After reading Andrea’s blog about being a Gunner is isolation I became reflective of my own situation. It’s fair to say I was isolated from Arsenal’s fanbase until very recently. I started supporting the Gunners back in 2005, with a habit of regularly watching their games not kicking in at least till 2008. That gave me food for thought, though my blogging days were still far away. Instead, my family became the long-suffering victims of my unrelenting talk about Arsenal. They took it on the chin and even managed to demonstrate a kind of vague interest.
I’m grateful for it, I could even say I’m indebted to my family for demonstrating this interest: had they opted not to, I may well have abandoned watching football altogether. After a while it simply becomes unbearable stewing on your own thoughts with no outlet. Though I have to add I knew I was not alone: around 2008 I picked up the habit of reading Andrew Mangan’s daily blog (Arseblog.) Thus I knew there was at least one person who shared my passion for Arsenal, who suffered as much as I did. Simply put, who cared? Who still does?
Why the isolation, I hear you ask? Why didn’t I do something to break the circle? Go to pubs, find an Arsenal community in Moscow or create an account on Twitter at the very least? That’s the part where I think I have to put my isolation into some context.
First of all, I was 14 in 2008. A teenager, still a pupil, going to pubs was out of question, because I was a) not independent enough to wander around a city as big as Moscow on my own b) not of age. Pubs go hand-in-hand with beer and all kinds of stuff like smoking and swearing. Stuff which seems pretty normal to me now, but it surely didn’t when I was 14.
The same goes for communities. What’s the main target of such a community? Gather together and go watch a game. Where do they do it? That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, in pubs.
Furthermore, I have to say that I was unaware of all those things back when I was 14. The thought of meeting, and going out with, a group of completely unknown to me individuals simply haven’t crossed my mind. Even if had, I’m sure I would have opted against it. That would have been more of an unconscious decision back then, now I am better equipped to explain it.
You see, I’m an introvert. I need to spend some time alone to recharge my batteries. Social occasions sap my energy substantially. That doesn’t prevent me from enjoying certain types of collective activities, but I neither can, nor I’m willing to, frequently go out. When I was 14, school and all the entailing homework drained me. The mere thought of going out after all that would have been terrifying. Not only that: I would have been useless at such occasions. I would have showed up drained already, with no emotions left to enjoy a game of football. I suspect it was also the reason why I didn’t watch football matches at home. Though it might have been the case of games not being aired on TV (we have our own league, why should anyone broadcast the BPL?) and me not being advanced enough to watch games online.
As for the social networks, well… Our VK wasn’t (and still isn’t) a great place for interacting with fans such as myself, Facebook is no such place either (after all, VK’s concept is almost entirely ripped off from Facebook) or the only other (decent) alternative was Twitter, which was in its inception back in 2008 and which I, until quite recently, abhorred, considering it a mess of mentions and hashtags. Twitter was also never popular in Russia, though it beats me why.
A lot of things changed when I finally went to university. I finally found the time and the energy to do something else, than just study, despite my first year being pretty strained. After my summer exam session I started writing posts to while away the time. Luckily, I didn’t track the views stats, or I would have given up pretty soon!
As it is, I continued writing throughout my second year. I finally found an outlet for my thoughts and kept writing more for myself, than for anyone else. I didn’t even share my posts on social networks, mostly because I was a) unaware of such a concept b) considered Facebook a mess (still do) and didn’t pay much attention to Twitter for the reasons I listed above. Google+ is a pretty poor platform for your posts and VK was out of the equation as my posts were in English. You will be hard-pressed to find a lot of Russians interested in hearing the thoughts of a fellow Russian in English!
As you can see, not a lot has changed when I took up blogging in terms of interaction. I was still pretty isolated. I only knew what I thought and the opinions of several Arsenal fans I found at uni. Then I discovered Twitter less than a year ago.
What prompted that discovery was my rather selfish (though, I think you’ll agree with me, understandable) desire to expand my platform and promote my blog. In June last year I suddenly realised that my blog, while nice, wasn’t going anywhere. The simple desire to do it for myself was left behind. I felt an urge, an urge pretty normal for any blogger I suspect, to be heard, to attract people. To have readers that would comment on your thoughts and give theirs.
I approached the matter thoroughly. I found a rather recent book written by Michael Hayatt (can recommend it to anyone who is thinking of creating and promoting his or her platform) on how to build your platform. It’s not very long and most of it I either already knew or felt was the right thing to do anyway. I didn’t need guidance most of the time.
But he did say at least one very important thing: Twitter. That it’s a much more helpful tool than Facebook, for instance. He also encouraged anyone to not give up on Twitter if at first you don’t like it. Persevere. Find people. Interact.
By following his advice I discovered much more than I initially hoped for: a sudden realisation that I’m far, far from being alone hit me. Finally getting heard became a nice bonus, not a sole target. I would have stayed anyway, because I felt a part of something more, part of a family.
I know I’m getting sentimental here, but that’s how it is. Picking up my phone and scrolling through my timeline at half-time makes me understand there are tens of thousands of people who feel the same way as I do. Or they feel different. They echo your thoughts, or they express their own. Opinions vary greatly and every (reasonable) fan has his or her own rationale. However, there’s one thing that unites us all: we all follow the Arsenal. Knowing and, indeed, having proof before your eyes, that you are a part of something more, is great.