Archive for August, 2007

Bull in an internet forum

What I’m about to say probably won’t please Hereford United FC. I’m not a big fan of their ground. The turnstiles are so narrow that a 10 and a half stoner such as myself has to squeeze through, the toilets are just plain horrible, and some bright spark forgot to attach the roof to the back wall in the away area meaning the back steps get soaked every time it rains.

I’m hoping that these negative comments from an occasional sports journalist, published on an internet blog, free to read by anyone, won’t result in a lifetime ban preventing me from visiting should Exeter play the Bulls, or even if I happen to be passing Edgar Street in the not-too-distant future and decide to catch a match.

Martin Watson isn’t so lucky. This lifelong Hereford fan, and season-ticket holder from 1994, is currently banned for life from the ground. His crime? To run an unofficial internet forum, not a million miles away from hundreds of other football fan sites.

Last Saturday, after Hereford’s match at home to Rochdale, one poster made a comment questioning the official attendence. Hereford’s manager/chairman Graham Turner felt the post the be libelous and rang Watson, asking him to remove the post. And then banned Watson from the ground for life.

Turner later posted a statement on Hereford’s official site, the text of which can be read here. More of that in a sec.

Now, having not seen the offending post, let’s give Turner the benefit of the doubt and say it was libelous to whomever. In which case, he was well within his rights, under current English law [1], to inform Watson of the comments left on the site and Watson seems to have removed them as soon as he was informed. All well and good, problem solved, so why on earth Turner then felt the need to ban Watson is baffling, to say the least.

Unsurprisingly, Watson has shut down the forum off the back of it. When you reach a stage like that, something you do for the love of your club just isn’t worth the hassle.

Turner’s statement provides a few clues:

“This weekend an unfounded and libellous statement was posted after our match against Rochdale, it remained on the site for 3 days before our request to have it removed was carried out. I do not accept that for three days the organisers did not know of its existence or its implications. At no time have I ever asked for it to be closed.”

Now, a couple of points here. Firstly, it was a bank holiday when the comment was made. I don’t know how many moderators the site has (3 by the looks of things) but with family commitments, holidays, etc there’s a good chance 3 days could pass before anybody was able to properly go through the site and look at the discussion boards. Also, it took Turner three days to a) notice the comment and b) do anything about it. Its not unreasonable to assume the forum would take the same amount of time. The fact Watson removed the post once informed suggests he’d have taken it down earlier if he knew about it.

Secondly, as an ex-football forum moderator myself, I know how difficult it can be to keep track of discussions, especially after matches where there’s often thousands of comments in the space of a couple of hours meaning the odd comment can be easy to miss. Again, when brought to my attention, they’d usually be dealt with. But getting a text on a Saturday night when I’ve had a few doesn’t mean its easy for me to drop everything and rush back to a computer screen.

Ditto with this blog and the previous one, Coffee and PC. On the rare occasions I got asked to remove things, I’d usually edit them out when I was near a computer. On occasions, like the time I was off on the top of Dartmoor, this isn’t always possible immediately.

Turner’s argument isn’t black and white, that’s for sure.

And he may not have asked to shut the forum, but I don’t think anybody can be surprised at Watson’s subsequent action.

It’s this part that worries me:

“I cannot therefore sit back and do nothing about the outrageous, unfounded and libellous comment that came onto this web site. In my view the organisers must take responsibility and be accountable for what is posted. They provide the vehicle for the comment so therefore must take responsibility to have it monitored.”

Again, Turner isn’t sit back and do nothing. He complained. The organisers took responsibility and removed the post. What more does he want and, short of closing the forum, or Turner launching a legal action, what more could be done?

What worries me is Turner’s creating a dangerous precedent. Lets now assume, for the moment, the statement wasn’t libelous and Turner just happened to disagree with this and other comments made. After all, it’s not unheard of for football bosses to throw a bit of a sulk with broadcasters, so its only to be expected with the internet.

