If you’re stuck in the office, can’t afford that away trip or are living on the wrong side of the world, then you still have to keep up with the match and plenty of people want you to do so online. Not all the web options are that compelling, though, unless you love throw-ins. Ian Plenderleith reports

Gary Lineker once famously remarked that it was more fun watching Wimbledon on Ceefax than it was to watch them live. That was before the internet, but with the advent of online commentaries, live blogs and constantly updated match trackers, there is more than enough opportunity to follow a game by sitting in front of a screen that is not actually showing the action.

Apart from pubs and the stands themselves, internet message boards are the best place to debate your club’s fortunes and praise or criticise in the company of fellow fans. But, as Ian Plenderleith reports, this freedom of expression is increasingly under threat as clubs use lawyers to clamp down on dissent

Many people compare the football message board to their local pub. You can meet your mates there to relax, say anything you like, and the next day no one will remember a word. There’s the odd idiot who gets out of hand and maybe a fight breaks out, but after a while everyone calms down. Sometimes it’s quiet because there’s no one around, so you leave again. And strangers are treated with suspicion until they show they didn’t just come in to cause trouble, but rather gain acceptance by expressing the sort of opinion that’s greeted with knowing nods (the online equivalent of getting your round in unprompted).

Thaksin Shinawatra’s arrival at Eastlands has tested some supporters’ loyalties. But, as Ian Plenderleith finds out, a tour of Manchester City, Dundee and Chelsea sites suggests many fans are quick to move on

The fan of changing loyalties ­remains an object of scorn, but in these cash-grabbing times when a club’s dubious new owner can alienate lifelong supporters, it somehow seems appropriate that the official Premier League site hosts a column by someone purporting to be The Fickle Fan. It’s meant to be funny, and the idea’s not a bad one – the columnist follows a team until it loses, and then transfers allegiance to the victor.

Online reaction to David Beckham’s move to LA Galaxy wasn’t about informing readers but enraging them, believes Ian Plenderleith , part of a trend that values level of response above everything else

The internet was supposed to mean the end of newspapers. Why pay for an unwieldy item that gets ink on your hands when you can see it all on the computer for free? Yet print has survived, and not just because you can’t take your PC with you on the Tube. It’s also because the internet has developed into a medium with a ­different kind of writing.

We’ve all bemoaned, doubted or disbelieved an offside decision. Thankfully, Ian Plenderleith has found an online world where you can debate the issues, view the possible solution or test yourself on the rules

Like the offside rule itself, the website Offside Today still has some room for improvement. However, it differs from that perpetually discussed law in that it’s not a necessary evil, but a necessary platform to help keep the issue at the forefront of ­football debate.

Fancy buying a club for the price of a match ticket? As Ian Plenderleith reports, a website is halfway to giving its subscribers the chance to vote on team tactics. Plus, the Homeless World Cup is coming up

It is painting itself as “Football’s greatest ever adventure” – a democratic, egalitarian, online football club run by 50,000 people, all with a single vote each. My Football Club is a website now taking pledges from individuals who will put up the necessary cash to buy a single team. You will then sit back and at the touch of a few buttons help to run the club from the safety of your desk or your favourite coffee house. Who said you needed to be a megalomaniac
millionaire to own a football club?

Do you dream of talking rubbish into three mobile phones at once while evading income tax and wearing a cheap-looking but expensive suit? Then Ian Plenderleith has the fantasy site for you

Every football fan once dreamed of being a player. Then, as we got too old for that, we dreamed of being a manager instead, and that’s when someone invented Fantasy Football. But how many of us have dreamed of making money at the top of the game simply by sending faxes and making the odd phone call?

There are still some excellent webzines about, but the intervention of the real world – aka family life – is taking its toll. Ian Plenderleith talks to the duo who have retired with Watford at (well, nearly) the top

When the internet first became a part of our daily lives around the mid-1990s, everyone who thought they had an opinion worth hearing rushed to sign up and let the world know their views. Football fans were among the surge of previously disenfranchised citizens ready to exploit the new age of ultra-democracy and a million club webzines were born.

Clubs’ own sites are often seen as being dull, uniform, run by the game’s Thought Police – but as we all know that, does it matter too much? Ian Plenderleith had a look inside a few to find out

In the interests of balance and fairness, it’s time this column moved away from its usual celebration of plucky, left-field, independent sites devoted to lesser leagues, earnest groundhoppers, obscure photographers and mouldy mascots, and ventured into an area it has been ignoring for far too long. This month we delve into a world rarely explored by the conscientious WSC reader: the official club websites of the world famous English Premier League.

Without leaving his desk, Ian Plenderleith enjoys the finest and funniest views of football in Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and beyond, in his latest look at sites that highlight photographs of the game

It must be at least a matter of months since this column lauded football photographers on the internet but, in the absence of many inspiring new sites in prose, we’re compelled once again to recommend images over words. Just for a change, though, we’ll make it a condition that the sites must have a Benelux connection.

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