to wait until September to really see what Celtic we’re going to get this season.
What we won’t get is a European run to distract us from priority number one – the SPL title. That has been, and always will be, the most important thing this season. So as depressing as Thursday night was, the best thing we can do now is get right back behind the team and hope that they use the European failure as a lesson to be learned from rather than just something to depress us all. There’s enough depression to be found reading the internet.