If you're not a rugby league fan you may not know that I have a couple of weekly columns on an inedpendent Saints supporters website called Redvee.net. One previews the week's game while the other is a much more in-depth and hopefully entertaining analysis of the game once it's finished. It's reasonably popular, but as we'll see not everyone who reads Redvee has me on their Christmas card list.
Along with my work and that of one or two others the main feature of the site is its fans forum. A message board, in old new money. Here fans can gather to offer their opinions on everything from Jack Owens' spacial awareness to the standard of the pies in the kiosk and all points in between. It can get a bit tasty when the debates heat up and like all forums it is home to its fair share of wind-up merchants but largely it features sensible, intellectual debate on the absolute state of St Helens Rugby League Football Club and the sport in general.
It's surprising then to note that one night last week I became the victim of what I would describe as the Diet Coke of hate crimes. Somehow discussion had turned to the rights and wrongs of former Saints back rower Andre Savelio parking his car in a disabled bay at Tesco late at night. Irrespective of the fact that this has nothing to do with rugby league the argument rumbled on. One bright spark told someone to 'get a life' for condemning Savelio's alleged parking habits, claiming that the use of disabled bays by clearly non-disabled professional rugby league players is fine after dark because there is 'nobody around'.
I shouldn't have, but I couldn't resist chiming in;
"Aye," I said;
"Cos disabled people don't go out at night."
My irony had been noted but not appreciated by one user. Notably, it was not the same user who had tried to argue the case for illegal, inconsiderate parking earlier, proving that ignorance is widespread from the safety of the keyboard. The response was withering and surprising despite also managing to be puerile and laughable. It read;
"Stop crying Ironside. We all know you're disabled."
If awkward silences existed on website forums there would have been one right there. Then slowly the condemnation from the sensible majority started to appear as several other users pointed out in no uncertain terms that this sort of abuse has no place on a rugby league forum. I received private messages from several other users condemning the comparison between me and a ropey 70s television detective. And that's an important point to make. Though it gets a bad press from certain unbalanced, disenfranchised snowflakes, the Redvee forum is a welcoming place where anyone who has an opinion on Saints or rugby league is encouraged to offer it. If people disagree they'll say so, but the slanging matches and insults are still rare and remarkable enough to inspire blogs like this one when they occur. You don't really need a thick skin to post on Redvee. You just need to be able to tolerate having someone disagree with you.
And so to the abuse itself. What's the word for it? The phobia? We have homophobia, transpbobia, xenophobia, but what phobia describes hatred of the disabled. We're so marginalised we haven't even got a phobia dedicated to us. And Ironside? Really? Has this person not changed the channel on their television since 1978? I can barely remember Ironside but regardless I stopped getting upset about this sort of thing in around 1984. At that time the youth of the day were driving past me on Elephant Lane shouting 'spastic' out of car windows. I'm still not sure who those boys were referring to but what I can say is that of all the things about disability that do bother me name-calling straight out of Grange Fucking Hill is way down the list.
I have often thought about whether it is appropriate for me as the main contributor to Redvee to continue to post so often on the forum. As if keeping my opinions for my columns would afford me more gravitas and elevate me above the din. But bugger that. I'm not special. I enjoy being part of that online community just as much as I enjoy writing and the slightly loftier perch that comes with it. Contributing to the forum reminds me and the others that I'm really just another fan who just happens to have the ability to articulate my opinions in a more structured and professional manner and with the aid of the Big Book Of Glib Remarks. If the aim of the Ironside remark was to put me off posting and writing my columns it has had the opposite effect.
Which won't please everyone.....