By Tony Attwood
If you live outside the UK or you are within the UK and resolutely don’t ever read a newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio you might not know that this country is in the middle of one of its biggest political crises and scandals of all time.
It is generally known as the “phone hacking scandal” or a phrase like that, and in brief it centres around the fact that News International owned by Rupert Murdoch employed journalists who hacked into people’s phones. When it was discovered it was denied a lot. The police investigated and said there was no evidence that it was more than one rogue reporter on the job.
Since then the arrests of senior people have started, the largest selling newspaper in the UK has closed, Murdoch has actually turned up in the Commons to apologise, two of the most senior police officers in the country have resigned, links between phone hackers and the police have become ever clearer, and it has also become clear that the Prime Minister employed one of the key phone hackers himself. Meanwhile News International company has been found by a parliamentary committee to have ‘deliberately’ tried to block a Scotland Yard criminal investigation into phone hacking, and on and on and on.
The corruption is everywhere, and everyone’s phone from the Royal Family through to politicians and the families of murder victims was hacked.
But there has been very little in the public view to link any of this to football. And indeed you might say, why should it? This is a crisis in the UK of mega proportions. MPs might unite (sine opposition and government were all linked to the Murdochs in their attempt to get a good press and spent years eating his food and drinking his champagne ) and sweep it all away. But maybe, just maybe, there might be some reform. So why even link it with footballers?
Because behind the scenes there is a list of leading figures in football who believe they were hacked by News International (the part of News Corp that specialises in phone hacking). And this is where the problem is. News Corp is trying to buy Sky which has the rights to broadcast Premier League football. And other broadcasters make money or get audiences from the Premier League and are dependent upon the EPL having a good name, so they can get their interviews on TV and space fillers on the back pages.
Yet phone-hacking started with football. Gordon Taylor, the Professional Football Association’s top dog, plus Mick McGuire his former deputy, as well as the Association’s own lawyer, Joanne Armstrong, were hacked. If a player had a problem, the News of the World tended to find out about it via the hacking these people, and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire – who was a footballer and a leading hacker was jailed in 2007 for his work. (That was when we thought this was all a one off).
It is, as they say, a funny old game. BSkyB turns footballers into stars of front and back pages. Those stars then sell the BSkyB packages to fans. And then the News of the World (part of the same group) destroys the reputations of those stars to sell papers and allow BSkyB to build up new reputations and keep us all interested.
And at one hell of a cost. As Arsenal fans we might not have time for Paul Gascoigne – but here is a man with a clear mental illness which needs proper treatment, help and support, and a man who needs to be left alone to get his life together. Yet the News Corp team took him to pieces – a man already utterly vulnerable in every way.
Mulcaire passed on personal information to many in the newsroom at the News of the World and there are legal cases running involving Sol Campbell, Andy Gray, and (soon to happen) Sven-Göran Eriksson.
So why are we not hearing more about this? Is it in fact a cover up of a cover up by News Corp anxious not to devalue the brand of football?
Probably, but there is more. Gordon Taylor who should be acting for his clients, can’t, because he settled his own phone-hacking case out of court. He got something like £750,000 or so it is said, and agreed in the deal never to speak about it again. He has been bought – although to be fair, when he signed the deal he had no idea how big phone hacking at the News of the World was.
Yet even that is not explanation enough for why we don’t hear more about phone hacking and football. Yes we all know neither Rupert Murdoch’s company nor the police nor the politicians can be trusted in this case, but still…
One explanation comes from a most unlikely source. In the midst of the troubles the Telegraph turned the whole thing into a joke story
The Mirror did the same also went for light-hearted banter
“You might know Glenn Mulcaire as the private investigator at the heart of the News of the World phone hacking storm.
“However, we’ve done a bit of digging around ourselves and have unearthed this footage of AFC Wimbledon’s first ever goal, scored at Bromley in 2002 by none other than Glenn Mulcaire,
And what a beauty it is too: a stunning left-foot volley from outside of the area.”