A piece which with its straight-faced seriousness, fittingly harks back to the kinds of crap I used to write in my early forum days.
On Monday smfcboard.com was shut down, after the forum's owner had finally had enough of bearing the legal liability inherent with such a website. Thanks to smfcboard's owner giving everyone two weeks notice of the shutdown, a new forum has been set up at smfcfans.com. While smfcboard.com has been archived by its owner, no one will ever get to see its magnificently dated look again, including the eye-wateringly bad green and white theme that hopefully no-one ever chose as their permanent choice of theme.
[Unless of course, you're one of those sickos that likes visiting the Wayback Machine to trawl through the wastes of the internet's past - in spite of the frustrations of not being able to click further on intriguing links. I mean look at this; and this - pure gold]
When was smfcboard born? This archived bit of magic - linked off from the official site no less, if you can imagine that - suggests it goes back as far as 1998, when a South fan who now apparently lives in Canada started a South supporters website. It wasn't the only South forum or site out there. This was what one old South forum looked like in 2002. Another forum circa 2001 suggested smscboard had emerged as a competitor/alternative to the less reliable pte-existing options. This fan site advocated the safe use of flares. Showing the naivety of the times, the club itself even had a message board of its own.
It's amazing that the forum lasted for as long as it did, considering that for much of the past decade it was blocked to the outside world in terms of registrations, while also being attached to a club of diminishing importance. While other forums of clubs from a similar standing/background disappeared - Preston, Knights, Olympic, Heidelberg, to name but a few - smfcboard somehow kept going. Perhaps it was due to the pre-existing critical mass, with which while it sometimes saw periods of very fallow activity, was still able to keep its head above water for long enough to hit on more prosperous times.
Smfcboard's moderation policies ended up driving some people to create their own forums, such as this one which was rapidly taken over by smfcboard regulars only to be used a gimmick factory. The blocked registration policy saw people attempt to start up forums like this one, but they too, never took off. One way or another, and in spite of its drawbacks, smfcboard remained king.
Over the years, the forum's relative popularity suffered from a number of blows. Chief among those was people losing interest in South Melbourne Hellas, now that the club wasn't in the top flight. But people were also put off by a number of other factors. Those who harboured any sort of sympathy or interest for the A-League - and especially one of its Melbourne franchises - found being on smfcboard an untenable proposition. The irony being of course that that forum's A-League thread continued to pump out the posts regardless.
[One of the forum's last truly great gimmicks occurred when the A-League thread hit 100 pages. Someone made the effort to calculate the top-ten posters in that thread, with their user names being changed to those of A-League franchises for a week.]
Some of the decidedly non-PC views of some people - back when those threads were still allowed - also pushed some reasonable people away. Equally however, when political threads were banned from the forum's general discussion section, those who had swamped the forum only to discuss politics and never anything to do with South Melbourne also moved away. Then there were those who drifted away after the issues with the Hellas Fan Club. And then the forum got locked because o legal issues with certain Victorian soccer identities from other clubs. Sometimes these were temporary measures when a high-profile game was coming up, but then it became permanent.
Basically, if you wanted a reason to leave the forum, it wasn't hard to find one. Even Olympiakos' domination of Greek soccer made the once lively Greek soccer thread a waste of time. The wrestling and heavy metal threads also had only intermittent posts, despite the elevated levels of interests for both those fields among smfcboard's clientele. But if you wanted to find the highest attrition rate for jumping off the forum on a more or less permanent basis, you'd need look no further than those who were tasked with acting as moderators - and who could blame?
But it wasn't all bad. Like any sporting forum worth its salt, smfcboard had a million in-jokes. And like any good forum where forum aliases rather than real names were the norm, the real life person and the persona behind the alias often began to blend into each other. There are still people at South whom I know only by their forum name - but that could also be a South thing, what with there being too many Georges, Cons and Jims to be able to differentiate in any other way.
The forum was viewed and posted on by board members - until they were apparently banned from doing both by the board itself. Occasionally players would visit, but not often, and as time went on increasingly rarely. Of course that didn't stop certain delusional forum members from posting diatribes with way too many capital letters and emoticons in the mistaken belief that someone important was actually listening. That disproportionate sense of the forum's wider importance to the club would have been funnier if I hadn't been a member of said forum since 2005, and thus in no position to be able to treat it as someone else's curiosity.
The forum was not only a force for evil however, nor just a place for people to post nonsense. It led, whether directly or not, to the elevation of two of its forum members to becoming board members of the club itself, through the meetings organised by supporters on the forum. The forum provided a valuable social outlet for South fans. This was especially true for a club both suddenly out of the mainstream news cycle, and one where its fans had little in common with one another other than the club.
For me, smfcboard was mostly a good thing. It helped me reconnect with the club after I drifted away at the end of the NSL. Despite much of the nonsense and vitriol on the forum, it reminded of who were my people. In my first life as a South fan, I had gone with my father or my cousin and my uncle. When I returned to South in 2006, I started going to games by myself, but soon found myself being drawn into the edges of the Clarendon Corner fold.
The first people I saw walking on the way to The Grange for what would be a 3-0 loss were a couple of members of the forum and Clarendon Corner, drunk as skunks and walking in the completely wrong direction. At the game, I saw someone with the name 'Box' on the back of his shirt, a name I recognised as a member of the forum, and I introduced myself - which for someone with what was then an often crippling shyness, was a pretty big deal.
My forum form was at the time as someone who'd write hopefully (and self-consciously reasonable) but also overlong po-faced posts. The hope was to moderate the often hysterical tenor of the discussion on the forum. I can say now with the benefit of hindsight that I only had moderate success with that approach. Still, my posts on smfcboard (and to a lesser extent, other forums) stood out to OzMackem (Ian Syson), who convinced me to take up the undergraduate writing course he was in charge of at Victoria University.
Eventually I got fed up with the forum (though I never left it on a permanent basis), and decided to break out and start South of the Border, after failing to get a prompt enough response in order to takeover Park Life. Ten years later, I have a sputtering university career, a blog with about as large a following as anyone could reasonably expect considering the content, and a reputation as someone who - I hope - can write with humour as well as pathos about this club. It's possible some of these things would have happened without smfcboard, but I have my doubts.