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How to be a lying toad: the ten rules of football journalism

Today, 22 January 2010, is the 100th anniversary to the day of the meetings that marked the end of the old Arsenal, and the birth of the club we know and love today.

Newspapers played a major part in giving us an understanding of that story, not least because Henry Norris himself wrote a lot of football articles for the press – and there’s more about this on www.blog.woolwicharsenal.co.uk

I won’t repeat that story, but here on this site I think it is appropriate, 100 years later, that we take a moment to look at the state of the footballing media today.

The rules of football journalism are certainly followed by the overwhelming majority of hacks today.  There are a handful who are more sincere, more honest, and more able to see what is going on, but they are in a tiny minority.

Thus, if you want to be a football journalist and keep your job, this is what you do…

1.  Agree on the key issues with all other journalists

In the press box at the Ems it was quickly agreed – Gallas was the story on wednesday.  The word went up and down, and there it is – and so it hits every paper.

This agreement is reached not just on incidents (remember everyone crowing with “Eduardo is a cheat, and we must wipe it out of the game”), but also on club situations.   Arsenal were never talked of as contenders for anything for most of the season – not because we weren’t but because we were told we weren’t.  Two men who make their money out of pornography, and are just about the biggest pornographers in the country, take over West Ham, but it is agreed: we don’t mention that, only the fact that they are “fans”.  Cesc will go to Barca: that is a “story”, so it is repeated, even though it is untrue.

Or to give another example: agree that “Arsenal have not won anything for four years” is a story but agree also that “Liverpool has not won the league for 20 years” is not a story.

2.  Keep it simple because the readers are stupid

Simplicity is the key even though football is complex.  Wenger’s long term plans in taking apart the Invincibles and replacing them through a policy of few big money signings, but a lot of world wide scouting, is just too complex to ordinary people to get.  So instead focus on the simple ideas: Wenger won’t buy because he is mean, or the club is bust.

Likewise criticise Arsenal because none of the youngsters break through to the first team – and ignore the fact that most of the reserves have been together for years, and are English.  That’s the point – we work on long term projects, but the journalists are interested only in “now.”

3. Players first, clubs second, economics third, organisations fourth, rules fifth

Whenever possible talk about players, but don’t criticise their private lives – even though that is exactly what you would do as a celebrity journalist.  So when Crouch makes a set of wild and hate-filled statements in his autobiography, we turn the other cheek, and talk up his England prospects.

After this you can talk about clubs, but keep it simple.  Beyond that it is all getting a bit too heavy for the average reader.   If you go into economics (the third level of writing), then it really has to be “They owe money to X” or “Wenger has a sixty million pound war chest”.

Which is why we get so little written about organisations such as FIFA, and UEFA, the rules of football, or corruption and potential corruption.  We might note that a lot of people are coming up with court cases of late, or that FIFA have repeatedly been found guilty of corruption in court, but let’s not get too heavy about it.  This is sport.

4. Be anti-foreigners

This is vital.  Clubs playing in England should have English, or British players in.  In following this rule it is essential that you forget that Ramsey, for example, would not qualify for England if we brought in a national identity programme in football.  Likewise you must not mention that people’s nationalities in football are determined as much by their grandmother’s passing association with some territory or other, as with a player’s accidental place of birth.

Never, ever, go into the question of whether journalists should be faced with the same national identity questions before they are allowed to write for papers.

5. Make it up and tell the fans what to think

Following on from point four, suggest that clubs with an “English spine” always do better – but don’t ever produce any stats to prove the point.  Also take up other themes.  Remember how we used to be told that Highbury was the smallest pitch in the EPL.  It was rubbish, as a quick reference to any of the major books on football would reveal – but say it enough and it becomes a truth.   Oh and don’t forget, Arsenal have “no strength in depth”.

6. Never admit you got it wrong

Since most of what you write will be made up, you will be wrong most of the time.   But never admit it.   When it is utterly obvious to even the most semi-literate reader of your rag that what you said two months ago was utterly wrong, rewrite the story as, “While some commentators on the game have been writing off Arsenal, they have quietly gone about working their way up the league…”   Translated this means, “I wrote six weeks ago that Arsenal were a pathetic leaderless shambles and that they are now settling into a period of mid-table mediocrity unless they get rid of Wenger.”

7. Always work in black and white

Everything is good or bad.  A player is a genius, or useless.   Forget reality.

