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Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Brief History of the Insider’s Time

A Brief History of the Insider’s Time
July 14th, 2007 — 1892 Insider

(Warning: It’s not actually that brief!)

“Cross my PayPal[m] with silver,” says ‘Gypsy Lee’ Oldham, “and you too shall know the secrets of Liverpool’s future summer transfers.”

The teaser headlines on the front page promise tantalising stories, citing ‘Koptalk sources’, to lure in ‘mature’, ’sensible’ and ‘diehard’ Reds. It’s never been so easy to acquire those qualities: simply pay your £30 and you’ve proved it!

And why not? After all, this is the author who has been invited in to chat with Rick Parry about his book; the guy who regularly socialises with LFC players; the same man who whispered something (’not romantic’) in Peter Robinson’s ear to get a season ticket. Between all those connections, plus a gateman at Melwood (still fondly and inconveniently recalled by some KT members), he surely knows more than most about what goes on inside Anfield. Then there’s the ringing endorsement of George Gillett’s membership, proudly displayed on his site. Well, I’m sold!

Or, rather, I might be if any of it were actually true. Because George Gillett’s office cancelled his so-called membership when he found out what your site is really like, didn’t he, Dunk? I know, because I saw the e-mails confirming it. So did other contributors here. You never did explain how he could enthuse so much about the members’ interaction on a site he’d never seen — he can’t possibly have, since you need to have paid to gain access!

Contrary to Oldham’s recent claims that 99.9% of the content was free till last September, he has experimented with pay services almost since his site’s inception in the late 1990s. The first attempts were in 1999, with news updates by deluxe e-mail and by phone. There was also a KopTalk ISP. Notice how he wasn’t shy even then of using Hillsborough as a promotional tool.

As far as I can tell, these were not long-lasting services. However, KopTalk was probably the biggest LFC site at the time; the Club had yet to launch their own, even, so his traffic was substantial. Oldham himself claimed in excess of 2.2 million hits for July 1999, in an era when many people still had no online access, so there was vast potential for profit and he was not to be thwarted.

Consequently, a VIP service launched in early 2000. By now, he was advertising it on the basis that he had sources at the Club, and openly stated that several players would be posting there. He knew the effect this would have. It was also during this period that he began what later became his standard practice of writing vague transfer stories, whilst promising that more detail was available on the paid site.

And far from 99.9% of the site always having been free, Oldham even began to charge for standard news items — the so-called Bronze Membership — in July 2004, leaving only a feed for the news needs of those ‘who are unable to support us or decide not to’.

The ‘insider’ fallacy is undoubtedly KopTalk’s biggest con. Despite what his apologists still maintain, most people didn’t join up for the community there and nor was that how he advertised and promoted it, prominently and on a daily basis. It is obvious from reading posts there, even now, that people stay because they believe they are ‘in the loop’ — especially overseas supporters who are remote from the Club — and not for the quality of debate.

How could it be otherwise, when the Executive Lounge and its transfer subforum are full of hysterical threads, started by the same idiotic posters, to the weary exasperation of the remaining sensible members?

Why should we care? It’s a question I’ve seen asked by some who’ve never been members, by some ex-members and even by those who still visit his site. As fans, we have a fine reputation for wit, dignity in defeat and supporting our team in the right way. We’re renowned for sticking together. We don’t like seeing ticket touting, because we don’t like to rip off our own. Our fans don’t tolerate racism at Anfield; the Munich chants of the bad old days are banished. All that is part of what makes Liverpool FC one of the truly global clubs; we attract fans from all over the world. It’s something to be proud of. They can’t drink in The Sandon every other Saturday, but they want to feel part of the community and the internet allows them to interact with their fellow fans.

There are many forums out there where they can choose to do that. To stand out from the rest, KopTalk needed something else. Its ‘insider’ information was the bait that hooked the fish. “No info = no point,” I think he once said. I dislike anything that brings down the reputation that generations of our fans have strived so hard to build. With its lies about our Club and its players, that is what KopTalk did and continues to do.

For almost a decade, Oldham has cynically encouraged the impression that he has privileged knowledge about the activities of players and officials from our Club, allowing him an audience for his rants, providing a market for his merchandise, sympathetic donors for his unregistered appeals, and generating many thousands in subscriptions from fans desperate for exclusive news.

