Friday, 3 October 2008

Text me

I've been away, and it's good to be back. It is always nice to come home, to family and a comfortable bed. I was in deepest Wiltshire at a symposium - a posh word for a gathering of like-minded folk - to learn and to talk about (amongst other things) our modern day preferences in communication. How we 'talk' to each other through this box and screen on our desktops, or the mobile in our pockets, or the laptop in our bag. The use of the Internet, webs, blogs, wikis or social network sites. All very interesting stuff, but having had several days of this my brain is frazzled and now I simply don't feel like talking to anyone.

The subject matter was always bound to strike a chord with me, not least because of my almost accidental stumble into 'blog life' as a result of my FA Cup sojourn last season. My life on the long road to Wembley turned out to be more than simply just setting up a blog so that I could tell my story. It was also the reliance on message boards and forums to tell people I actually had a blog. It was the use of email to spread the word, to make contact with club officials. It was the use of online booking systems to buy tickets. I used Facebook and Bebo to communicate my story further and wider and deeper. It was also the reliance on my mobile to text contact details, meeting arrangements or simply announce "I'm in the ground, where are you?" A plethora of tools and capabilities and technology-driven methods to do one thing. It's good to talk.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times I actually spoke to someone on the telephone or, more striking to me, how I was far more likely to email or text someone rather than get the chance to speak and look them in the eye. I'm not saying that I watched 16 games of FA Cup football without talking to anybody or by not meeting friends and new acquaintances for a pint or two; but it wasn't the most common method. For a lot of my 'contact' work last season I was dealing with faceless people. I was sending messages to people that I only knew by their email addresses. I was having conversations with nicknames in forums or pseudonyms on message boards. I would chat with 'Left Back' from Wolves, share an awful joke with 'Bakedalasker' from Cardiff or rely on '180' from Dartford to tell his mates about my blog.

I thoroughly enjoyed last season, but there were times, especially with some of the bigger clubs, that I felt quite distanced from the fans. It was all a bit impersonal. The highlight for me was finally getting to meet some people - some of you - and being able to put faces to the names of supporters from the likes of Sittingbourne, Portsmouth or Cambridge; I met many more of you at my FA Cup book launch at Dartford FC last Saturday. I'm pleased to report you do indeed have faces.

The biggest difference I have noticed in following the FA Vase this season is that I have simply met more people, and it is wonderful. I still use the message boards and email and text, but not as much. Some of these smaller clubs simply do not have a message board or a forum run by their fans. The size of the clubs allow for an intimacy that is something I have become to realise I wouldn't change for the world. I had an inkling of this last season and it is why I enjoyed the non League games so much. Getting to converse with the fans of Chertsey Town, Oakwood and Hassocks in the last few months has been a pleasure. Having touchline chats with the players and coaching staff is something that is a non-starter in the Premiership or even in League Two, but has been easy at County football level. It is great to be greeted at games in person by the Chairman, or a member of the club committee or any of the other guys involved in the running of the club. A persistently recurring theme in this blog, it continues to give me great pleasure. The FA Vase competition has so far welcomed me into a football community that is so accessible and personal. It is not about connecting with someone through a wire, via a screen or by text floating across the ether. It is by walking up to someone, shaking hands and saying "hello".

The Chairman of Arundel FC has already expressed his willingness to meet me tomorrow before their First Round Proper encounter with Chertsey Town. I have no doubt that he will, that we will, and I know for sure we will have a good old chat.

So while all this technology is out there and it is a powerful tool that enables so much, I'm mindful of the fact that it is still the people - me and you - that are important. The way mankind communicates has, especially in the developed world, changed forever. But the one constant is the the person with a face and a voice. Tomorrow I'm going to travel down to Mill Road, home of Arundel, and leave my laptop at home and switch off my mobile phone. I'm going to be visiting a small part of Sussex and I'm going to talk to a few people who are passionate about this game, who love what they do and love to meet others who feel the same. And I know it will enrich my life a million times more than logging onto my PC.

If you are off to the game, come and say hello. I will be travelling down with Mackem; she will be the one wearing a Sunderland shirt. I might even buy you a pint.


by Paul Kirkwood said...

Nice pic of the guy in the deckchair - and of Arundel Castle. Could we have more pics and bigger, please?

Ollers said...

Hi Paul - I'm conscious of having too many pics, but I am considering adding links to some sort of web album (e.g. Picassa). As for size, don't forget you can double click on the pictures on my site and you will get the bigger image.


by Paul Kirkwood said...

Ah! Thanks for pointing that. Never realised that's what happened if you double-clicked a pic. Works on my blog too - but not for the large pics, curiously. Off to Belper Town tomorrow in the Third Qualifying.

Ollers said...

Yeah, not sure why it doesn't work on the large pics, only on small and medium. I'm off to Hampton & Richmond v Whyteleafe in the FA Cup tomorrow. Enjoy the Belper tie!