Whatever the post on the forum said, there’s a good chance a football fan will be saying exactly the same thing in front of a dozen or so down the pub. Turner may disagree with it. Would he ask the pub to ban the drinker?

Much as the post-match views of football fans often drive me to distraction [2], they’ve got as much right to voice their opinion as anyone else. The manager probably will disagree he was crap and got his tactics wrong. The board will probably disagree they’re not investing in the team. Such is the lot of football, and will be forever more. But if you banned every fan who posted something critical or querying about the club, the terraces would soon be pretty empty.

This episode reminds me of two closer to home [3]. Firstly at Torquay United last season, where colourful then-chairman Chris Roberts, during his rather brief stint, had a very public spat with the Supporters’ Trust over a whole host of things. Roberts claimed the leading members of the Trust were not true supporters and just in it to cause trouble, despite them being among the few who could be bothered to get off their arse and try and save the South Devon club.

Then, a few years earlier, the year-long reign of John Russell and Mike Lewis in the boardroom of Exeter City. A few months into their tenure, and a few members of the unofficial online fans forum, Exeweb, started highlighting a few odd things, and suggested all was not what it seemed with the twosome. Without these few individuals using the power of the net, I’m really not sure how far the anti-Russell and Lewis campaign would have got. Given their fondness for banning a few dissenters during matchdays, I’m surprised Steve Morris, who runs Exeweb, didn’t get a ban [4].

I’m in no way comparing Turner, or Roberts, to the gruesome twosome and there’s certainly no suggestion of impropriety, but it illustrates the point that online forums play a massive part in fan support nowadays and often are forces for good rather than evil. Yes, there’s a lot of very idiotic comments directed against the team, largely letting off steam behind a computer post-defeat. But the forums also help build a sense of camaraderie, get new fans involved, exiled fans up to date, and generally contribute to the community of a club. I don’t doubt I wouldn’t have kept up my interest in City to such a high degree when I was living in Cardiff if it wasn’t for Exeweb.

Again, to finish on a point made earlier, but worth repeating again, if a comment is libelous, or there’s good reason for believing so, then Turner (or Bachman, or Overdrive, or whoever) are well within their rights to ask for it to be taken down, but not within their rights if they just don’t like what’s being said. But to ban Martin Watson is like dropping a ten tonne anvil on a small walnut. [5]

The petition to get Martin Watson’s ban rescinded is here. If you care about football, free-speech, or both, I hope you’ll put your name to it. And while I may be risking an Edgar Street ban for this post (assuming Graham Turner actually reads this), at least it means I won’t have to experience the toilets or the leaky roof again.

[1] If the forum was in print format, it would have been a case of publish and be damned (although the journalist, if they’d been worth their salt, would have, at the very least, carried a response). Although, a forum isn’t a newspaper, so… oh cripes, I can see where I’m going here. Right, let’s put ALL that to one side as fascinating subsidiary issues and get back to the point in hand, otherwise I’ll be here all night. Ok? Happy? Good.

[2] Have you ever tried to listen to the 5pm phone-ins on Talksport and 5Live? I mean really listen? You might as well play the entire works of Leonard Cohen. It’d be more cheerful.

[3] Yes, admit it. You’ve all be waiting for me to talk about Exeter City.

[4] I got threatened with a lifetime ban. One match the Trust planned to hold a protest against Russell and Lewis, and handed out cardboard signs to display at the end of the match. I took one, unsure whether or not to protest. I was stopped by a stewardon the way in who said if I took the sign into the ground, I’d be banned for life. I decided to protest. I didn’t get banned

[5] I’m reminded of a quote from David Blunkett, on passing clauses in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 to curtail Brian Haw’s protest in Parliament Square: “It is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but he is a nut.”


Not quite a linkdump, not quite a post

Two excellent (and long) posts floating around at the moment that are worth reading if you get a moment.

