#nffc, the press and the fans: are we plumbing new depths?

In this opinion piece, our regular contributor Steven Toplis shares his thoughts on the Martin O’Neill situation, and how it is being played out amongst the fans, press and on social media. We bring you this content for absolutely nothing, so if you want to make a small donation to keep us caffeinated, you can now do so at paypal.me/forestramble. Thanks!

The season is over, the playoff dream finally put to bed thanks to four consecutive defeats at the hands of Rotherham, Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday and, most recently, Sheffield United.

A season of promise under Aitor Karanka petered out once the Spaniard decided to walk away as manager in January and Martin O’Neill has so far been unable to spark an upturn in fortunes. Karanka’s departure created divisions in the fanbase and those divisions have only increased with the poor run of form we’ve since endured under O’Neill.

At times during the campaign it looked like Forest might have it in them to finish in the top six, but now the best we can hope for is a mid-table berth. Who’s to blame for this decline? A quick glance at the Forest timeline on Twitter points the finger at one man – Martin O’Neill.

Toxic social media

Social media can be a brilliant tool for communication and when it comes to football, it’s allows people from all walks of life to offer up their views and opinions where they wouldn’t have been able to before. However, there is an ugly, unpleasant side to this and where Forest is concerned; it is rearing its head.

The atmosphere on social media over the past few weeks can only be described as toxic and at times, it is has been nothing short of a disgrace. Type the hashtag #nffc into Twitter and you’ll see Forest fans going in on the manager in a way that no previous occupant of the City Ground hotseat has endured.

Personal insults, abusive comments and endless criticisms are being fired his way and with each passing defeat, it only intensifies. “Dinosaur”, “idiot”, “moron” and “clueless” are just some of the insults being bandied about, while the hashtags #ONeillOut and #DinoOut are becoming increasingly more noticeable. Throw in the pictures of dinosaurs, childish insults, unfunny memes and Tweets asking if the club’s ‘issued a statement yet’ and you soon get the idea of the mood. It’s getting out of hand.

Now, I’m not defending O’Neill here – there are decisions he’s made which have left me baffled at times, while the performances and results have largely not been up to standard. However, this does not excuse supporters from offering up an endless stream of criticism and abuse at every turn.

Every Tweet from the club’s official page is met with a barrage of anti-O’Neill responses, the same goes for anything posted by the local media outlets. The local journalists are on the receiving end of criticism and endless requests to fire more hard-hitting questions at O’Neill – with people accusing them of not doing their jobs correctly if they don’t. I had no idea so many Forest fans were journalists themselves.

Fans are turning on the ‘Miracle Men’ – O’Neill’s former teammates, some of whom write columns in the local press or hold positions high up within the football club, because those experienced football people are perceived to be sticking up for the under-fire Irishman. Jonny Owen, a director at the club, has reportedly suspended his Twitter account due to the sheer weight of criticism being fired at him. It’s beyond ridiculous. Anyone who believes that directors such as Owen or John McGovern hold sway when it comes to the manager’s future are misguided.

If these people aren’t criticising the current manager they’re pining for the previous one; the one who walked away from the club when times were hard. We don’t know the exact reasons why, perhaps we never will, all we have to go on is speculation. However, what we do know for sure is that Karanka no longer wanted to be part of things at Forest.

“It’s tedious and boring”

There are a number of individuals on Twitter who constantly post their anti-O’Neill rhetoric; filling up the timelines of Forest supporters with the same arguments and views. It’s tedious and boring. These supporters, too, are quick to dismiss opposing views in a rude, belittling manner, simply because that person has the gall to see things differently to them.

One of these individuals wrote a piece just a few months ago, calling out Forest fans in no uncertain terms for criticising Karanka earlier in the season, while urging them to show more patience. The words pot, kettle and black spring to mind. 

There’s nothing wrong with having your opinions and there is nothing wrong with not rating the manager, but constantly moaning and repeating those negative opinions over and over helps no one.

You’ve even got fans stating that they want Forest to lose their next match, because maybe then O’Neill will be shown the door. They might claim that they’re looking out for the best interests of the club, as they feel the current manager might hold us back, but this type of ‘support’ is childish and divisive.

What price progress?

Given where Forest have been in recent years, their current position is no reason for panic. Yes, the season has gone downhill, but it’s no different to previous seasons where the manager has been changed midway through.

It’s now eight years since Forest ended a season with the same manager that began it, it’s an impatient approach which gets us nowhere. O’Neill might not be the answer. However this constant demand for his sacking sets a dangerous precedent for future managers.

What if the next manager comes in and has a bad run of form? How many games is he going to get before he is hounded out? What happens if he doesn’t fancy Joao Carvalho? 

I know that not every Forest fan is on Twitter. I know it doesn’t represent our whole fan base. I know not every Forest fan on Twitter acts in this way, but yet again it is the vocal minority who make themselves heard above everyone else and as a result create a negative, toxic atmosphere.

We have been poor under O’Neill, no question about it. But the personal abuse and childish jibes aimed at someone who is just doing their job is uncalled for. It reflects badly on all of us as Forest supporters. We are better than this.