The Internet. What a marvellous thing, the "invention" of our time. The power of instant communication, information available at the click of a mouse, making a mockery of physical distance at the touch of a button.
My FA Cup journey owes much to the Internet; it has basically made my life so much easier. Finding information about the competition format, the dates of games (and replays), about tickets, ground locations, travel. It allows for immediate and rapid communication with the clubs and their fans. In fact everything connected with my road towards the final. All this has been done from the comfort of the spare room.
Not to mention this blog. In equal measure I have enjoyed going to the games, meeting new people and writing about it all. As I have alluded to a few times already, the response I have had to this blog, since my first post on 24th August, has shocked me. And it continues to do so, daily. As I write this post this evening, there have so far been 13,071 page views in 7,027 different visits to the blog. This is from 3,087 unique visitors in 53 different countries. For 200 visitors to vote on my latest frivolous poll is, on it's own, pretty good going.
Now, in Internet terms, not huge figures, but for something that started out as a stroll down the lane to watch Chertsey Town on a cool August summer evening, these stats never cease to surprise.
Of course, without the accessibility that the Internet creates, none of this would have been possible. The clubs along my journey have assisted with the access. Links on the home pages of the websites of Sittingboure, Dartford, Eastbourne Borough and (most recently) Cambridge United have helped. Add to that mention of the site in a number of match day programmes, non-league football publications and over match tannoys, and the fingers of the web are encouraged to spread further and wider and deeper.
But the Internet can also be a perilous place, especially when the information you find is of dubious quality or questionable caliber.
On the way into work today I was amazed to hear a radio newsreader declare that there had been "a mistake" with the FA Cup draw on Sunday. The draw for the Third Round Proper. The one that paired Cambridge United with Wolverhampton Wanderers. This "news" even made some of today's newspapers. You could probably understand my reaction. What on earth is going on? Would the draw have to be done again? Maybe I'm not off to Wolves after all? Probably Trevor Brooking's fault (again).
As it turned out, this was the story that never was. There was no mistake, no error, no blunder. A conspiracy theory of sorts, that had broken on the world wide web early on Tuesday and had spread like wildfire across the ether to make big news within a matter of hours. The "mistake" reported was that the number 25 ball had been drawn out of the bowl but the number 24 read aloud instead. If this indeed had happened, it would have meant that Manchester United should be playing Bristol City instead of Aston Villa.
But photographs and video stills of the draw proved that there had been no mistake. The number 24 ball had been pulled out and read out. End of.
But it just goes to show how powerful the Internet can be, something that the conspiracy theorists can use to great effect. And often do. Many things are written on the Internet that people believe and over time are perceived as fact or, at best, written into folklore. The 9/11 conspiracy theory is probably the most notable example. Of course, this is nothing new; the Internet alone is not to blame. Storytelling as a form of communication has been in existence since man could stand unaided on two legs, and stories have always been passed from generation to generation. The mere passing of time allows for the real facts to be diluted and the (usually more interesting or newsworthy) fiction to be elaborated. The difference with the Internet is that the time element is condensed - for thousands of years read days, for hundreds of years, read minutes. And the fact that we can view something "in print" on a screen fools us into thinking that what we are reading is true.
We can all be easily fooled. Personally, I blame the bloggers. Especially the idiots who blog about football...