Firstly, via the ASI, an excellent summarisation of the problems of liberalism, and its lack of definition. It’s one of the main problems I have with liberalism, if you’re going to describe yourself as one. Most people assume liberal means left-wing. It’s not, or not obvious to me. As Don’t Trip Up points out, you’re going to get social liberals who may appear to have something in common with the left, or even hard left. But liberalism isn’t socialism. To me, classic liberalism is, in a lot of cases, the antithesis of socialist philosophy, especially in terms of the rights of the individual. I had a two-day dalliance with socialism at university. Never again.

Although the more laissez-faire strand of liberalism, as the author describes it, feels to me more like libertarianism, the points are made well. If there was a decent set of liberals in politics, they should be leading the criticism of both Labour’s wholly illiberal and anti-libertarian anti-terror measures, as well as fiscal policy, yet shouldn’t be aligning themselves to the Conservatives because of the, well, conservative nature of the members.

Look, it’s late and I’m tired. I know what I’m on about. Go read the article. He makes more sense than me.

The second, and bugger all to do with the first, is Ministry of Truth’s excellent, detailed look at gun crime figures. Not really as much to say about that really, other than it’s very good.

The lock up

There’s something to be said for living in blissful ignorance, which is one of my default states, along with irate. Not only am I oblivious to people the vast majority of the time, which has obvious benefits, most notably I don’t have to interact with 99% of the population. This suits me fine, although will probably lead to me being stabbed if I ever move to a major city.

However, problems arrive when it comes to working in the real world. Not in terms of day to day work. My caffeine habit ensures that I’ll alert, possibly more than is good for me.

No, this is in terms of saying yes without actually realising what I’m saying yes to. I blame it on ex-girlfriends. You hit a point where yes because the default answer to save time, knowing the affirmative answer will save less hassle in the long-term, even if it means curtain shops before bedtime.

On this particular occasion, the question was: “Do you want to do the August 26th shift.” Answer, without thinking: yes.

Not to self: check calendar before you agree to a date. Ok, so the chances are you’ll probably be spending the evening down the pub [1]through lack of options, but at least goddam check what the hell that day is [2]

So, while I’m getting up at the crack o’doom to work, here’s what various housemates are doing:

1. Housemate number one is in Spain. Ok, so they’re sorting out selling their house. But it’s still Spain. If I didn’t dislike planes so much, I may like to visit the place at some point.

2. Housemate number two. In London, at a wedding. I think. I’m not so convinced I’d like this. Weddings scare me almost as much as Linda Barker. But at least it isn’t working at the crack o’doom.

3. Housemate number three. In Rome. Possibly. I’ve not heard from him for a while. He’s probably married into a mafia family by accident or got eaten by wolves by now. Either way, if he doesn’t turn up by Wednesday, I’ll start hawking around his room to rent, and sell his possessions on ebay. If he’s alive, he’ll thank me for this in the long term.

Me. Working. Early. Working. Monday. Ok, the latter is of my own volition. It’s still work on a sunny bank holiday.

But this post isn’t so much a complaint about having to work, even if I would like to take issue with my own oblivious, and point out if anybody wants to remove my brain for scientific experiment before I expire in the name of research, feel free. It’ll only improve me.

No, what I’m really confused about is my habit of locking the bathroom door, despite knowing the house is empty. I know nobody’s around. They know they’re not going to walk in on me as they’re nowhere near said room. So why do I persist with the bolt? It’s not as if it makes the process go any fast.

Perhaps I fear the SAS breaking down my door searching for… well, a few burned CDs in my case. But breaking down the door nonetheless, spotting my actions and having a damn good laugh. Perhaps a troupe of morris dancers will use my house as a dancing route during their finale dance, pause, and laugh at the size of my member.

Perhaps I’m just terrified there’s a really hot poltergeist haunting my downstairs and if I offend her by not locking the door, and not washing my hands, she’ll react badly and smash that nice and expensive bottle of wine I’ve been saving for a special occasion.

