Will The Webmasters Be Football’s Future?

By Pete H

Just picture the scene. It’s 2000 and we’d just partied like it was 1999. Because it was. The internet is still a bright, shiny new thing for most of us. But could turn it out to be football’s future? At the time, you’d be waiting days for Bridgerton to download. Streaming? You only heard that word when you had a cold. But it wasn’t quite the technological wasteland that some of our younger readers would think. Even back then, the clever kids were on the look-out for how tinternet could transform how we eat, sleep, and breathe football.

Alas, the one thing the internet doesn’t let us do is literally eat, sleep, or breathe football. From fledgling fan sites and web 1.0 forums to mobile apps and cross-platform services; much of what we do as a football fan today is online or on your phone. Betting, latest scores, ranting on social media, checking out the pokies online Australia, making dreadful Fantasy Premier League calls and more. That’s not what we had in 1999.

But our BBC Three Counties’ Steve Watkins was certainly onto something even back then. Here’s what a look at the future looked like after Y2K. And, if you don’t know what Y2K is, think of it as a tech coronavirus. Except it had almost no impact on anything. If you don’t totally recognise the world that Steve describes, we won’t blame you. We don’t ourselves. And we were there to see it unfold. It’s more eerie than a dystopian future.

Will the webmasters be football’s future?

Will The Webmasters Be Football's Future?

As we enter the new millennium, one is left to ponder what changes lie ahead to affect the way we watch football. And, more importantly, our club – writes Steve Watkins.

Few would have thought only 10 years ago that Boro’ fans would be sharing jokes and banter with Woking fans in the week before the old adversaries’ clash. But that is just what is happening now with the power of the internet.

Conference and non-league fans could seldom be more knowledgeable on the fortunes of opposition sides in their respective league, as they are only a few keystrokes away from all manner of reports, statistics and opinions from journalists to the man on the terrace.

Just how healthy internet debate can be is all very subjective of course, and varies from abuse aimed at opposition fans, to comments about burgers, or in depth intelligent “red hot soccer chat” about the previous match and your team’s latest performances. The first of these is no doubt not required if a wider audience or “hit rate” is required, and any “web master” worth his salt will stamp it out immediately. The rest though can be monitored by clubs and taken in and hopefully used in a constructive manner. At this club, we are blessed with a management team that do value what is said by the fans. They might not always agree, but at least they have the chance to react. Other clubs might not be so blessed.

How the official website looked in late 1999
How the official website looked in late 1999
The article continues…

With the growth of internet and the increasing ease of access, the future remains exciting. In Stevenage alone, with NTL soon to bring out a new digital service via your television, and now games machines offering an affordable means to log on, it will soon become well within the reach of the vast majority. The Stevenage Boro’ site offers the chance for people all over the world, and there are a good few, to follow their favourite side and at least stay in touch, by providing news, match reports and a fans forum. With work started in providing video footage of goals, those who miss games will soon be able to catch those key moments.

Boro’ are given excellent coverage by BBC Three Counties Radio. Via the Watford FC website, their Saturday afternoon’s sports broadcast can be picked up via the web. Not overly handy if you live in Broadwater Crescent, but to those around the other side of the world, this could be a godsend.

It may not be too long either before the Conference has its own show, being placed on the web within an hour of the final whistle on a match day, bringing highlights and comment from around the grounds. With the relatively low cost that these projects can be undertaken, we are yet to scratch the surface of a “whole new world”. If you get the chance, log on. You won’t realise what you are missing until you sample it.

The Stevenage Boro’ website can be found at www.stevenageborofc.com.

So, how did football’s future pan out online?

The article isn’t wrong. In fact, it doesn’t go far enough with some of its predictions. But we have the benefit of looking back at how football’s future turned out over the last 20 years. Few people would think back in 2000 that NTL’s new digital service would be a relic today. Not least Virgin Media, the brand who now stand where NTL once did.

And can you imagine being reliant on the Hornets for our matchday coverage? Now, we get live and direct action beamed onto our telly and into our pockets thanks to iFollow. Games machines that let you log on came and went. Now people play real money casino games as they take a “comfort break”. Or listening to 50 albums’ worth of music on a pick ‘n’ mix basis. Or getting their news in real-time from the Twittersphere.

Web masters are now editors. Press officers are now communications executives. And the demand for online services is sky high. Back in 2000, you couldn’t get online if another person in your house was ringing up Clubcall. Now you’re raising hell because a router isn’t working for the first time in six months. Oh. It sorted itself again. Sadly, there’s no jokes and banter with Woking fans to be had before a clash that doesn’t exist now.

Us and the Cards went in two different directions.

And us? Well, BoroGuide is almost as old as this article; coming to life two years after the accurate predictions Steve shared. Just like the offy site, the wider world of tech and our club, we’ve been on a long journey. And, somehow, we think there’s still more to come…

Will The Webmasters Be Football's Future? (Full)
Photo: Stevenage Football Archive

Our thanks to the Stevenage Football Archive for matchday programme information.