The Rise of the Internet Warrior
Byline: Nick Hilton
* NFORMATION technology has provided modern football fans with the means and opportunity to expand their interest in the game beyond the wildest imaginings of the generation that went before them.
Today's supporters have access to an almost unlimited resource of information and opinion about football in their town, their region, their country and the world. And the platform to say their own piece.
Football clubs have always been used to the idea of thousands of supporters shouting a simple message in unison towards the pitch or the directors' box. Now they face the more complicated business of how to react to thousands of individual voices debating the club's affairs on the internet or radio phone-ins every day.
Looking at the opinions on the message boards of fans' internet sites is liable to be an uncomfortable experience for club staff because the tone of the comments posted by individuals hiding behind pseudonyms can be negative and abrasive.
The majority of managers simply don't look at them, according to Tranmere's Les Parry.
He said: "There's no doubt that the internet has had a big impact on football. News travels a lot faster than it used to.
"But I don't look at the forums any more. I used to, when I first took the job as manager. I got a lot of stick on them. Then I looked at one of the most popular forums for Tranmere and counted just 36 different contributors in a week. So I thought, why am I getting het up about 36 people? "It is a small conversation and it's not a face-to-face thing. People know what I'm like face-to-face. I don't mind discussing anything with anyone. But I can't discuss things with people I can't have a two-way rapport with."
Parry added: "When I talk to other managers most of them say they don't look at the message boards. There will be very few who read them and take them seriously.
"John Aldridge set up a Twitter account and then jacked it in because it was giving faceless people a platform to have a go.
"I don't have a Facebook or Twitter account but there are two people out there who impersonate me on Facebook. One of them put a picture of my moustache on it the other day. I don't know how they got it."
Parry says he can see why supporters want to voice their frustrations. "I do think football fans are a bit fickle, myself included. I can't watch England play because they frustrate me. So I can see where people are coming from when they watch Tranmere and we don't perform well."
The forums also provide the internet fans with a platform to shout directly into the directors' box.
In the case of Liverpool FC, information technology enabled groups of supporters to unite and play a significant role in forcing unpopular American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett out of Anfield. Yet some of the comments posted about manager Roy Hodgson around the same time shocked and disappointed some supporters.
Dr James Cruickshank, from the School of Psychology at the University of Liverpool, argues the influence of the internet on the modern professional game should not be underestimated.
Dr Cruickshank, a lifelong Liverpool supporter who has developed an interest in the psychological aspects of cyberspace, said: "The success of the Sprit Of Shankly movement and their influence in the fight to get rid of Gillett and Hicks attests to the importance of the internet and the power it can have over any given club, the media and public perceptions. …