There’s still no explanation for it though. Maybe if I get diagnosed with OCD, it may get me off working bank holidays on the future?

[1] The Winchester. Simon Pegg fans will understand. 

[2] I swear you could ask me: “You ok to worth December 25th” and I’d blissfully say yes until the week before I’d realise that we’re approaching Christmas. Truly, to work in an office with me is a unique experience. Not least that I also use swear words for punctuation in everyday speech. 

Two lecturers. Two irreplacable people.

It has not been a great year for my old alma mater, Cardiff University’s School of Journalism.

A couple of months ago my old tutor on the broadcast journalism postgraduate, Bob Atkins, died. Bob was a larger-than-life character who, along with Colin Larcombe, knocked hundreds of would-be journalists into shape and influenced probably hundreds more. He was one of the main reasons I am where I am today, and convinced me to stick with the course when I was questioning my own abilities.

Blunt, honest and thoroughly entertaining, Bob wasn’t afraid to tell you your work was rubbish (I have one of my old scripts somewhere with Bob’s writing saying: “This is crap” on it), but was also a fantastically kind and generous person who enjoyed his job, and passed that enthusiasm down to his students. I think its fair to say Bob WAS the broadcast journalism postgrad.

He also knew how to get the best out of people. Running up to one production day, our group was in a bit of a crisis trying to put together our first live, 2 hour breakfast show. Bob, being Bob, saw the chaos and boomed across the room: “Right, I’m cancelling the breakfast show. We’ll do an afternoon broadcast instead.” Two hours later, we were fine tuning our packages and early the next morning a somewhat shambolic, but entertaining, show was broadcast to the Bute Building.

I didn’t blog about Bob’s death at the time as I really didn’t feel like I could add anything to what others were saying, and was still in some sort of shock as I’d only completed the course 12 months ago.

Now, in the space of less than 3 months another old lecturer, this time on the undergraduate course, passes away suddenly.

I didn’t know James Thomas as well as Bob Atkins, as I only took one of his modules, but his death feels even more shocking. Bob’s health wasn’t brilliant. James, on the other hand, barely felt to me like he’d started.

As with Bob, James was one of those lecturers who could inspire and entertain, and make what you learnt stick with you. You never wanted to skip his classes because they were so engaging.

I wouldn’t really call James larger than life. Indeed, I don’t think his first lecture made much of an impression on me. But soon his lectures became the highlight of the week, and his enthusiasm for his subject, dry wit, and a genuine desire to help each and every student that knocked on his door meant he was one person who, no matter what the subject, you’d turn up because it was, well, James Thomas.

Two lecturers. Two very different styles. Two people who’ve left an impression on thousands of graduates around the UK and beyond, and two people who’ve cruelly been denied the chance to leave an impression on thousands more.

RIP James. RIP Bob. JOMEC wouldn’t have been the same without one of you. Without both, the department has lost two outstanding members of staff, and two outstanding human beings.

Controlling our feral youth of today.

A simple solution: clone Chuck Norris.

Apart from the obvious benefits and inherent rightness of simply cloning Chuck in general, what feral teen on their right mind would cause trouble when Chuck’s patrolling the streets?

Think about it. A14-year-old hoodie intends to spend the evening drinking cider and shouting at passers-by. Would he even attempt this if Chuck was in the city? Of course not. Chuck will take no nonsense from hoodies. In fact, there is no such thing as the theory of evolution full stop. There are those species Chuck allows to live. The rest die.

If cloning Chuck gets too expensive, or the village has a low crime-rate, Mr. T would suffice.

On being rejected by the King’s Head’s 3rd XI

My footballing career, it’s fair to say, has not been a particularly illustrious one. Despite an unshakable belief at the age of nine that I’d lead Wales to victory in the World Cup Final, somewhat life contrived it so instead of becoming a cult hero at St. James’ Park, I sit and write about the cult heroes at St. James’ Park. Those who can’t, write.

