Don’t you walk thru my words
You got to show some respect*


IF EVER I am feeling a little too pleased with myself, whenever I think that I might have the answer, on the occasions I smugly reckon I have hit the nail right on the head, I have a simple method of pricking my own pomposity: I check out the comments under any piece I have written on the internet. Then I realise that I am, in fact, a worthless illiterate moron with an agenda bigger than Clarence Seedorf’s rear end who should never be employed writing about football again. The other day, beneath a piece I was reasonably pleased with, the first comment was succinct in its analysis: “another ten minutes of my life I’ll never get back. Why anyone pays this jerk for his opinions is one of the great mysteries of life.” And that was one of the more positive comments.

I can at least take comfort that I’m not the only one. Even the most distinguished of our trade are routinely beasted in the comments section. Martin Samuel, Paul Hayward, Patrick Collins: all of them are apparently idiots. I was recently enjoying a piece by Richard Williams which was so brilliantly argued and beautifully composed it should have been immediately placed at the centre of the curriculum of any university journalism course. And the first comment? “Another load of manure from the world’s most boring man. The sooner he retires the better.”

It is everywhere this vituperation. Broadsheet and tabloid, liberal and conservative outlet, every football writer is routinely soaked in vitriol. John Cross wrote a piece on the Mirror website a couple of weeks back saying that he understood Southampton’s owner Nicola Cortese was on the brink of sacking Nigel Adkins and was going to appoint Mauricio Pochettino in his stead. The first three comments under the item were instructive:

“What an absolute piece of garbage story,” read the first.

The second was: “The Mirror understands how to make up stories to make us laugh. Saints fans understand the Mirror is changing hands and that Nicola Cortese is to be appointed consultant to the new board who are about to clean out and clean up the rag. I wonder which story has any truth?”

While the third patrolled new frontiers of literacy to inform us that: “whoever wrot this is a f**k wit haha”.

The truth is whoever wrote this is a first class journalist with first class sources who had provided readers with a first class story. As was evidenced by the turn of events of the very next day.

But the commentators were not interested in such niceties as the truth or accuracy of Cross’s story. All they wanted to do was soak him in verbal ordure. And this is a rough summary of what any football journalist can expect the moment they venture into print these days. Or indeed on to the airwaves.

As Stan Collymore has long been aware. He was obliged recently to defend himself from sneerers on Twitter who had attacked him for being an ex-pro who didn’t go to university. What does he know about journalism? In his very cogently argued riposte, he pointed out how much hard-working pundits like him and Gary Neville bring to our understanding of the game. You wonder, though, whether any of those attacking him would have bothered to listen. They were probably too busy trolling Henry Winter for being a non ex-pro who did go to university. What does a snooty chap like him know about the working man’s game?

Of course, we have long known that Twitter and the comments section of any newspaper website are these days simply an extension of care in the community. They are the province of the goggle-eyed, providing an instant electronic reservoir of green ink for the socially unreliable.

The football section, however, does seem consistently to be the most hate-filled and ugly. And that, given what can be found under any item by Julie Burchill, is saying something. Football writing, it seems, has come to be regarded as an extension of the game, and football writers reckoned to be legitimate targets for the same kind of raw, personalised haranguing to which footballers are now routinely subject. It makes me wonder, perusing what passes for debate in the comments section: has there ever been a time like it?

*With apologies to 10CC’s Dreadlock Holiday



  1. Avatar

    Joe Lovejoy

    January 31, 2013 at 3:58 pm

    Bloody brilliant James! But you are still a Man Utd fan. Any sight of the floodlights from your berdroom window? Remember Pecsi Munkas.

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    January 31, 2013 at 4:03 pm


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    January 31, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Dear Jim

    I can sympathise with your views but only to a point. I have long given up reading the comments under many articles, given the high degree of ignorance as well as puerile nature of so many posting comments. However, that sums up a significant minority of UK football fans. Agreed?

    I suggest to you that the sensationalised nature of so much that is written by the UK press has to a large extent alienated the more balanced and intelligent football observer, thus increasing the percentage of your readers possessing the level of understanding more associated with neanderthal man.

    I have long since ceased to be seduced into reading the narrative behind misleading headlines, particularly those posted online (including DT). A once routine enjoyment has long been replaced by a knowing cynicism engendered by comparing the true facts I obtain direct from my own club, LFC, with the imbalanced and often mischievous reporting and speculating by the media, not least the Telegraph. Quite frankly, it’s become predictable and dull.

    I recall a slating dished out by Henry Winter of Rafael Benitez at the time of his leaving LFC, where I seem to recall Henry describing Benitez as being as cold as a wet fish or words similar to that, and generally did his best to completely undermine a world class manager, delivering an imbalanced view of a man still loved by the vast majority of LFC fans, and who has donated huge sums of money to the Hillsborough families. Quite frankly the article sickened me by it’s lack of accuracy and respect. I have observed the reporting of Benitez’ situation at Chelsea, and there is a more than obvious reluctance to report anything of a positive nature about his influence at Chelsea, most notably by HW. Surprise surprise….Therefore don’t expect to be read by a significant number of observers other than the well publicised ‘lynch’ mob counting the days until Benitez gets the boot.