As long ago as 2002, he talked about one day closing the free site and retaining just the Insider, but first he needed a reputation, and he has worked hard to build an image as a man with contacts. It was all about establishing trust with members. If he was the confidante of executives, the drinking pal of players, and had direct access to them, as he implied and sometimes explicitly stated, then who would doubt him?

On his free sites, he hosted features like Team Morale, giving details of the current emotions of Liverpool players, to which he was privy because of his ‘excellent relationships at all levels of the club’. The eagle-eyed among you will spot how it was left to KT readers to interpret the images he tagged to a player; not that he knew nothing, of course! A 2001 editorial listed current players and a secretary among his sources. He claimed to be able to print off and deliver members’ e-mails to players.

His forums, often merely a honey trap for potential Insider subscribers, boasted that former and current players had access and, in one moment of madness, he even claimed that Robbie Fowler discovered there that his transfer to Leeds had been leaked. Yes, the same Fowler about whom Oldham wrote sanctimonious leaders, culminating in his infamous ‘close the door on your way out’ editorial. Do you think he frequented the site? The same Fowler whom Oldham said was going nowhere just before he left. Then again, it should come as no surprise that Dunk wants to have his cake and eat it. ;-)

Nonetheless, as a result of all this, thousands believed his advertising blurb that he had ‘forged links within the Anfield squad’ and that he ’socialise[d] with various VIP’s and Liverpool players every weekend’, and they paid up for the Insider or the Gold Club.

Also, notice how, in all this, he seems to believe that saying ‘allegedly’ or the use of aliases (ahum!) makes anything that’s said ok.

There used to be a whole range of people who posted supposed ‘insider’ information. Some were ordinary members, most of whom have now left for elsewhere. Of the more mysterious personalities, the Horse appears to have been put out to pasture, while the Wallet is much less fat these days (unlike Dunk himself) after the mass exodus of subscribers — perhaps that explains his relative silence?

Luckily, though, the Informer is still around to dispense occasional pearls of bullshit, like the recent laughable story of a fund transfer to LFC’s holding account. As a treat, I’ve managed to obtain some rare footage of the Informer in action:

What does all this say about Dunk? If it were true, then he’s implying that he blackmailed a former chief executive; echoes, in fact, of last year’s supposed meeting with Rick Parry, when Dunk said he had something Parry wanted and Dunk wanted information in exchange. If it were true, then he’s admitted that he’s happy to publish sensitive and potentially damaging information — not on the main site, but as long as you’re paying for it — with no way of preventing it from circulating. If it were true, then Liverpool FC players and staff were giving out confidential knowledge, not out of a sense of duty to inform the fans, but for the financial gain of Duncan Oldham. Does any of that make him look good? As we all know, though, it isn’t true. Instead, these claims are slurs and lies that damage the reputation of our Club and its personnel, and they are an insult to us all.

Of course, we all know how KopTalk’s strategy works in practice. We’re linked with so many players, in such vague terms, that one of them is bound to come true. When it happens, in the style of the tabloids he so admires, Dunk can say, “…as exclusively revealed to KopTalk members days/weeks/months ago”, conveniently forgetting the majority that didn’t come off. If facts enter the public domain that contradict his previous ‘insider’ bull, then he just blames an eleventh-hour intrigue and scrambles to pretend that he already knew, never explaining why he didn’t speak up before everyone else did as well!

That used to cause some frantic editing and deleting in the past but, these days, Dunk’s hit on the much simpler solutions of storing threads from just the last few days and disabling the function allowing you to view a member’s posts. Pretty inconvenient for me when I pop on for a spot of light blogging, but even worse for when his paying members want to check what Dunk really said 2 weeks ago.

Lately, you’ll have noticed that Dunk appears to be taking more of a backseat. Just recently, he claimed on Steve’s 18th that he had built up a great range of contacts. And it was Steve who was, not so long ago, in direct SMS contact with someone who could tell the eager KopTalkers just what was happening about Torres. From next season, he says, Steve will be in charge. Perhaps he’s about to pass on the torch, the Melwood wheelie bin and the Informer password to a new generation? Whatever happens, we’ll be watching.

(This is my first proper article, though I have contributed in the past. Comments and corrections are welcome! I’d like to acknowledge the role of Outside Insider in gathering some of the research used in this article.)

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