We Need To Talk About Football (Podcast and More)

We Need To Talk About Football (Podcast and More)
April 27, 2017 Paul Tomkins
In By Paul Tomkins, Free, Podcast

Expecting people to be rational is irrational – I get that. But football discourse is still so frustrating, and anything irrational makes my ears tingle and grow Spock-like.

Although my latest ‘final straw’ with Twitter came just hours after recording a podcast interview (see the link further down this page) that was great fun to do. I don’t normally agree to do any kind of media work, and turn down a lot of podcast requests, but this appeared easier as the questions were about me (and even if I wasn’t feeling great, I guessed finding the answers would be less taxing).

When I’m not feeling well, due to my chronic illness, I get stressed (because everything feels so much more difficult), and then Twitter – which I use in part to promote this site – tips me over the edge.

Thankfully this site shows me that people can still have intelligent and civilised conversations about the sport, and the club we love, but I fear that Twitter takes more of a toll on me than is worth it. (However, article links and bits and pieces will still be tweeted via @thetomkinstimes). I don’t mean to be dramatic and keep quitting, only to then get drawn back in, but at times, against my better instincts, I feel compelled to promote this site on there, especially as the marketplace grows ever more crowded.

Only days earlier I’d had a realisation when tweeting about, of all things, the band Talk Talk. As someone who liked their singles in the 1980s but only bought a best-of in 1990, I’d been catching up with their wonderful full albums on Apple Music. I tweeted about this, and got only “likes”  (more than I often get when tweeting about football) and heartwarming replies. Have you heard this album? Great, aren’t they? What a genius Mark Hollis is, and so on. Not one single negative, sarcastic or abusive reply. If I tweet praise of a Liverpool player, or manager, half of the replies are usually calling him a waste of space, or a cunt.

It’s not really about the personal abuse I get. Indeed, I don’t get as much abuse as I used to, probably because I’ve blocked so many people, and bored so many others to death. It’s just the constant stream of negativity. And it’s the way strangers tell you, bluntly, to behave; that what you’ve said is bullshit, nonsense, crap, and then get offended if you block them. I know Twitter can make people forget the niceties of conversation – y’know, basic politeness – but it takes a toll, all those rude and abrupt statements. I find myself in fight or flight mode; I fight, and then when worn down, I flee.

And any abuse can’t really be worse than some forums circa 2005/06, when I was the new weekly columnist on the official LFC website. One forum in particular (to which a friend alerted me) had a whole thread dedicated to me, saying that my illness was not actually M.E. but AIDS, with wishes that I’d die; that I’d never been to a Liverpool game before (I’d been to hundreds and still had a season ticket in my name), and that I’d been convicted of benefits fraud (WTF?!). My first experience of Wikipedia in 2006 was someone asking if I’d seen what it said about me, as it listed all of those things.

During and after the game on Sunday I was told “imagine how good it would be to play a team of Emre Cans each week” and just the more simplistic “Emre Can is a cunt”. (If only he’d been in Talk Talk.) These are just the tweets involving Emre Can, who admittedly hasn’t signed his new contract but who also hasn’t taken fat-burners not prescribed by the club that jeopardised his place in the team, or, afterwards, let the club down by not attending training and team meetings on time. He hasn’t constantly angered his manager, the previous manager and managers of previous clubs.

(As an aside, it was interesting for me to recently hear that, last season, Leicester City’s senior players pinned CCTV stills to the dressing room wall of anyone who was late to training. Of course, I was mightily pissed off at Mamadou Sakho on Sunday for the silly handshake with Christian Benteke, for which I may have overreacted, but I still think any type of goal celebration at the home of the club that employs you is crass, especially if you’re claiming to want to return and prove yourself, and you’re doing it right in front of the manager whose trust you have to win back. I have no problem with Benteke celebrating as he is not under contract to Liverpool FC; ex-players celebrating is fine. I also find comparisons with other players flouting club discipline on one single occasion illogical when most disciplinary measures in life – and even in the justice system – takes into account repeat offending. You get points on your licence for driving misdemeanours and once it reaches a certain point you’re banned. And in baseball, it’s not “one strike and you’re out”. Sakho had previously walked out of Anfield on the day of a game under Brendan Rodgers, and whether or not you have sympathies for the player, at some point you have to get behind the manager and the rest of the squad.)

People always say just block the troublesome tweeters, but you still have to read these tweets first. It’s like telling someone who keeps getting shit shoved through their letterbox “just clear it up and get on with your day”. Well, right now I’d rather nail the letterbox shut.

The experience of tweeting during a game like watching a film you love, or just a film you simply want to enjoy – while people keep shouting “it’s crap”, “it’s shite”. You may still love it, and you may even still enjoy it, but it’s tainted by the noise and negativity. I think this overall attitude seeps into those who go to the game too, although it seems to be only the travelling Liverpool fans who remain upbeat and supportive.

People often ask me for my soothing words – they want me to be calm, and help keep them calm – when 90% of what I read is negative. I feel like I have to remain positive just to be “realistic”, not least because I know about things like negativity bias – and how there’s a 5:1 ratio of how we react to bad things compared to good. In other words, people’s natural reaction (and fear) is weighted five times towards the bad – we are evolutionarily programmed to pursue the good things in life, but we are five times more aware of the bad. (Life goes on without the good things, on a day-to-day basis – miss a meal or don’t have sex that day, and life goes on; however, fail to spot the pack of lions and you’re their dinner. Hence, a natural focus on the bad even though we’re not living in the kind of environments in which we evolved. Most people don’t know of the different kinds of biases and heuristics, and it’s hard to make these points on a medium limited to 140 characters.)

Anyway, before the home defeat to Crystal Palace I was the guest for a podcast interview by The Anfield Road Wools, which was a really enjoyable conversation about my life, my support for Liverpool FC, and my dealings with the club over the years; I chatted for three hours, so it’s been edited down a little and split over two broadcasts. The first part is live now:

Their website.


Another reason I fear social media (aside from the Facebook factor of seeing your friends living apparently wonderful lives when you’re 95% housebound) is just the constant worry about upsetting good people, even if, at times, when I feel like a bear with a sore head who’s been prodded with a long stick, I’m all too happy to tell someone annoying to fuck off.

If you ignore the nice people who tweet you then you’re a douche. However, if you reply, that often invites further replies to deal with. Indeed, if you give a short reply, to say thanks, you often get a long email or a dozen tweets back; which is nice, but daunting, and a little overwhelming when you’re chronically ill and low on energy and brainpower. If you then ignore that … you’re a douche. Which is a shame as I do like interacting with (nice) people, but if I’m low on energy and in constant pain I’m likely to lack patience. I also like talking to certain specific people on social media but it’s like being at the pub and having a great conversation, but with 30 or 40 strangers crowding round the table calling you a wanker, or saying that you’re talking shit. Eventually you just think “do I need this?”

So, for now I’m sticking to TTT, and the mature, sensible and illuminating discussions we have on here behind the paywall, without anyone trying to piss in the pool and ruin it for everyone else. (Pool-pissers are instantly ejected, and we maybe get a maximum of one a year.) I may have to return to Twitter when I have something more specific to promote, or I’m in better health (and I still monitor a few accounts I like from an anonymous account, although this anonymity hasn’t caused me to start abusing strangers … yet).

Anyway, enjoy the podcast, and look out for part two, which is probably more interesting, as it covers getting to see behind the scenes at Liverpool FC over the years. And if you’re one of those who really wants my soothing words, subscribe to TTT as that’s what pays my bills and pays the bills of a handful of people who help out. (At the very least, share links to our free content on social media – so we don’t have to!)