The Bristol City Inter-nuts
The season is well and truly alive and kicking. We’ve had cracking weather and I have enjoyed the atmosphere at all five of the first six games I managed to get to. Shame the results didn’t pan out so well, but I believe we will pull things together soon and might surprise some people en route and get into the better half of the league.
The Incider team are also now getting into the swing of things after three issues. Why do we do it? Good question. We often wonder ourselves – particularly in the late hours of a Sunday evening with deadline approaching and blank pages still needing to be filled. With RedTop in New York, Huw in Norfolk and myself in Bristol, it is not the easiest thing to do as we confer by instant messaging and the occasional phonecall. We do it because we love the club and want to share our enthusiasm and our ideas with fellow fans. And there are plenty of other supporters who turn to the web to share their passion for the club. A quick look at our links page will show you just how much time and effort some of them put in.
In Well Red last season, Colin Sexstone accused unofficial sites of taking potential income away from the club. His comments sparked a furious reaction and, to be fair, the club is now far more tolerant of unofficial sites. For instance, City officials responded to our Piewatch campaign and even linked through to the results from bcfc.co.uk.
It is well known to all that the club benefits financially with an increase in visitors to the official site. Bristol City have a very active online community. A few years ago City actually had one of the top five most visited club sites outside of the Premiership. Unofficial sites are just that – unofficial. They offer a completely different source of news to the official one and without them we would only hear what the club want us to hear. They can also be more critical and put across ideas that simply could not happen in an official setting, such as ribbing the Gas and taking a light-hearted look at our own players. That is why we label ourselves independent. It is important to us. I would suggest unofficial sites are a complementary service to the official site offering an alternative perspective. Fortunately, it appears the club now agree.
So I asked some of those committed to running other unofficial sites their views of the role they believe they play in the club’s life.
Rob Fernandes runs one of the best-known City websites - www.bristolcitynet.co.uk. It is a source of news that might not always make it onto the official site and also has a mix of fans from all clubs on its forum due to Rival’s system of global membership. Despite the setback of recently having to withdraw a controversial report into the possible redundancies at Ashton Gate due to alleged inaccuracies, we hope Rob will continue to provide the independent cutting-edge service he has done for so long.
He told us: “Colin Sexstone's comments last season regarding unofficial websites were extremely insulting and yet in the cold light of day, also understandable. Sexstone, of course, went in print to declare it ‘interesting that most of the unofficial sites are run for commercial gain, but not that of the football club’.
“To any fan it was presumably extremely patronising to be told what websites you should and should not visit, and to people such as myself who have poured a lot of time, effort, and money into operating an unofficial City website, the comments were also deeply offensive and extremely discouraging - although I say with reason that they were understandable too.
“Understandable because Sexstone is a man tasked with increasing revenue for the club. One way of doing so of course is to promote the official website and accordingly generate more hits. Sadly, though, he displayed little common sense in deciding that slagging off others was the best way to promote your own product.
“What made Sexstone's remarks all the more ridiculous was that it betrayed his extremely naive assumption that unofficial websites were either rivals or competitors to the club's own service. The beauty of the internet is that it offers choice, and by the very nature of the web, infinite cross promotion of different sites via links, and in both these cases unofficial websites have served the club well - providing fans with a rich array of content, keeping interest levels high, and channelling supporters between sites and to bcfc.co.uk
“For these reasons alone I'd like to think that Sexstone now regrets seeking to undermine our efforts. But what made his comments so much more insulting was the fact that many of the sites to which he refers - the Net Centre surely one of the main ones - have been around a lot longer than both the club's official website and indeed our chief executive himself.
“Indeed it is very much the case that the quality offered by unofficial websites in the past has been instrumental in encouraging the ever-increasing standard of bcfc.co.uk. Little over two years ago it was only a few pages deep and its news output consisted of the occasional press release every few weeks about commercial ventures. At the same time the Bristol City Net Centre has been going now for nearly FIVE years.
“Unofficial websites are, in almost every case, run by fans who pay their way to games and spend hours and weeks and months of time producing content which promotes the club and its activities, and keeps fans engrossed in - to use Mr. Sexstone's own language - the product that is City.
