At the turn of 2009, the words ‘fan-driven media’ meant very little. Yes, there were websites catering for fans but it was still very much a niche.
As we drove through the last decade and the explosion of social media, fan sites became the norm. Every team in every league boasted a place for fans to visit that brought additional content other than the sanitised, club-sponsored content. That’s not to be critical of club content, certainly our own media team have excelled in recent seasons, but there is a limit to what they can and can’t produce. They have to be nuetral and opinion pieces are often the most engaging pieces of content for fans. We arrived on the scene in late 2015 in one guise or another and if I had a pound for every time someone said ‘I like the site, I don’t always agree with what you write’, I’d probably own a Range Rover now. That’s where alternative media thrives over club content; in the ability to offer viewpoints.
As a content creator, I had been around a while bfore the site came into existence, penning stuff for many years across a range of sites and publications. I always saw fan-driven media as a continuation of the fanzine, a place to be analytical, critical and still supportive. I recall once being told the best place for a site like ours to be placed is as a critical friend; one who will only lash out when there is a need and is willing to be a friend and supporter too.
Having attended the Football Supporters Association Awards in mid-December, it struck me how popular our little niche has become. The Football Blogging Awards dropped a huge hint, but there is an element of marketing around what they do; the awards are sponsored by companies looking to move into much of the fan-created content. There’s a good reason too; football supporters like well-informed reasoned pieces written by people who understand their club and their level. Sites like ours and behemoths such as the Anfield Wrap prove to be popular because they’re considered; they’re written by fans and therefore garner more respect than much of the content out there. It’s a growing market but recent events have also proven it to be an evolving market.
One of the most famous fan outlets is AFTV, formerly known as Arsenal Fan TV. For a while, they blazed a trail for others to follow, getting Gary Neville on their show and providing strong video content post-game for fans to enjoy. However, some of their content has become twisted against the club, with their income interpreted as going up when the side doesn’t do well. In recent weeks graffiti has appeared around the ground suggesting ‘AFTV Out’, Whilst ‘AFTV, Get Out Of Our Club’ has even been sung at the games. This surprised me, because my understanding of the Emirates is that singing was banned…
Arsenal fans letting Robbie know they don’t represent Arsenal fans
— John Cooney ? (@johncooney1) December 21, 2019
The recent unpleasantness culminated in Robbie, the presenter of AFTV, being jostled and abused outside of a game. Many fans feel they’re profiting from the club’s struggles and thrive on failure, rather than success. The situation is likely to continue over the coming weeks, but it does present an interesting conundrum to fan sites like ours.
It used to be okay to be highly critical because sites were niche: only a handful of supporters used the internet over newspapers or club content and therefore to get people on board it often paid to be outlandish and brash. I suppose it’s the Katy Hopkins effect isn’t it; the more controversial you are, the more people pay attention. However, whilst that carved a certain place in football for a short while, the backlash AFTV have faced is suggesting that approach is no longer applicable.
In fact, the whole idea of filming yourself at a game is becoming outdated very quickly. In my eyes, successful alternative media isn’t about the individual or team behind it, it is about the team. The discerning football fan doesn’t want to watch a person reacting to goals, just ask Andy Pearson. Instead, fans want content that is created with them in mind, not the presenter. Whilst some guy called Troopz might have made himself a minor celebrity by spitting anger and hate in Arsene Wenger’s direction, the lifespan of such content is limited. It’s like a novelty record at Christmas, everyone listens to it for a short while, but will it still get played in twenty years time? Tell me, how many of you played Fairytale of New York this Christmas? Now, how many of you played Mr Blobby’s 1993 chart-topper? Thought not.
I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, nor that of our excellent creators on the site. I wanted to pass comment on the AFTV situation because it’s actually been a bugbear of mine for some time. I went to the Emirates this year for the FBA’s, the third year in a row your votes put us on a shortlist but a Premier League club’s reach kept our name off the trophy. I watched as AFTV cleaned up, several awards going their way because of their extreme reach. Their brand of coverage really grated me because there’s no skill in spitting bile about a player and good writers, like Peter from Bury Me in Exile (and hopefully us) got stuck on a table at the back because although we take time over our craft, we don’t call our players out over every slip or defeat.
I’m not gloating here either. Robbie clearly started AFTV with the club in mind but somewhere along the line they lost sight of what is important. Your opinion, as alternative media, is only relevant if it is informed and balanced. It will only have longevity if it is reasonable and takes certain situations into account. Social media is such these days that everyone can immediately go online and call players names, there’s no market for it anymore. Kids sat in their bedroom screeching about being Sunderland fans losing to Lincoln City don’t hold long term interest anymore.
I do hope we never lose sight of what the Stacey West is about; Lincoln City. It isn’t about me, Malcolm, Bubs, Ben, Jake, Richard or anyone who produces content for it. We are merely in a position to articulate and debate, which is the same for any number of other sites like ours across the board. I sincerely hope that the future of fan-driven media is beginning to shift away from sensationalist ranting and towards more balanced and informed content that accentuates your enjoyment of supporting a club, rather than making you angry at the very team you’re meant to be supporting. By all means AFTV, be critical but praise the good for heaven’s sake. Maybe, if they had stopped to think for a few minutes and produced more balanced content, the backlash would have come around so tough.
I do realise I haven’t done a write up of the FSA Awards, you must forgive me. I came down with flu on the evening of the ceremony and have only recently begun to get better. Yesterday’s game was my first foray into the real world other than a visit to the family over Christmas and perhaps I’ve missed the boat a little with doing a full article.
What I will say is we had a truly wonderful time. Lincoln City had Lisa, Alan Long, us and Josh Vickers up for awards, but we didn’t bring any home. Our category, best Fan Site, was voted for and we were up against the Anfield Wrap who boast almost six times as many followers as Lincoln City. They won and rightly so; their site is much, much better than ours. They work full time on it and even if it had been a judged winner it would have been grossly arrogant to think our little corner of the internet deserved to beat theirs. I felt honoured in the extreme to even be sat on the table at such a wonderful event and I know Jackie, Alan, Maria and partners all felt the same.
I did see some criticism of the FSA and the ceremony from one or two people. I suppose, to a degree, I can understand where it comes from; a lack of understanding, but it is unfair. The FSA are actually relatively small in terms of the number of employees they have, but they do a lot of positive work across football with diversity and with fans who have been treated badly at matches. It’s easy to be critical on the internet without the full facts in your hand, Twitter allows you to be cutting in 144 characters (or is it more now?) and yet few probably understand fully what the FSA do.
They push the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign, they represent fans and groups who have been wronged and they work hard to make the game more accessible across the country. I have a much clearer understanding of the work they do now and coming away from the evening I felt even more pride at having been included on the shortlist. I can only hope that perhaps one day I’ll be invited back when I don’t feel like I’ve been run over by a bus and I can drink a little more of the free wine and champagne.
Thank you to those who voted for us, thank you to our patrons who are now in their third month of supporting the site and here’s to another year of supporting Lincoln City FC.