Report card

Online coverage of matches can amount to little more than the bare statistics or, worse, a sub-tabloid set of cliches. But  Ian Plenderleith finds some fan sites that still offer an original alternative to the press

While reading a match report that involves your own team, you might tolerate the lowest standards of writing just to find out the basic details of who scored when. Most web­sites realise this and skimp on all attempts at style, structure and originality in favour of short, bland, factual write-ups. The occasional more gifted writers, however, will engage the neutral and keep them reading to the end, no matter which sides are playing.

More often than not the best reports arise from hardship. For example, an account at Mor­ton Unofficial of a Scottish Cup tie at Livingston played in gale force conditions on a Tuesday night in January begins with the tone-setting summary: “Livingston may have won this game of farceball but it was the ele­ments that ultimately dictated the result of this blow football match.”

The Morton-supporting eye-witness then turns all bitter at the SFA and the state of Scot­tish football, as the high winds prompt him to see an archetypally arduous away trip on a foul evening as a reflection of all that’s ill within the game north of Carlisle. Then finally he remembers to return to the match itself. “Mor­ton took the game to Livingston from the kick-off. Well, they had no choice as that’s the way the gale was blowing the ball.” The writer’s dead­pan stoicism sees Morton safely out the of the Scottish Cup for another year.

Professional hacks are, of course, sup­posed to be neutral, making their reports bal­anced and fair. Yet defeat through the eyes of a suffering fan like the reporter at Cod Almighty (a site briefly flagged in WSC’s Fes­tive 20 top web sites two months back) can be just as insightful, particularly when it’s at a club such as Grimsby who have slipped two div­isions in two years. Since the New Year they’ve been landed with a huge tax bill that threatens their survival and suffered the indignity of going down to a heavy home defeat to county rivals Lincoln. But the Mariners’ misfortune is our gain, as adversity brings out the best in their writer.

“A still and cold afternoon in the tropic of Cleethorpes with the Osmond End mostly full of impatient Impites gazing in wonder at the scene before them: a shallow hut filled with silence and a slab of grey looming behind,” begins the freestyle and unrelentingly entertaining match report, which charts the lows of being outplayed (0-2), the brief joy of a comeback (2-2: “the whole town leapt up six inches… the air was sucked from the ground and blown back again, pinning the Lincoln play­ers to the turf”), and then the sorrow of the third and fourth Lincoln goals that allowed “some of the more purple-faced people eaters to happily vent their spleen again”.

This is fanzine writing of the highest order – the sort of report where you feel the author should be paid, but you hope he just continues to write for love on an independent forum where he can say what the hell he likes. The problem with many other fanzine writers is that they clearly want too much to be professional reporters and their words lapse correspondingly into generic hackneyed tabloidese.

This was borne out by a glance at the match reports on various West Bromwich Albion fan sites, where I went to test the theory that a fan’s agonies will cause them to write in a more inspired fashion, but where all I found were players “carving out opportunities”, goalkeepers leaping like salmon and diving in despair, and reports of Graham Poll’s “ridiculous decisions”. Maybe it was the surprise of a Bag­gies’ rare 2-0 win, over Manchester City, that caused the scribes at and to issue forth such shallow prose. Whatever the excuse, they should still be sent for a face-slapping with a wet haddock on the Cleethorpes sea front followed by a seminar on use of the imagination.

Trawling the unofficial sites of other troub­led clubs such as Nottingham Forest and Gil­lingham reaped precisely zero engrossing reads, while further explorations of unofficial links seemed to lead inexorably back to sites run under the auspices of either the Rivals or the Footymad umbrella networks, where the majority of match reports appear to be rushed, skimpy and formulaic. Judging by the pre­dominance of these sites and the lack of worthy alternatives, those forecasts made a few years back that the great rivals’ e-zine swallow-up would lead to the strangling of online fan culture were not entirely exaggerated.

To counter this deadening state of affairs, a new generation of internet-savvy fans needs to read Cod Almighty, book a domain name, and then head to the game with a pen and a piece of paper. Never mind who was booked in the 39th minute and how could the referee possibly not have seen that blatant handball that was clearly visible to 12,000 home fans. Instead, turn the pain of defeat and humiliation into hit-winning poetic prose.

From WSC 217 March 2005. What was happening this month