In brief, my footballing career can be described thus:

Aged 10: On the verge of a call up to the first, until transferred to another school, where I sit on the bench for a couple of games before eventually being released.

Aged 16: Tire of not even managing to perform bench-warming duties to a satisfactory standard and wangle myself a transfer to college.

Aged 17: Discover beer and girls. Football career is put on hold.

Aged 20: Transfer to university. Discover even more beer and girls, not to mention a host of other activities, like go-karting, radio producing and sitting around discussing French cinema. Football career still on hold.

Aged 23: Make an effort to get in shape and take up squash. Also start tentatively playing football on a semi-regular basis.

Aged 24: Transfer to the world of work. Consider taking up badminton.

Aged 25: Another work transfer to an office that has a football team. Lace up the boots on a regular basis, go to the gym twice a week. In better condition than I have been for years. Score the best, and 3rd, goal of my life in a Monday night 5-a-side competition when I make a burst down the left, control the ball with one touch, take it inside the defender, shift onto my other foot and bury it in the bottom corner. This stands as the pinnacle of my footballing career.

Perhaps my one downfall through all this was that I really wasn’t very good. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. I could defend a bit, could curl a ball from a free kick reasonably well and, given time on the ball, could pick a very decent pass.

Clearly, I was too good for lower leagues and would have flourished in the Premiership. I could out-philosophise and discuss Descartes with Cantona, read the Guardian quicker than Le Saux, make shrewder property investments than Robbie Fowler and bake a better pie than Mick Quinn. Sadly, it was never to be, and the one trial I had for a local village team resulted in the assessment of:

“If you could head, kick or know how to receive a ball, you’d be ok.”

A ringing endorsement, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Still, I wasn’t totally crap because I had one secret weapon. Pace.

At school, I was also decent around the athletics track. I was a pretty good long-jumper, could hold my own in middle distance and was a very good sprinter, winning the 100m two years in a row.

Although my natural position’s right-back, I was equally happy on the wing as I could fly by slower kids even if my shooting was utterly wayward. Once I learned to pass the ball, I made an average addition to any team.

But tonight, I learned a painful truth. One even more painful than realising the majority of Exeter City’s squad was younger than me, and I’d never make it as a pro footballer.

Although I’ve been keeping up fitness-wise over the summer, I’m a bit rusty so jumped at the chance to turn out for a friend’s five-a-side team. We were losing 3-0 with 5 minutes to go when I was brought on to turn things around. Or at last try and prevent a loss turning into a massacre.

Stuck at defence I mis-time an interception and the opposition attacker drew level and takes the ball past me. “No problem,” I think. “I can catch him.”

And then my legs fail. There is running but no speed. The kid leaves me for dust and fires a sweet shot into the bottom corner.

I look down at my legs, bewildered. I’m not puffed, I’m giving the same amount of legwork as usual, but I am hideously off the pace. A horrible, horrible realisation hits me. The other team were packed full of youngsters who were not only better than me (which I understood, and live with) but were faster. Much much faster.

I’d lost a yard or two over the summer and suddenly my whole game was destroyed. I’ll now have to concentrate and position myself, read the game and make ‘intelligent’ runs rather than instinct ones. I’ll be the one the fans-I-never-had will turn to each other on the terraces and say: “Don’t you remember that Gary Andrews? He’s past it now. That magical pace has gone. Not only can he not hit a gigantic cow’s arse with an even bigger banjo, he now makes Matt Le Tissier look positive athletic.”

I may plant a gravestone on the astroturf later with the following epitaph.

‘Here lies Gary Andrews’ football career.

Killed by one much younger than him.

He occasionally ran away with games, but more often than not down cul-de-sacs.

He should have stuck with the rugby. He was much better at it. You don’t need to use your feet, for a start.’

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August 2007

Throw letters together and send them to me

Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com