The Science of Negativity !

“These are not negative people, these are fans for whom Phantoms hockey, rightly or wrongly, means so much to them that they truly hurt and hurt bad when things don’t go well.”

When Twisted Sock’s discussion forum first launched back in 1999, the whole concept of fans having a freedom to express opinions was new to sporting clubs all over the land. Up until that point, club-fan interaction was always one way and was delivered via carefully managed and sanitised media such as programmes, newspapers and telephone hotlines. The height of radical and anarchic kick back from fans was considered to be a letter to the newspaper ….. and then you’d sign it “anonymous” for fear of what might happen at the next game !

Discussion Forums soon exploded into life all over the country. They were relatively easy to set up, every major sporting club had one or more and that included most hockey clubs. The “information highway” had arrived, fans went demanding information on their team and if they were not provided with that information then they would simply go and find it ….. or make something up based on rumour !

Now, nearly twenty years downline, most of these forums have been replaced by Facebook Discussion Groups but the unease felt by most clubs at the outworkings of the information highway and at the freedom of fans to express opinions has remained largely unchanged.

Here in Peterborough, we have one of the most vibrant online communities in UK hockey. You only have to compare the level of online activity here with that seen at other clubs to see that something has evolved here over the years that simply hasn’t happened at other clubs. I believe there are reasons for that and I also believe there are more positives in that than there are negatives but what it does do is massively exaggerate every emotion that pours out from the fanbase and when that happens, it is all too easy for those trying to run this club to misinterpret it all.

For me, negativity and positivity are all just subjective interpretations made by people who are really trying to pigeon-hole characters based on their posts. Few, if any, of those posters have any intentions to be either negative or positive …… they are simply being open and honest and are expressing their feelings in just the same way they would and do in the Skate Hire area between periods or in the bar after the game.

Now, if this were the Phantoms Fans Facebook Group then, at this point, I would be challenged with comments suggesting that the (perceived) negativity is wrong and even upsetting to players. It is a challenge that very often kills debate and discussion because no fans want to be seen as harming the very players they pay good money to support every week but stifling debate is never a good thing so I want to share some thoughts and experiences here ………..

Immediate Post Game Negativity

This is the where the liveliest posts and counter-posts always arise but I want to take you back a good few years to a previous Phantoms era, a lively post game experience and a subsequent discussion with the coach of that time who will remain un-named !

I had been looking to do a documentary style photo-shoot that was going to involve the usual moody monochrome player shots dripping with sweat in a post game locker room. I made the approach and was given a slightly reluctant okay from the coach but I was a little wary about his ” ….. if you REALLY want to !” parting comment. I figured I probably wasn’t aware of what I was letting myself into and so it proved !

“fans get just as down, just as frustrated, just as angry but, unlike the players, they do NOT have a locker room to let rip in …… their locker room is a virtual one and this Forum is it !”

Phantoms lost a game to a side they really did not like and they shouldn’t have lost and they didn’t play anywhere near their best ….. perhaps not dissimilar to Saturday’s game in Coventry. I was in the locker room waiting in the corner, the door was smashed open and in stormed a bunch of guys who redefined “angry” ….. in fact they were so scary that I didn’t have the courage to take any photos for fear of having my 70-200mm zoom inserted somewhere painful !

For ten minutes, that locker room was full of swearing, arguments, blame and even sweaty clothing being thrown around like a scene from a cheap and bizarre video war game. After things eased down, the coach stepped in after having deliberately stood back for the first ten minutes and he slowly but surely added perspective, never hid from the negative but also singled out the positives and by the time I dared to move out from the room, the entire atmosphere had switched to a more positive one with the angry negativity having been channeled into a determined positivity about the next game.

As I sneaked by the coach, he grabbed me and trotted out that oft heard chestnut, “what is said in the locker room, stays in the locker room” which was to prove quite interesting the following morning when he got in touch with me about the “negativity” on what was then the Discussion Forum that I ran. I had all the “what sort of fans are they ?”, “how is that going to help my players ?” type comments that we still see today on Facebook …… so I plucked up the courage to tell him what I thought !

I reminded him that his players were just as negative, just as frustrated, just as verbal last night but ….. they had their own room, with a closed door, with freedom to get it out of their systems and with a coach to help turn it around for them. I then pointed out that fans get just as down, just as frustrated, just as angry but, unlike the players, they do NOT have a locker room to let rip in …… their locker room is a virtual one and this Forum is it !