“The financial gain Sexstone alludes to is minimal to non-descript, and wouldn't even begin to cover the costs incurred actually following the club avidly, not to mention time and money putting the site together. It's worth mentioning that what little money the Net Centre did generate was given back to the fans and then some last season in the shape of over £400 of prizes and events.
“So where are we now? The official site is practically everything you could hope it would be, but at a price. It provides up to the minute, breaking news, and exclusive content, but depth and detail have been sacrificed in favour of brevity and deference to the club's pay-for-video service. The coverage is commendable. No site comes close anymore, but you can't help but feel it’s a little cold.
“The primary form of communication on the web is text, not video, and that is particularly relevant to the core of users who read websites at work. Yet on bcfc.co.uk gone are detailed interviews and in depth news stories to pour over at your leisure, and now instead the fan is asked to pay out to watch a daily video bulletin.
“Nevertheless, the official site is a superb piece of work in that it is a relentless up to the minute provider of coverage from the club, and timeliness which no one else can come close to any longer.
“But unofficial sites still have a huge role to play, and
for one thing bcfc.co.uk cannot and will not ever offer personality,
feeling and freedom to report or review events from whatever perspective
is appropriate - not just the official spin.
Will Collins is another who has created a City website worthy of praise - www.redarmyonline.co.uk. I asked him his thoughts on the official vs unofficial debate:
He said: “We live in a world where money is important, but in football it is everything! I personally would never pay £35 a year for special access to a web site no matter how good it is. I am, however, willing to accept that the income received from this service will come in very handy for BCFC.
“I also think that the service is excellent for exiled supporters. Having said that, for years the legendary ‘Zybereds’ web site offered users the chance to download video clips of every single goal City scored for absolutely nothing. More recently, ‘bcfc-online’ took this mantle.
“Now the club have realised that video clips and the like are a commodity in which money can be made. My general view of football at the moment is that clubs are shafting the supporters for every penny they earn and so it is no surprise that they are using the Internet to its full profit-making potential.
“My site changes every week really, depending on how much time I have. Certainly a small match report for each game is required along with other news stories.
“A couple of pages dedicated to laughing at the Gas is also a very important part of my website - in fact any City website, in my opinion.
“The newest addition to the site menu is a section on safe standing, purely because I strongly feel that safe standing areas should be brought back into English football stadia.
”Colin Sexstone was under a false impression that people running unofficial sites were making money.
“On the contrary, Red Army: On-line has cost me £10 for the domain name and I have of course received no money in return.
“I was very disappointed with Colin's remarks but we all make mistakes.”
A lot of what Rob and Will say speaks volumes to a lot of people who run unofficial sites. The boys over at www.overthegate.tk work tirelessly to get there site together, again not for the money, but purely for the love of the club. They are both still students and find that their spare time is stretched to keep it running, but they wouldn’t stop for a moment!
Jon at www.vmr.bcfc.co.uk must spend hours working away on his virtual match reports. If you haven’t seen them yet you really must. They are the work of a genius!
Geoff Moore, who is also known as Red Boy, has also launched a
new site with pal City Nut.
“There are not many negatives to the website. Maybe it can have more fan input. The official site as with any club will be more careful of the information they give out, as in rumours.
“Me and my mates’ site, called Over The Gate, gives fans a great chance to be in the spotlight by being able to write columns or being interviewed by the site. You do not get this from the official site.
“We have also reported a few rumours that the official site
wouldn't have. Surely the official sites don't lose hits and money
because of our sites, as the official site is the first URL City
fans will type in as they go online. It is the fist place for news
So what does this say about the sites? Unofficial, yes. But the commitment and hard work of all the people who run them should be praised. They are doing something positive for fans of the club we all love, and it can be a heck of a job
I for one am glad that the club has softened its attitude to unofficial websites and fanzines, and realises that they are a product of the same enthusiasm and love for Bristol City which make us fork out a fortune on the new kit, match tickets and travelling hundreds of miles to appallingly dour, grubby minor towns on the outskirts of Manchester.
So next time you go online, visit the official site – then
try some of the others via our links page. We all know City benefit
from us visiting the official site and, of course, we all benefit
from reading it too. But don’t forget all the hard work the
other sites do. In fact, if the City team work as hard on the pitch
this season as the legions of fans do at showing their love for
the team on Internet, we can look forward to logging on in Division
One next year.