If it’s humanly possible, all of a sudden, I care more about football. This from a guy who used to sleep in his new football boots as a teenager – Puma King Classics, you just can’t beat them - writes Craig Peters.
But perhaps describing this feeling as caring more about the sport which flows freely through my veins is a bit much; let’s say perhaps, the online banter hits more of a nerve than it used to, and possibly should do.
Why? Because thanks to Twitter, I, like thousands, rather millions of others, am readily accessible to it.
A good place to start will be to tell you my team of choice. I am a Brighton & Hove Albion supporter – I have been watching the club since 1986 when I was five. I also briefly played for the youth team in the dark days of ground-sharing in Gillingham.
I also hold Newcastle United close to my heart. Since a young Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle came down to Brighton and won 4-0 in 1988, I have struggled to ignore my fondness for the club and its traditions.
However, back then, it was a simple case of turning up to the ground, cheering your team on, receiving and dishing out the verbal abuse through song to the opposition fans, go home, and then tune in to Des Lynam on Match of the Day. Sure, you had radio phone-ins, but there was no direct contact between you - the listener - and the other fan on the end of the phone.
But all that has changed. We now have the internet literally in our hands, wherever we go. What a beautiful thing it is. Or perhaps not...
For Brighton’s recent home clash to Reading, the anticipation of the game could be felt by supporters on Twitter in the week leading up to the game. And how do I know that? All I had to do was search #bhafc on Twitter. Then, as if by magic, anyone who has tweeted about bhafc will appear on my timeline. It’s a highly addictive thing to do, believe me.
But there are some other fans that have tweeted about my club too. Who are these imposters? Ahhh, I see. It’s Crystal Palace fans. It’s Southampton fans. It’s Reading fans. In fact, it’s just about anybody who wants to hurl abuse at supporters of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club just for the sake of it.
Before I get accused of playing the victim here, I know all too well it all works both ways. I should know - I’ve dished it out on Twitter too. But that’s my point. This social media platform (I hate saying that) has heightened and intensified football rivalries.
In fact, it has done so to the extent that rival hooligans have reportedly organised ‘meetings’ before and after their clubs face each other on the pitch. The first thing I do after each game is search for #bhafc and then send a tweet myself. And on several occasions, just because I’ve made it public knowledge of the team I support, abuse is thrown my way.
Strange isn’t it? Just as I write this a man in a Liverpool shirt has just walked past my house. What’s the difference in me running outside and giving him a piece of my mind about his club wasting £35m on a duff striker, or saying they should be playing two wingers to accommodate Andy Carroll, that Kenny Dalglish isn’t the man to take them forward, etc etc? The difference is simply a computer to hide behind.
The first thing I do after a Brighton or Newcastle match is to see what Palace and Sunderland fans are saying about their respective rivals. I care far too much about what people are saying about my club. I take it personally.
Even during games – and I know I’m certainly not alone here – I tweet. This is quite often updates about the game and the rival fans who I know are tweeting as they sit in the away end. Against Reading I was mainly giving updates to the Southampton fans – sorry, #saintsfc – to inform them that we were trying our best against their closest promotion rivals, just to try to avoid abuse from their fans later on in the evening. Pathetic yes, but the abuse still came. The abuse still comes from Palace fans after our 3-1 defeat at The Amex back in September seven months’ ago (I always need a lie-down after reliving that result).
Everyone needs a pantomime villain. Crystal Palace are ours; we are theirs. Southampton and Pompey; Arsenal and Spurs; Ipswich and Norwich. You could go on and on. But each of these rivals, despite the often-offensive abuse on Twitter, in a strange sense, need each other. I bet when #saintsfc secure their inevitable promotion to the Premier League and they realise that Portsmouth aren’t on their fixture list, there will be an odd sensation of emptiness, for the match against your fiercest rival is the one you mark down on your calendar straight away.
I am often amazed at the vile tweets between Crystal Palace and Brighton fans. Some of it goes too far, as I know it does with other football rivalries. I see it all the time; it goes beyond football banter. And, like me, some fans will take an insult aimed at their club very personally. Now, rather than just turning up to support your club each weekend, you need to be pro-active and reactive all week if you are to survive the Twitter jungle of football abuse.
Now that I’ve come to the conclusion of this article and it will subsequently be published on Twitter, I realise how ironic it is that I’m bound to be on the end of more abuse for merely mentioning any of the aforementioned clubs. I give it about 35 minutes...
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Osprey founder and director Craig Peters has played sport at a high level. Part of Brighton & Hove Albion’s youth team in the mid to late 90s, Craig was part of the same midfield line-up which included England midfielder Gareth Barry, for both Brighton & Sussex. Craig started his playing days at Portsmouth at the age of 12, moving on to Gillingham before heading to the team he supported as a boy, Brighton. Craig then played semi-professionally for Burgess Hill and Withdean in the Combined Counties League. He has also previously competed for Sussex on the athletics track in both the 1,500 and 3,000m.