The rise of football fan channels has certainly changed the dynamic of how the beautiful game is being analysed on a weekly basis. Gone are the days where one has to have played the game professionally or be considered an "expert" to have an opinion heard. Now, the everyday man on the street finally has a voice and supporters are having their say after every game with a massive audience watching. The question is – has this been a positive or negative influence on the world of football?
The biggest positive to come from fan channels is, of course, that they have given supporters a platform to voice their opinions. Many fans have long felt a disconnect between themselves and the people who are in charge at their respective clubs. Their views have often fallen on deaf ears but now they can be heard regularly.
Unlike the mainstream media, there is no script or filter and the guests are raw in their honesty. It is often refreshing to hear instead of the polished, pre-rehearsed platitudes often wheeled out on television by run-of-the-mill pundits.
Fan channels can also be beneficial to clubs. It gives the top brass the chance to hear from the people who are paying their hard-earned money to come to the games every week. It allows them to gauge what the supporters want and potentially steer the club towards satisfying those desires.
With the influx of foreign owners, especially in the Premier League, the main criticism is that a lot of them don't know anything about the club they run and aren't out for the fans' best interests. Fan channels can provide an opportunity to bridge that gap.
As refreshing as it may be to hear the candid thoughts of football fans after a game, the very fact that the interviews are conducted immediately following the final whistle can have its drawbacks.
Supporters are often very emotional rather than rational after a match, especially if their team has suffered a defeat. Perhaps the most famous channel out there is Arsenal Fan TV and many are now familiar with some of the explicit and expletive-ridden rants that occur after the team has lost. There hasn't been enough time for most of these supporters to digest and come to terms with a result. Their opinions are extremely reactionary and without enough perspective to make them overly credible.
This leads onto another problem, in that the quality of the guests is often hit n miss. Certain fans are happier to reel off jokes, buzzwords and catchphrases to draw a laugh rather than say anything of substance about the game. The most viewed videos on YouTube are almost always negative because it seems we live in a time where it's easier to criticise than praise.
Things can often get unsavoury on fan channels with certain supporters letting the ego of it all go to their heads. On the one hand, it's great that fans are being given a chance to voice their opinions but it has also created an environment where individuals believe theirs is the only view that counts and an unwillingness to listen to others. Such an environment can create a huge amount of tension and hostility amongst a fanbase. Supporting a club is supposed to be about coming together and joining as one to get behind your team. Now there is perhaps just as much in-fighting at certain clubs as there is tension between rivals.
This can create a toxic atmosphere around a stadium with fans often on edge and ready to snap if anything goes wrong. The Emirates is the perfect example, where often the only noises that can be heard are groans or torrents of abuse. It can lead the team to play tentatively in the fear of making a mistake to incur the wrath of certain supporters. Yes, these are highly paid professional sportsman who are supposed to be able to rise above it but they are also human beings and it would be ignorant to suggest that it doesn't affect them.
It's not just the players who get stick but managers also bear the brunt. Manchester United fan Andy Tate became famous after a post-match rant about David Moyes which went viral with almost 3 million views and it wasn't long before the Scot lost his job. Arsenal Fan TV is notorious for having guests on who are extremely critical and sometimes outright insulting towards Arsene Wenger. Everyone is entitled to their opinions on these managers but when it goes further than that and becomes personal, it creates a huge problem. Wenger was infamously the subject of some vile abuse being thrown at him at a train station in Stoke a couple of seasons ago by his own supporters.
The fact that plenty of young children are becoming enamoured with the "characters" who appear on these fan channels, to the point where they are now becoming minor celebrities and potential role models is a worrying trend. Impressionable children are being taught that the best and quickest way to become famous is to insult and vilify people. This can't be right.
With the issues currently going on in society surrounding freedom of speech, it would be wrong to suggest that fan channels shouldn't have their place in football. They have given the average supporter a platform to voice their often brutally honest opinions.
The downside to that is, of course, that brutal honesty can go too far and turn into abuse. It can foster a toxic environment around a club and supporters by very definition are there to supportthe team.
Unfortunately though, controversy sells and the target audience of these fan channels are the young and impressionable who would rather hear a player being called a "ham roll" than listen to an intelligent tactical breakdown of the game. As long as it gets views and therefore makes money, the creators of the channels won't be in a hurry to change tack.
The solution may be to have a wider range of people with different views on these channels instead of just continually promoting the "regulars" who get the most views. Otherwise it appears we are just being fed a certain narrative or agenda. More perspective and calmer heads are needed but that can be a rare to find at 5pm on a Saturday after your team has just lost!
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