Going down the tube

Some of the biggest global websites rely entirely on contributions from users. Ian Plenderleith looks at what two of them have to offer football fans and finds some artificial community spirit elsewhere

Going in to the “soccer” section of YouTube is a little like entering a massive second-hand record shop that has no categories or alphabetical order. You feel a shimmer of excitement, knowing there’s probably some good stuff in there somewhere, and possibly even everything you want. The difficulty, though, is wading through all the crap to find it.

Is life long enough to justify browsing in here for hours on end? You watch the comedy bloopers for a while, just as you might ponder buying an old Monty Python live album, or you look at the on-field violence compilation just like you might consider risking a quid on a “best of thrash metal” double disc. But nah, what’s the point, you’ve heard half the jokes before and in the end all the clips look the same. So you look for the more obscure stuff. Where’s that rare footage from the Turkish third division you’ve been after for years?

For all the clips of kids juggling a ball and attempting overhead kicks in their back gardens, you’re just as likely to come across possibly unseen gems, such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goal for Ajax against NAC where he beats five men (two of them twice), not unreasonably labelled “best soccer goal ever!!” There are handy highlight videos of all the World Cup games pilfered from FIFA, although how they found two-and-a-half minutes of worthwhile footage from England v Paraguay is a mystery I didn’t take the time to investigate.

The four-minute montage of Cristiano Ronaldo’s footwork during the 2005-06 season set to rap music was, I’m loath to admit, absolutely mesmerising. And using the search engine helped me discover the “Lincoln City 14-pass wondergoal” versus Carlisle United, the YouTube equivalent of coming across a mint original copy of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s first album.

If YouTube is a second-hand record shop, then MySpace is going to a masked ball in a nightclub in a strange town where you only half understand the local dialect. Someone alerted me to Mike Walker’s blog, but it was clearly a cruel parody, and the user changed his name to “Mike” a few days later, presumably to escape legal action. If there are any other top-level football names out there using MySpace, then they’re probably pretending to be 19-year-old college girls from Sacramento.

Still, if you want a one-night online liaison with a football player in some distant part of the world, this might be your venue. People like the sturdy-jawed, 25-year-old “raw soccer dude” from Wisconsin, who says: “I want to surround myself around [sic] winners not losers.” Which will rule out romancers from Rochdale to Rotherham, unless “you have an open mind and continue to grow and evolve into the best you can be”. The question is, raw soccer dude, would you be happy with a comfortable mid-table position and a second round exit from the Cup?

Bad Ass Soccer Mom just wants to “meet a fun-loving man”, but she already has 367 friends, so you might have to join the queue. Oh, and wait a minute, here’s Thierry Henry, “29-year-old professional soccer player from London”. One of his online friends is Djibril Cisse, and some of his friends include “Angel” and “High Class Ass”. Djibril has a message from “John” saying “Happy birthday mate have a good one”. So you see, that masked ball is a twilight world where everyone can pretend they’re chatting to football stars while surrounded by fruity young women. It’s what made the internet great.

Cure that nightclub hangover with a trip to the gym. Tiredandtested is a new UK site that describes itself as “myspace with shorts on” and is intended to allow users to socialise with like-sported persons, make home pages for their teams, or look for clubs to play for in their area. And all that other stuff that people join these sites for.

Hardly had I registered (for free) than I had a new “mate”, site founder Chris Ward. There’s a price for his friendship, though, for, as he tells me in his welcoming email: “We are aiming to grow as fast as possible so please tell everybody you know who is a fan, player or competitor…” Hey Chris, I told the entire readership of a nationally distributed magazine. Can I be your mate for life now?

In fact a cursory flick through the nascent site showed that most of the other members were sharing Chris as their only buddy too, and I suddenly felt a profound sense of loneliness and betrayal. Does online friendship mean nothing? How come after that first email he never wrote again? Was it just because I posted a picture of myself in a tight-clad leotard draped over a medicine ball?

I left the cyber-sports club feeling emotionally exhausted. I may not have lost weight or strengthened my muscles, but somewhere out there was a parallel me, trying to reach out to ageing Scottish curlers and teenage gymnasts in suburban Essex. For what reason, I’m still not sure.

From WSC 236 October 2006. What was happening this month