Earlier in the week, I was made aware that someone on RAWK posted that I was ‘allegedly done for benefit fraud in 2007’. On another forum, someone was suggesting grassing me up for benefit fraud.
The first comment was a total lie; not one iota of truth. Thankfully it was deleted by the moderators, but only after a lot of people will have seen it, from point a rumour can easily spread.
The second comment is interesting, as I’m not on benefits, and haven’t been for years. So please, feel free to report me!
Even though I have a long-term illness, I support myself through writing books and, more recently, with the development of this website – which, unlike relying on the vagaries of book sales, gives me a steady monthly income.
It does show the depths to which some people will stoop, but it’s not new to me.
Although I don’t feel in the remotest bit famous in the traditional sense, in certain internet circles I clearly am. And that means the same lies and vicious rumours that affect famous people (and the footballers I write about) are aimed my way, within those communities.
I can’t stop such rubbish from appearing. But I can make the truth known, so that people can refer back to it. The fact that more than one incorrect comment was being made about my benefits situation has forced me to clarify, but also bring together some other stories from the past few years.
It might not seem important, but writers exist on reputation. Hate my writing: fine. Hate me: fine. Call me all the expletives under the sun: fine. I’m sure I’ve done the same in return in the heat of the moment.
But I will defend myself if people make up nonsense that damages my reputation, and I will take legal advice if it oversteps the mark and could be considered defamatory.
As an example, I must have been called “Goebbels” on a dozen different occasions. (Because obviously what I do bears comparison with a man responsible for the Holocaust propaganda.)
It’s not that it insults me – I’m guessing that it’s too out there to be considered libellous – but it insults all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. It’d be like me suggesting a negative fan was just a hijacker on 9/11.
All I do is write about Liverpool Football Club, with my motivation to correct inaccurate analysis in the media. But that’s the moronic levels some people will drag the debate down to. Thankfully, it tells me all I need to know about them to dismiss them out of hand as cranks. No real harm done there.
Some of the nonsense I’ve read about myself is actually quite amusing.
In the summer I discovered one of my blog pieces (about Real Madrid’s pursuit of Xabi Alonso) being discussed on a Barcelona FC forum.
A Liverpool fan who was resident on there said that he couldn’t stand me:
“Tomkins is a twat. We had a big fall out in 2002/3 on the official Liverpool forum where were in the message boards. Both of us belonged to 2 different groups. The sunny side (him) the dark side (me) basically the dark side, which was in the minority called for GH’s head and the sunny side were abusing us. But we were right all along and they never admit it. So I never read what he writes.”
Which is funny, as I’d never been a member of the official site’s forum before 2005, at which point, having just become a columnist on the site, I joined out of a sense of duty, made one post and promptly left, never to darken its doors again, so full was it of bile and teenage idiots. (No disrespect to the site and its very good folk; full disrespect to the idiots.)
But still someone felt that they could speak about me with authority, even though they were either seriously mistaken or seriously delusional.
At this point, it’s important to make the distinction that I keep faith with Rafa Benítez because I choose to, not because I blindly back any manager, nor because I am paid to do so.
I do feel support is thin on the ground for anyone in the game who is struggling, and I no longer like putting the boot into ‘one of your own’ except in extreme cases, but that doesn’t mean I am perpetually positive. It doesn’t mean that I was defending Houllier between 2002 and 2004, because I wasn’t.
In 2002, the time in question, I was going through a divorce, and had to move out of the house where my new-born son lived; I ended up in crummy accommodation, my health suffering, and was no longer able to even undertake a part-time job I’d recently begun, that was about 10 levels below my qualifications.
To suggest that I was in the slightest bit sunny at the time is a complete joke. I made Morrissey look like a Morris dancer.
Between 2002 and 2004 I didn’t post on any public forum, but was on a private email-based one, whose small number included people like Rushian (editor of RAWK, a site I was involved with at its inception), Veinticinco de Mayo (Moderator on RAWK), Chris Hadley (writer who proof-read my books) and “Andy Liverweb”, amongst others. They can verify that my views on Liverpool at the time were very different from those this individual (and others) have suggested.
Having been a fan of Gérard Houllier until just after the Treble was won, I found myself starting to dislike everything about the way he ran the team. A lot of my antipathy was because my life had hit the crapper, and the fact that I was clinically depressed.
I desperately wanted the Reds to kick-start some kind of redemption, lever me out of a black hole, but instead the football got harder and harder to take, and my mood got darker and darker.
I was at Anfield for the visit of Benítez’s Valencia in the Champions League, and to say we were outplayed was an understatement. The Reds barely got a touch. It was embarrassing. And it only got worse once relegated to the UEFA Cup.
I’ll admit to being blinded to Houllier’s good points at that particular time. I had my blinkers on.
I wanted him out, made it known to everyone on that forum, and nothing would convince me otherwise. Part of me feels vindicated – I was proved right inasmuch as at the time he was sacked, the Frenchman was clearly failing – but part of me accepts that I was not entirely fair in the way that I reached that conclusion, nor in my application of my views.
