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Breaking Down the Barclays Premier League Email Autoreply System, Part One

Switchboard girl.

Yesterday, because I am a man who takes action whenever the cause is just and the lead-in includes the words “under 30 seconds,” “automatic,” and “online,” I signed the “No to Game 39” petition from the Football Supporters’ Federation. I felt a moment’s pride as honest union men, their faces streaked with soot, looked out at me from beneath their headlamps with grave approving eyes, in the work of a photographer who had access to color film but chose not to deploy it in this instance. My grandfather, who spent a spell of his life as a pig farmer before making his fortune in barbecue sauce, looked up from the battered copy of The Grapes of Wrath that he was reading in heaven, and lifted his arm to order another mojito.

The way the petition works is that the FSF system generates an email to each of the 20 Premier League clubs and sends it automatically from your email address. After submitting the form I was warned that I might receive autoreply messages from the more tech-savvy clubs, and sure enough, a few minutes later they began to trickle into my inbox. I thought I’d take the liberty of posting them as they arrive, in the hope that they might shed some light on what makes these clubs tick.


This was the first email I received. It read as follows:

Subject: RE: Attn Club Chairman No to Game 39
From: Reception <>
Date: 2/10/2008 7:00 AM

Thank you for your correspondence the contents of which has been noted.

Thank you for contacting Birmingham City Football Club.

Analysis: The main quality of this email is its brevity. Brevity is the soul of wit, but in this case, you feel distinctly that brevity is the soul of not having any ideas. This reads like the abandoned rough draft of an autoreply email. Its entire contents are essentially two opening sentences, arranged in an illogical order, as though the writer ran out of options in the final third and wasn’t able to finish. Nevertheless, there’s a winning innocence in that subject-verb disagreement in the first paragraph that makes you root for this email to succeed. I would root for this email in a match against Manchester United.



A minute later, the following message arrived:

Subject: Out of Office AutoReply: Attn Club Chairman No to Game 39
From: Your Comments <>
Date: 2/10/2008 7:01 AM

Thank you for contacting West Ham United FC.

Please note that while we endeavour to answer all enquiries that are sent to us, due to the large number of messages that are received we regret that we cannot operate an interactive service and therefore cannot guarantee a reply.

Therefore if your message is urgent and non ticket related we would ask you to contact the club direct on 0208 548 2748. If however you have a ticket related query regarding either a purchase you have made or availability relating to a forthcoming fixture we would recommend that you contact the ticket office direct on 0870 112 2700 or alternatively check the official website for all available ticket information.

Anyone wishing to receive a personal response from the chairman must write in to the club at the address given below.

If you are requesting a charitable donation from the club please contact

West Ham United FC

Boleyn Ground Green Street, Upton Park London, E13 9AZ.


Boleyn Ground,

Green Street,

Upton Park,

London E13 9AZ

For Hotel reservations and enquiries please ring 0870 460 8200


Any opinions expressed in this e-mail are those of the individual and not necessarily of West Ham United Football Club PLC.

This e-mail and the files transmitted with it are confidential and solely for the use of the intended recipient. If you are not the intended recipient or the person responsible for delivering to the intended recipient, be advised that you have received this e-mail in error and that any use whatsoever is strictly prohibited.

The company does not warrant that the information is free of a virus or any other defect that may affect the recipient’s computer system and it is your responsibility to scan attachments (if any).

Nothing contained within this email may be deemed to constitute a legally binding contract nor may it be relied upon within a court of law as evidence of such intent. All agreements shall only be deemed valid and binding once they are in final agreed contractual form and signed by the relevant parties thereto.


Email the way you want it – scanned for viruses and unwanted content by emailsystems

Old-fashioned wireless communications.

Analysis: The first thing that jumps out at you is that the email contains more lines of legal disclaimers and caveats than it does of specific content. It’s as if the organization behind the message has grown wary of legal trouble and is eager to distance itself from any hint of knowledge or responsibility. I found it particularly interesting that the club seemed so ready to regard itself as the potential carrier of a virus, almost as if there’s a sense within the club of some taint or depravity that the administration is afraid it won’t be able to control. That said, there’s an almost Icelandic politeness that comes through in a few places (giving the club’s address twice, listing instructions for soliciting charitable donations, etc.) that makes you wonder what sort of conflict is raging beneath the surface at Boleyn Ground, Green Street, Upton Park, London E13 9AZ. Based on nothing but the evidence of this email, I would guess that West Ham is locked in a Manichaean struggle for control of its very soul. But I mean, that’s just me.

So far, West Ham and Birmingham are the only two clubs to have had the courtesy to reply to my automated petition message. I’m sure the other clubs will discover their manners in time. Do you hear me, Arsenal? I want a wax seal and an apology. I’ll be waiting.

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Breaking Down the Barclays Premier League Email Autoreply System, Part One

by Brian Phillips · February 11, 2008

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