8.  Use the lingo

Here are the key words you must put into every single article.

  • swoop
  • set to
  • snap up
  • highly rated
  • out of favour
  • u-turn

Thus the perfect sentence is, “Arsenal are set to swoop for Ajax’s highly rated forward Grosny Grosnik, who will be snapped up to replace out of favour Eduardo, as Wenger completes a dramatic u-turn in his transfer dealings.”

9.  Re-run old rumours

If in doubt, go back two months and run the same page again as you did before.  As in, “Arshavin is so distressed at the tax rates in the UK he has asked for a transfer to Spain,” and “Cesc admits, I would love to play for Barca.”   The point about this is that by running a story twice it makes it seem more true – at least according to the journos.

10. Take stories from foreign language interviews.

These are the one’s to quote if you really want your story to sound good.  Remember Bendtner’s supposed statement that he was the best player at Arsenal and should be playing in every game.  Sadly a few Arsenal fans who don’t understand the media, actually believed it.  The reality was that he was speaking in Danish, and never said anything of the sort.   The apology when it was printed was about 5% of the size of the original story and apologised for “any misunderstanding” that might have arisen.

Journalists can be nice people, and can be funny people too.   Think of Jacko Jones for example.  You can read his story, and his daily battle with his editor in Making the Arsenal (where else?)  But much of the time they are rather nasty individuals who make things up.

Of course if you are a regular reader you will know I make stuff up too – but at least I think it is fairly clear that I did not tell you that Nogbad the Bad founded the Republic of Bolton on the grounds that I expected you to believe it.

If you really want to understand what is going on, consider this point.  Earlier this season I had a total brainstorm and instead of writing the name of one of our players, I wrote the name of a guy I was at school with several million years ago.  When lots of people asked who I was talking about, I admitted the error, and noted what a dolt I am.

About two years ago the Times ran a piece on its web site in which it listed the 50 hottest 16 and 17 year old prospects in the world at present.   One of these was a guy linked with Arsenal.   Unfortunately the player did not exist and the Times found their journalist had simply cut and pasted an article from a Hungarian (?) web site.   Did they apologise, or agree they had been foolish?   Nope – they simply removed that line from the web site.

That’s how it goes.  It is as if the great novel “1984” has been taken as a blueprint for journalism, rather than a dire warning.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010.

38 comments to How to be a lying toad: the ten rules of football journalism

  • Paul C.

    Very interesting to hear Owen Coyle come out this morning and backtrack on his “assault” claim and admit it was just a badly mis-timed tackle. Especially funny because one of the national rags yesterday lambasted Wenger for not seeing the incident clearly (it was 65 yards away through a crowd of players and anyone who has been to The Emirates Tour knows that the boss’s seat is below the level of the pitch) and said something along the lines of “BUT OWEN COYLE SAW THE INCIDENT CLEARLY AND KNEW IMMEDIATELY IT WAS AKIN TO AN ASSAULT” (the caps are emphasis for how strongly the journalist felt about this). So now a day has passed and Coyle has had a chance to see the tackle on TV again and saw clearly it was no assault, and that there was no malice in the tackle, and knows Davies is not injured seriously. But is that retraction by Coyle front page news in the same way that his “assault” charge was? No, it isnt. So people will continue to think that Coyle thinks the challenge was an assault, when he clearly doesnt. And people will continue to think that Coyle saw the challenge clearly at the time, when across 65 yards and through a sea of players, from below the level of the pitch he clearly didnt.

    A perfect example of everything you are talking about.

  • Gun Head

    I am learning from the true red-blodded examples of self-determining Mancs up north that I cannot help but write my own plagarised signatory of boot-licking to Mr Attwood.!

    Here we go. This is probably the only article on THE ARSENAL worth reading on the net. In fact I am sure its author should be an official biographer for Mr Wenger. His wealth of knowledge/experience, fair analyses of the game is second to none. It’s true then that your writings are more akin to proper writings…and not football journalism which is inevitably driven by the base instincts of race, cronism and sheer selectice blindness, dressed up as half-interested objective interests in the game.

  • tim

    Tony, what about cutting and pasting from other websites? I mean, why bother citing the AP or Reuters when point-and-click works and making the author of the article “Telegraph staff” or some shit?