Had I been wrong, I’d never have accepted it – not at that point in my life, before my thinking had matured. It needed Liverpool to win the league or the Champions League, and nothing less, to have me see the light.
My criteria now, as stated for the past five years, is that nothing less than two bad seasons in a row equals grounds for dismissal; that doesn’t mean it should automatically follow, but anyone can have one relatively poor season. Two, on the other hand, suggests decline or stagnation, particularly if the second is even worse than the first.
However, it was only recently, when studying the financial wherewithal of clubs for ‘Dynasty’ and, in particular, ‘Red Race’, that I came to appreciate how Liverpool, since the days of Roy Evans, have not had a team anywhere near as relatively expensive as Manchester United, Blackburn, Arsenal and, subsequently, Chelsea, when each of those four clubs won the Premiership for the first time.
Not only that, the Reds’ team from 2001/02 was not as relatively expensive as any of the champions since 1992.
Liverpool were major players in the transfer market up until about 1996; but after Souness and Evans had both broken the transfer record and made several further big-money signings, the Reds were unable to compete on level terms with clubs like Newcastle and Manchester United, and by 2003, Chelsea. Newcastle have now been replaced by Manchester City as a financial powerhouse, and then some.
By the time Houllier was spending £10m on players, United were spending £20m, then £30m. There can be no doubt that Houllier got it massively wrong in 2002 when spending £20m on Diouf, Cheyrou and Diao, which effectively meant that he had signed his own eviction papers. But his overall task was harder than I had realised.
Interestingly, Phil Thompson recently said that there was so much more pressure on the Reds in 2002/03 than there had been 30 years earlier, when he was in the side that ended a seven year wait for the title. People need to remember this.
Thompson admitted that he and Houllier bought players who couldn’t handle that pressure. Houllier eventually admitted that buying Diouf instead of Anelka was a big error. So it was going wrong.
By undertaking lengthy research and analysis, I’ve learned a hell of a lot since 2004, and I now find myself going against people using some of the same arguments that I’d trotted out then.
Part of it is also down to my belief that Rafa Benítez is a world-class manager, something that Houllier, while good, for me clearly wasn’t. And part of it is being more level-headed in my approach.
I tend to avoid forums now, beyond occasionally browsing some of the better ones for news, and reading the opinions of a select few posters I respect, plus every now and then someone will point out a gem to me. (Such as this on RAWK)
A few years ago I was curious to know what was being said about me. It’s a pretty destructive process.
To this day I use constructive criticism to help me improve as a writer, as well as to test the conviction of my own beliefs (you have to believe in what you say if you are going to risk daily abuse), but it doesn’t take too long to realise that forums can be poisonous, and full of people who are ignorant and down-right vindictive.
Years ago, before I was writing for .tv, I discovered one guy on a forum (I forget which) passing off my work as his. When challenged by another poster that it was in fact written by Paul Tomkins, he said that HE was Paul Tomkins. Obviously I felt it necessary at this stage to step in, and point out his ever-so-slight error. (It’s an easy mistake to make, thinking that you’ve written a 1,500 word piece and not knowing your own name.)
Perhaps my favourite myth about myself was when a poster (again, I can’t recall on which forum) was sounding off, saying that I never even used to go to games, before I got ill.
Browsing the forum was Jonathan Hall, now a moderator on RAWK, and someone who just happened to sit directly in front of me for several seasons at Anfield. He pointed out that I was indeed a season ticket holder and regular in the Lower Centenary, Kop end, for a fair few years.
I would imagine there are loads of other misinformed or misleading posts made about myself; to be honest, there can’t be a lot that hasn’t been said.
And in fairness, I fully understand why some supporters dislike me.
Often, I take it as a compliment; after all, your own opinions can look wonderful when attacked by a mouth-breathing fool so brain-dead he can barely type for all the drool he’s depositing on the keyboard.
Yes, I write more than 200 words. That annoys some people. Yes, I talk about my health, but only in the context of how it affects my ability to get to games and to make a living. It’s not done for sympathy, but I can see why it might wind some people up.
In some cases the antipathy is borne of jealousy – that I have a voice, when beyond the small confines of their own environment, they don’t. They feel impotent, and that causes rage.
I don’t want to deny fans their right to be frustrated, or angry at the team. In some cases it’s a natural response. But I sense that a lot of fans resent me because they feel that I am trying to gag them, and that evokes rage.
Equally, I don’t think emotions aroused during a game or following a bad result should be allowed to run free in public. They are dangerous, because they come from clouded judgement. And they rarely focus on the bigger picture.
Liverpool under Benítez are light years ahead of where they were between 2002 and 2004. So I don’t see it as blind faith, or me being Mr Positive. I freely admit that I am not always right, but I try not to make rash, uninformed comments.
My starting point is, I feel, a lot more realistic than a lot of fans, who think we should be winning every game and every trophy. It doesn’t work that way.
But of course, when writing for the official site I cannot be too critical. However, I’ve never said anything that I don’t believe – I’ve just had to omit stuff I might otherwise have said. Players I don’t much care for I tend to stay quiet on; if you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.
I see myself as a realist, but then, of course, everyone believes their version of life to be reality.