    Another example is that the DT / media has never been slow to grab the opportunity to undermine Luis Suarez, though his behaviour for some time has been almost exemplary. But what does the casual observer really know about Luis Suarez through your paper? He is one of the world’s best players but the neutral fan will know little about him because the Telegraph and media in general choose not to report the many good traits of this family man.

    And therein lies your self inflicted problem, you seek to sensationalise rather than deliver informed facts and you lose the respect and interest of the more informed and intelligent observers of the game, and you are stuck with the dross with their at times depraved comments.

    Start reporting in a more balanced and informative fashion about players and managers, and not just the same old tried and tested favourites who give you the headlines such as Redknapp, Allardyce, Mourinho, Beckham etc, and I’m sure you will regain many readers.

    Good luck!

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      James Briscoe

      February 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm

      That’s the best, most constructive and intelligent comment I’ve seen in a ‘comment section’ for a long time, maybe ever. And you managed it without sounding pretentious or bitter. Plus the fact you support LFC and I’m a MUFC fan goes further to show how much your words impressed me. Fans of those clubs agreeing in a comments section is as hard to find as an intelligent comment itself.

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      February 2, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      His behaviour has been exemplary? Sorry, did we all hallucinate his repeated stamps, studs-up challenges and ankle-rakes earlier this season? His one on Distin was appalling and could genuinely have caused a serious injury. He avoided a yellow card for them, whilst we had to endure Liverpool supporters complaining that he was being ‘picked on’. Swansea defender Ashley Williams on Suarez: “He dived more than any other player I’ve played against – it was so bad I was genuinely shocked.” Nope, we’re all picking on him and he’s a lovely, cuddly teddy bear. Your comments are absolutely pathetic.

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    January 31, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Wat a load of sh*t

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    February 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    Yes! I think this every time i read any football articles. As if they are more qualified than the writer. The Guardian is definitely the worst for it!

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    February 1, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Hark at high and mighty ChrisG haha

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    February 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Not all football fans constantly barrack and boo their own team at matches. In fact, the majority do not.
    Not all fans make abusive comments on journalists’ stories. In fact, I would imagine the majority do not.
    In both cases, the loudest and most obnoxious voices/comments are always the most obvious.

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    February 1, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Brilliantly constructed article. I think sadly that “trolls” aren’t just aimed at football writers though. It is a sad indication of the times we live in that several people hide behind their keyboards to give abuse to people from all sectors of society and merely pass it off as “banter.”

    Football writers should always look to cause debate and indeed engage in debate but they shouldn’t be passed off as “morons” simply because they may share a different opinion. Let’s face it the reason we all love football so much is because any game can incite debate. But there has to be a line you don’t cross and sadly many people on social networking and on the internet take so-called “banter” too far.

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    February 1, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    “I have observed the reporting of Benitez’ situation at Chelsea, and there is a more than obvious reluctance to report anything of a positive nature about his influence at Chelsea”

    Please can you identify these positive influences?? I assume you are a Liverpool fan and therefore in your eyes RB can do no wrong.

    The fact is that is just your opinion. Most football fans across the country do not rate Benitez and his current performance at Chelsea only backs that up. HW called it, and you reds blinded by your love of RB get over emotional. Nowt wrong with that, it’s football and we all have allegiances that many cannot understand, but it’s not the job of the press to pander and brown nose.

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    THFC Yorkshire Branch

    February 1, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Get a proper job. Nobody cares what you think.

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    Rob Woollard

    February 1, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Couldn’t agree more Jim. I’ve never understood why newspapers allow their staff to be offered up for so much unfiltered and often grossly unfair abuse. I can’t think of another industry where it happens. I’m all for healthy back and forth between readers and writers but all too often it seems as if the comments section exists only to serve as a platform for internet trolls seeking to disparage the professionalism/integrity of the writer in question. I suppose newspapers allow it because it generates ‘page clicks’ but Christ, it does make me long for the days of Letters to the Editor, when only thoughtful, well-argued criticisms, counter-arguments etc were published.

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    February 1, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I think the main problem is that anyone who can type and watch football thinks that they too could be a football journalist, and that you have simply been very lucky to land something they perceive to be an easy job. Watch football, write about it. This makes them far less worried about whether they may hurt your feelings or not, especially if they feel they could your job much better than you.

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    February 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    Well done, ChrisG. A perfect summary of the issue. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    If our national newspapers were reliable sources of accurate football journalism, and didn’t just come up with any old sensationalised nonsense to fill pages, why does the BBC round it all up into one web page and label it as ‘Gossip’ every morning?

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    February 1, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I see what you mean about trolls in the comments section. Rafa Benitez the world class manager?! MEGALOLZZZZ.

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    February 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion Jim. The fact they cannot be as literate as you is purely down to circumstances. If football journalists like yourself and the others you name check were totally objective I would be more appreciative of the arguments your blog. Truth is you’re not. And you cannot be because of the nature of reporting and commenting. Therefore if you write something that upsets someone, you must expect them to respond. If you still feel offended, stop writing about football.

