I wasn’t sure whether to do this or not but, after the week I’ve just had, it’s good to get it off my chest. Plus, I have a platform, and occasionally I ought to use it to raise awareness of the impact of issues affecting me that might also affect others – in this instance, it’s online bullying and pile-ons.
It’s been a tough few months. On the 1st October – the day that a clip of a video of me got mass tweeted and retweeted by hundreds of people telling me I’m a nonce, paedo, melt, snowflake, cunt, not a Spurs fan, everything that’s wrong with our fanbase, that I should find a new club, that I should fuck off and die and/or that they’ll celebrate my death – my partner and I were waiting for a paramedic for her dad. That was the culmination of a number of months of him being desperately ill, becoming more ill, and of us helping to care for him, and of me helping to care for her and for her mum (who has also been in and out of hospital). I was exhausted – between giving practical and emotional support to my partner whilst working 10-hour days in my very intense day job, I was feeling pretty high levels of stress. Her dad, Alan, a man who I cared about deeply, passed away four days later. It’s been devastating for everyone. RIP, Alan.
I am kind of used to Twitter abuse (not that that makes it okay) but this was a bit of a wake-up call. ‘What am I doing here? Why am I wasting so much time and energy on this god-awful platform?’.
I adored Twitter – I’ve had insightful conversations and hilarious interactions for a decade. Recently, few conversations happen in good faith: football Twitter is about point-scoring, showing off to the cool crowd and proving what a massive fan you are. It’s about likes and retweets and shoe-horning memes and calling people nonces. I have failed to accept and adapt to this. That’s definitely on me.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have blindly retweeted a two minute snippet of me appearing on a one hour show, particularly when I made a divisive comment within it. I said flippantly that ‘I wouldn’t swap the two and a half years that we had under peak Pochettino for 10 trophies’. And then in my Twitter replies I said 100 trophies.
10 imaginary trophies. 100 imaginary trophies. I was making a point. Of course, if Spurs were to win 10 trophies it would be over a number of years, having built a successful, sustainable team and squad, probably playing good football (because you couldn’t win repeated trophies not playing good football in modern football in my view), creating a dynasty akin to Manchester United in the nineties. That journey from an also-ran to a successful, sustainable club would no doubt be one of the greatest times to ever be a fan of any club, not just Spurs – that’s the point!
For me, it’s always been about the journey, not the destination. Would I swap Arsenal’s last six years for ours because they’ve won some FA Cups? Absolutely not. Many would and that’s also fine. Football fandom is a personal thing. I don’t believe that the point of football fandom is ‘trophies’ or ‘winning’. I believe that football is about escapism, family, friendship, community, values, belief, optimism, culture, history. If football was solely about winning, everyone would just go and support the team most likely to do so, no? That’s what happened at my Primary School in the mid-nineties, when all of my classmates became Manchester United fans and my dad was unendingly proud that I was the last remaining Spurs fan in my class.
Do I want Spurs to win matches? Do I want Spurs to win trophies? Of course I do! To see my club successful makes me incredibly happy. Watching Ledley King lift the League Cup at Wembley in 2008 with my dad next to me made me cry happy tears. But I don’t define my success or my fandom by numbers of trophies (though, again, it’s fine if you do). I desperately wanted Pochettino to win the league or the Champions League or at least a domestic cup – my god, he deserved to achieve his goals because he had us punching so far above our weight for so long.
Alan was a Liverpool fan (from Liverpool) who had followed them loyally since childhood. He saw them win the league in his final year on this planet and, for that, I am grateful. When I mentioned this to his eldest son the day after we lost him, he said ‘but we couldn’t enjoy it together, we couldn’t be there’. He said it with tears and a look of sorrow in his eyes – because winning isn’t the be all and end all – him sharing this experience with his dad would have meant the absolute world. To be sat in two different living rooms, in two different houses, in lockdown, watching apart, was not the way he dreamt it. It felt somehow empty, an unfulfilling experience.
For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed being on the Elite Football Show and I had a great chat with Haider, who seems like a really great person. I nearly always say ‘yes’ when asked to appear on other people’s channels and podcasts – I know they’re normally asking me because they see I have a large following rather than my being a source of particular insight – it’s a way to grow their channel, and I am very happy to help out. He absolutely did not set out to deliberately create this level of controversy – and he had my back by taking the video down (and messaging me support throughout the day that this happened).
Here’s an example of the lack of good faith I mentioned at the start of this piece – the clip was right there, the words that I wrote in a subsequent tweet were right there, and yet I had people telling me over and over that I had said something that I hadn’t. They’d filled in the gaps and created a straw man argument – to what end?
It felt very much like a ‘right vs left’ argument that I see regularly on social media – one side arguing against an imaginary point that had simply not been made because they were so aggressively angry. Why? How had I insulted their values so deeply?
