bigfootyCrikey Sports has the pleasure of having a guest post by Jamie Johnstone, a blogger at BigFooty, Australia’s largest and most popular AFL internet forum. This post was first published at BigFooty.

BigFooty’s Jamie Johnstone writes:

I first found BigFooty place after being directed there by a good friend. My mate had been around there for a while. He posts as SweetLeftFoot and is known for his sometimes blatant, sometimes annoying and sometimes exquisitely crafted, trolling of opposition teams and posters.

What makes the mouthy bugger such a good troll is that, despite what many might think, he actually does his know his footy. That’s the key to quality trolling: it has to have enough basis in fact to be believable enough to lure the credulous into replying and thus giving the troll what he/she/it wants.

However, trolling BigFooty is easy. Anybody with half a brain and a boss who doesn’t monitor Internet usage can do it. So it was, after listening to SLF droning on in the pub for half an hour about how he’d “pwnd” — yes, he did manage to pronounce it “powned” and he actually says LOL and OMG out loud too — people on BigFooty, I decided I’d set him a challenge.

I said: Why don’t you step up your game? Why don’t you troll the footy “meat world”? He’d had some success in this before with his lurid and frankly unsettling semi-fictional work Rebecca’s Journey being read in footy newsrooms and being hailed to wide acclaim on Bay13, yet it had signally failed to drive Sam Lane to a career ending nervous breakdown, his stated aim in creating the depraved tract.

This time I suggested, why not set up something that’s achievable. You make up a lie, a whole cloth fiction, and see if you can get a run in the real world. You make a footy story, spin out on BigFooty and if it makes The Age or SEN, then I’ll buy you a slab.

A few days later I get a text. It simply reads “Trade week. Gav Urquhart for Patrick Veszpremi.”

The campaign was underway.

You can see the very first airing of the rumour here, post 306. It is now deleted but that appears to have been part of the strategy. He left it up long enough to be seen by plenty of posters but then, cannily, deleted after another North poster questioned whether he was telling tales out of school. Thus the rumour gained currency. Why, the average North poster asked themselves, would he take the post down if there wasn’t actually something to it? (It has yet to be established whether SLF was working in cahoots with this poster or not. Either way, the result was the same.)

Over the next few days, as the rumour began to hold on the North board, then further afoot, the originator of the falsehood played a canny game. He refused to addressed the rumour but would chip in when it was discussed, saying merely “I’m just reporting what I’ve heard”.

After a few more days of this, he upped the ante, timing it nicely to coincide with the lead in days to trade week (and a bit) itself. Now claiming “as it’s out there, it’s OK to talk about it”, he started a thread on the Drafts and Trading Board and began to engage posters from other teams in debate.

At first, Sydney and Bulldogs supporters, who’d been discussing the very real possibility of a Veszpremi for Everitt trade were a bit confused. But they quickly absorbed the new development and began to factor it into their discussions. This created a snowball effect, meaning that posters began to postulate three and even four way deals involving Gav Urquhart and Patrick Veszpremi heading in various directions.

The next milestone came when a poster called #Hollywood# produced a trade summary thread on the main board of BigFooty that mentioned the Gav for Vesz trade. The thread also contained plenty of good quality and accurate info and had a remarkably official looking layout.

What SLF had thought would be the summit of his mischief making then came on October 5, when The Age’s Jon Pierik and Michael Gleeson reported that:

“North Melbourne has also been linked to Veszpremi, originally from Melbourne, possibly in a swap involving Gavin Urquhart.”

But there was more to come.

Once the Vesz- Everitt deal between Sydney and the Dogs had been signed off, Patrick Veszpremi was asked on AFL Trade Radio if he’d heard anything about a possible move to North to which he replied that he hadn’t and he hoped his manager would have told if anything had come up.

Needless to say for SLF, this final development was the icing on the cake and one he particularly enjoyed recounting for me as we drank the beers from the slab I duly bought him.

But the whole episode throws into sharp relief some issues about the way today’s footy media works. It’s an article of faith here for many that journos take stories off BigFooty. With this one, there’s cold hard proof of it happening.

It also raises questions about just how easily agents — a bugbear of mine — can manipulate not only this place but the media in general to pump up their players, especially during trade week when a bidding war can erupt. Now, we all know this happens, but with this little escapade, it’s been shown just how easy it is to get a story with no basis in fact whatsoever into the papers.