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    Steve Rogers

    February 1, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Jim

    Some of the points you make are valid but surely you must accept there are quite a lot of sub-standard journalists operating out there. Some of the articles published on tabloid sports pages are a disgrace based on gossip and agents with agendas. Most football fans have become alienated with our national sports press. In many cases the fans themselves have a better handle on what is going on at their clubs. For example many press conferences are now televised so it is easy to see when managers are misquoted or stories are spun in a certain way in sports pages. The job of a journalist is to reveal and inform readers but these days that happens only rarely.

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    Jonathan Knight

    February 1, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Chris G hits the nail on the head. Thanks to Phil Mcnulty for bringing me here, this really brightened up my day. I’m becoming so frustrated by incredibly shoddy journalism that occurs throughout sports media (let’s not even start on other mass media). Luis Suarez is a prime case of how newspapers and/or journalists/pundits/commentators create a public opinion based on defamatory articles that are based on the opinion of the journalist, that generally tend to slate him, to further their sensationalist agendas. Need I say more..

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    February 1, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    This interweb thingy has unwittingly undermined the very democratic freedom it sought to propagate.

    Comments often say much more about the writer than they do the topic.

    More calamitous yet – these same commentators have a vote.

    Never mind 442 vs 433.

    Discussion of our involvement in Europe anyone?

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    February 1, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Sry Jim. Forgot to say thanks. Good read.

    If you really want to see disturbing comments – try anything in the Daily Mail Online. Now there’s ugly.

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    February 1, 2013 at 5:55 pm

    Do you want some milk and cookies?

    Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

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    Jack Sparrow

    February 1, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Totally agree with ChrisG on this one. Most of these online chat forums have become good for one thing. To be ignored.
    However, some articles, particularly on the BBC, have become predictable and dull. Suarez is talented but not popular, Chelsea have a managerial problem. We know! It just seems like some articles are inviting the trolls and WUMS. If there were some more stimulating material then there might be some more stimulating comments. Just saying.

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    February 1, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    “Without presuming Suarez’s guilt in any way, that makes sense. Those players who are getting away with racial provocation – and they surely exist, even if Suarez and Terry are not among them – will be doing so in a way that is sly and subtle, so when the explosion comes it appears unprovoked.

    Strangely, if Ferdinand said Terry abused him 10 times in a way that was utterly undetectable, it would make more logical sense than the thought that he shouted a single insult from the other side of a football pitch for all to hear.”

    Your knight in shining armor, Mr Martin Samuel, 31/10/11.

    Oh wait, the FA thought rather differently didn’t they?!

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    February 1, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    ps. Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of football journalist’s work, including Mr Samuel who is a very good writer. But the way most British media, with an odd exception like today by Ian Ladyman, portrayed both Suarez and Benitez in the last few years, has been nothing short of scandalous and fundamentally immoral.

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    Alan Jenkins

    February 3, 2013 at 9:11 am

    it is a truth universally acknowledged that a middle-aged football fan in possession of a Premier League season ticket must be in want of a brain… as someone who wrote far better prose than you or I may well have written from the press box of Bath City had she been given the opportunity.
    Given that opportunity, she may well have observed that writers of any kind who make their living by offering informed opinion are always going to be the subject of vitriol from those who wish they had the opportunity to get paid very well for, as they see it, spouting exactly the same sort of bollocks as they themselves give forth whilst propping up the saloon bar at the Dog and Duck.
    Taking that as a given – since jealousy seems to be the current preferred emotion de jure – and then add into the mix the observation that almost every football fan in the world also believes (probably in recent years because of hours sitting in front of a computer screen playing the latest football-oriented game) that he can do any manager’s job in the world better than the current or any future incumbent, and you have an impossible gradient of ignorance to negotiate before you have any chance of being heard by anyone with half a brain.
    Never mind – you clearly love being the Cassandra of Camden, and those of us with more than two braincells to rub together appreciate your efforts, even if we don’t always agree with every word you write.

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    Patrick Barclay

    February 6, 2013 at 8:35 am

    You know the spluttering abuse minicab drivers get when, having made an educated guess as to the best route, they innocently run into a bit of traffic congestion? The sort of stuff Jim is highlighting always reminds me of it. Journalists shouldn’t have to put up with it any more than minicab drivers. If newspapers want to publish reaction to articles – and for me such empowerment of Everyman is a foolish mistake – they should employ someone to filter genuinely thought-provoking and resonant criticism from the rest, as in the case of the traditional letters columns.

  26. Avatar

    Patrick Barclay

    February 6, 2013 at 8:41 am

    PS: I reckon The Times do this with their webchats. I used to work there and the questions you saw were abusive only when jocular and reprimands were usually legitimate. I can only assume the online staff vetted them in advance in order not to waste the time of the writer or the sensible bulk of the audience. The quality was accordingly high and I found it informative, which I guess is the point of reader reaction.

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