I also saw people saying that I should have just shrugged this all off. Just block and move on (I blocked at least fifty accounts). That if I’m going to say something as outrageous as how much I enjoyed Pochettino being our manager then I deserve everything that follows. It’s an opinion on football. On a sport. A hobby. This is meant to be the fun part of life! I mean, if I’d said something outrageous about asylum seekers or Brexit or Covid – actually, no: I still wouldn’t deserve what followed.
Also, more than one person said that it’s hardly surprising given how I talk to people…
…honestly, I am endlessly polite on Twitter when, at times, I am gritting my teeth. I have never abused anyone. I’ve probably been rude a handful of times across the last decade, we’ve all had bad days.
I initially had some nice tweets back and responded to them, and then responded to a couple of the people who were criticising me. Then the quote retweets with clown and bell emojis racked up. The hundreds of tweets and sub-tweets started pouring in. There were multiple threads popping up across the whole Spurs Twitter community, talking about me as if I didn’t exist – like I was my avatar and not a real human being. Even people I have conversed with on good terms for most of the last decade decided to jump on the bandwagon. I saw people I thought were Twitter friends slating me on threads about me.
I’ll briefly describe what it felt like. And bear in mind the context described above, as I was already under immense stress and so my reaction was pretty extreme. It felt like I was utterly hated. Like I had embarrassed our fanbase. I was a figure of ridicule, I had let down my friends at The Extra Inch and The Fighting Cock and become a laughing stock. I briefly considered closing my account. I just wanted it to all go away. Of course these were irrational, heat of the moment feelings – responding to an avalanche by jumping off the mountain rather than waiting it out and trekking back down. But that’s how I felt.
I’m not looking for sympathy and I’m really only writing this because it’s cathartic. But there are a couple of points about what happened to me on 1st October to clarify, as it’s not nice to see rumours repeatedly tweeted about yourself:
1. After this all happened I was regularly accused of blocking anyone who’d disagreed with me. Trust me, if I blocked everyone who disagreed with me, I wouldn’t have any followers left. I don’t need to justify it, because I can block who I like, but I didn’t block and have never blocked a single person for simply disagreeing with me. I blocked people because – in the midst of an immense pile-on – people were being rude, abusive, quote retweeting to belittle and bully me, tweeting about me to encourage the growing pile-on, wishing me dead (I know) and retweeting a clipped up video (not Haider’s I hasten to add, someone else had made a new version, zoomed in on just me) to ridicule me. Why would I *not* block people that were doing these things? Knowingly and deliberately adding to the misery of my day to score Twitter cool points and then saying afterwards ‘he blocked me because I disagreed’ like butter wouldn’t melt.
One person sent me a very polite DM from their alt account saying I’d blocked them unfairly, they’d only sent an emoji of a clown and they love my account. I unblocked them. If I have ever blocked anyone, it’s for a good reason, not on a whim. It means I don’t want to hear from that person again (for a variety of reasons but mostly abuse, bullying behaviour or racism/xenophobia/homophobia/transphobia/etc).
2. I tweeted as it was all kicking off:
I’ve had people say ‘teenagers and gammons’ was the wrong language to use. At the time I tweeted this most of the accounts retweeting and being obnoxious were called things like LoCelsoSZN or TanguyzTottenham or some derivative: teenagers – or had flags in their names and were calling me a snowflake cunt: gammons. Sure, both are shorthand terms, but it was pretty clear what I meant and I still mean it. Anonymous troll football Twitter and angry shouty sweary gammon football Twitter are toxic swamps that I want no part of in my Twitter experience. I think it was pretty reasonable under the circumstances to be dismissive of these types of trollish, hateful accounts.
To the people who tweeted, direct messaged or emailed me support: thank you, it’s really been hugely appreciated. I have received way too many messages to respond to everyone but it really meant the world to me and I’m sorry to have caused drama and hassle. I’m sorry to have made you feel the need to take time out to send me a message – it was lovely though, and you’re ace.
A bunch of people are going to think I’m a ‘melt’ for writing this. But if I’ve discouraged one person from making a throwaway but potentially hurtful comment online, it’s been worth it. This whole experience has certainly been an eye-opener for me.
What have I learned? I need to remember what football Twitter is now. I need to be a lot more selective about what I share. I need to choreograph my account. I need to save my ‘takes’ for platforms where they can be discussed in good faith (I’m not moving over to Parler, don’t worry).
So I’m going to be using Twitter differently from now on and scaling back my use. And I’m going to extend my Twitter break too. It’s been really welcome. You can still hear from me on The Extra Inch, of course, and 15 Minutes (With Flav and Windy). And you can still email me and I’ll (nearly) always respond.
Let’s end on a positive…