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A-League coaches on trial by social media?

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Four games into the season and Sydney FC coach Frank Farina is well and truly feeling the heat. Is the pressure warranted, or are A-League coaches on the wrong end of a trial by social media?

It was hard not to feel some sympathy for Farina last Saturday. His Sydney FC largely outplayed Perth Glory in the heat of a blazing Western Australian afternoon, only to come unstuck at the hands of some poor officiating and a toothless attack.

It wasn’t the first time Sydney FC have been unlucky, but it didn’t stop the #FarinaOut hashtag doing the rounds on Twitter.

There was nothing unusual about that, but what set the trend apart was the fact Farina used his personal website to respond to it.

And in opening up so candidly, Farina offered a fascinating and all-too-rare insight into the mind of an active A-League coach.

“I do have a question for the small group of people – who mostly hide behind fake names or no name – who hurl mistruths, abuse and personal insults at me, some of the staff and the players. Are you really real football fans?”

It’s a legitimate question – particularly in the context of a season only four games old, with the Sky Blues in the midst of an injury crisis.

“A real football fan follows their team through thick and thin. A real football fan, when faced with one win and three losses for the start of the season, is asking what they can do to help get the team on track,” argues Farina.

It used to be that fans supported their club through all kinds of trials and tribulations, and maybe there’s something to be said for the relative youth of the A-League when it comes to teams lacking traditional ‘rusted on’ support.

But then it’s also worth looking at the types of fans who might support an A-League team in the first place.

If A-League clubs are aiming to attract a youthful demographic, then it should be contingent upon the understanding that younger fans have myriad entertainment options, arguably possess shorter attention spans and invariably engage with social media.

Furthermore, we are increasingly living in a society with demands for instant success.

Couple that with fans who fork out financially for match-day tickets, and it’s no surprise that some supporters equate that investment with the right to air often venomous personal opinions.

That hasn’t changed from the days when supporters used to ring talkback radio shows to voice their various concerns.

But what has changed is the medium, with social media allowing more fans than ever to voice ‘groupthink’ beliefs in an increasingly un-moderated environment.

Little wonder then, that some fans get caught up and overstep boundaries, making statements tantamount to libel in a manner they’d never dream of if they were standing face-to-face with the intended recipient.

There’s an element of de-humanising one’s adversaries on social media and in the case of Farina’s legitimate gripes, it actually works both ways.

“I’ve done nothing else except work in football since I was 17,” writes a man who blazed a trail for Australian footballers in Europe and who in his day was revered as one the Socceroos’ most popular strikers.

In other words, Farina has never experienced the mind-numbing drudgery of office work or ducked off for a smoke-o on a construction site – he’s only ever been paid to play or coach football.

So although he’s right to question the motive of those who leave “expletive-laden messages about not going to the game,” perhaps it’s also worth trying to understand the environment fans leave them in.

Were Sydney FC to sack Farina, it would go against the very stability the Sky Blues were supposedly trying to implement.

But would it also be a victory for the hoi polloi of social media? Or do A-League coaches deserve all the scrutiny they get?

© 2013 The Roar | This article was written by Mike Tuckerman and first appeared in The Roar on 8 Novemeber 2013.

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