I then told him to come back in 48 hours time and take another look at the comments from the fans because I knew from experience that these Forums – now Facebook Groups – have the same impact on fans as the Locker Room has on the players. Fans get the poison out of their systems, they might find others adding a bit of perspective to it all but they feel better for it all either way and they will be ready to go again as a result ….. just the same way as the players are. Without the means to do this, some of those fans may simply use that anger and frustration as an excuse not to come to the next game or, if they do, to carry that emotion into heckling or even booing players which no club should ever want.

Negativity is a science that is embraced by the broader science of human behaviour and, as such, if understood then it can be managed. These are not negative people, these are fans for whom Phantoms hockey, rightly or wrongly, means so much to them that they truly hurt and hurt bad when things don’t go well. The same forces of passion that sees them blurt out negative and frustrated comments straight after the game are the very same forces that keep them loyal to the club in tough times. The same passion that drives them to dig deep when funds are needed and even the same passion that causes them to roll up their sleeves and rebuild the ice rink in order to keep THEIR club alive. I will wager that even with the “negative” label pinned on them, these will be the last ones out of the rink and the last ones standing should we ever, heaven forbid, find ourselves facing another crisis.

As a footnote and under the umbrella of “managing negativity”, the club may want to look at how they set up on Facebook which, like it or hate it, is where so many of our fans are at. We have two official Facebook “groups” …… the “Official Phantoms Facebook” page and the “Official Phantoms Fans Facebook” group. I would suggest this probably needs to be explained better to the fanbase as many people either don’t realise there are two presences or don’t really understand the differences between the two.

As I would interpret it, the Phantoms page is closely aligned to the Official Website in so much as it carries the “corporate” message and has to stay positive and “on programme” at all times …… as such, it should and does convey a closely controlled positive and optimistic vibe that may well appeal more to some of those who get frustrated and upset at the mood swings that typify the Phantoms Fans Group. It may well be that the particular tastes of a varied fanbase can be catered for with the two groups/pages if people better understood how to use them. That is not to say that the Phantoms Fans Group should be a hive of negativity of course !

“The club DOES need to change and fans need to recognise that.”

General Change Negativity

By this clumsy phrase, I mean the perceived negativity towards anything different and any changes undertaken by the club.

I touched earlier on the relative merits of our internet community as opposed to those seen at other clubs. Without a doubt, one on the reasons for what is often seen by the club as an unwelcomed intrusion into the off-ice workings of the club is our (distant) past boom-bust existence where we have seen the club come desperately close to going out of existence on several occasions. Yes it was Pirates, not Phantoms, but then a significant number of our current day fans are longstanding fans and still remember those dark days so is it any surprise they show a keen interest in what is happening in the club’s ivory towers ?

As with the negativity, this is a perfectly understandable and quite reasonable element of human behaviour and it too can be managed and its all down to plain old communication. Make no mistake about it, those who run this club and those who work for this club are trying to do the right things for the near and far future and if they look to implement a change then you can rest assured it will be because they genuinely believe it will provide positive results for the club.

What they don’t do, based on observations over the last year is, (a) communicate that positive reason so that we can at least understand the thinking and (b) use the fanbase to anticipate the likely response. The change from Sunday to Saturday hockey was a dangerous move to make in a very unstable time with the drop to NIHL but, even so, the club must have had a cunning plan here but it was not shared ….. indeed the club went out of its way to hide the fact that the game night was changing. A simple survey at the end of the 2016/17 season would have told the club what the impact on season ticket sales and attendances would be if we switched thus they would have had the opportunity to avoid losing the thousands of pounds we have subsequently lost.

The club DOES need to change and fans need to recognise that. We need more “bums on seats” and we should embrace efforts to achieve that but the best way forward is surely for the club AND the fans to work together, hand in hand, with a shared passion and a shared understanding …… keeping fans in the dark and making rash and dangerous changes without involving the very people who will be affected most by it all is dangerous with a limited fanbase such as ours and also completely unnecessary.


Okay so that’s it …… this isn’t a “negative” editorial nor does it seek to tell you what is or isn’t “negative” …… it is just one person’s perspective !

If there is one thing that frustrates and upsets me more than seeing the team underperform on the ice, it is seeing fans turning on one another and/or seeing the club turning on its few but precious fans. We, as fans, MUST recognise the need to embrace change without jumping too quickly into a negative mode but, equally, the club MUST recognise the need to communicate better with its fanbase, not only to sell change positively but to actually use the knowledge and experience and passion of its fanbase to implement better considered and more effective change.