    And my favorite: “Knowledgeable sources confirm…”

    #!0 is so, so true. If only I knew the proper channels, I’d have a field day!

  • Tony, Why are all the Referees in the EPL WHITE?? Is it not possible in a country as big and diverse as England to have ONE
    “qulified” referee who is of African ancestry? Or perhaps that would be too much for a proper English lad to handle. I absolutely hate their lovefest and blatant excuses they offer for their Gerrard’s and Rooney’s etc… Fortunately, life goes on. Also, could u check to see how many PK’s we’ve conceded since the Eduardo travesty in the summer. I know that we’ve only been given one. Thank you for your articles!

  • emve

    excellent article, tony and keep up your fantastic (historic) work – I really love the woolwicharsenal blog (but be careful, otherwise you are set to be snapped up by some rag)…
    being a foreigner myself on the shores of this football mad island, I sadly have to agree that the xenophobia in much of the media coverage (but not only there) is hardly bearable. It is astonishing how the possession of a specific passport makes the difference between a cheat and an honest player (e.g. Eduardo v honest Stevie G) or a dirty player and a hard player (Gallas v Paul Robinson, Bolton)…

  • AGS

    Hi Tony
    Great article on a very good topic (that of crap journalism in the press) that everyone should be made aware of. It used be be the sole domain of the tabloids to make up stories and sensationalise everything, yet in recent years IMO even the broadsheets have jumped on the band-wagon somewhat. It’s just a dumbing down of everything into headlines and made up junk to try and sell as many papers as they can. Journalists have become salesmen, pushing their stories as products to anyone who will lap them up as they compete with eachother for exclusives and scoops, yet all delivery very little. I used to quite like Patrick Barclay but even he has lost his head in recent times. I bet that there are also tabloid journalists out there reading your articles and I would bet a lot of money that it is only a matter of time before one of your blogs makes it into the back pages, albeit juggled around a bit and proclaimed as original thought by the journalist (my money is on the daily mirror as they are the sh*test of all the tabloids for their football insights). They could do a lot worse though than visit this site and have a read, at least they might learn something here.

  • I have on occasion had a strong feeling that a journalist has taken a point that we have debated and built it into a story. Not outright copying, and of course no acknowledgement, but just little bits of stories where I thought, “I am sure no one else had covered this before Untold took it up, and now here it is in the press.”

    So my guess would be that some journalists (not many just one or two) do read a few of the blogs, when searching around for ideas.

    I feel like the Vogon Captain in the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy when he notices he has Arthur and Ford on board the space ship. Talking on the intercom he says, “I see we have a couple of hitch hikers on board. Hello! I just want you to know you are not welcome, and I’ve sent my guards to find you and throw you off the ship.”

    Except of course if I ever do see something that I think may have originated here, I am very chuffed, even if our ideas are utterly mangled.

    Final thing, I can tell you already that this month is going to be another all-time record for the site in terms of the number of readers. Where are you all coming from?

    But where ever it is, you are more than welcome, and I hope you find something here that you can relate to. (Including the 100 or so people who followed a link to us from a Bolton web site. I didn’t mean all the stuff about Bolton as a town guys. Honest. It was just a little whimsy. )

  • Here here Sir Tony.

    This article is the classic reason why citizen media such as blogs are important. It’s a war and battle for hearts and minds. Many people ask me why I started blogging about Arsenal and the answer is simple.

    My wife got tired of my moaning about the lack of journalistic integrity and the crap they spewed out every day – she forced me to make a choice between doing a better job at it, or marriage counseling. Fat choice I had there.

  • Speaking of Bolton fans, I too got attacked for my somewhat overt insinuation that Bolton players were thugs masquerading as footballers.

    The articles on my blog are syndicated on bleachers report and one Bolton fan cursed me out before warning me off to stick to writing about American football, the assumption being that since b/r is an American website then all the authors are American. I should have pointed them in your direction to – shall we say – share out the bile.

  • Paul C.

    Tony – I have no doubt whatsoever that the journos read the blogs. Where else would they have come to the conclusion that “all Arsenal fans are pissed at Wenger and DEMAND a tropphy OR ELSE this year!!!”? Anyone reading a few certain blogs would easily come to that conclusion.

    The trouble with your blog, Mr Attwood, is that it seems to require a certain amount of humour, sarcasm, independent thinking, and intelligence in order for it to be enjoyed. Therefore it will never, ever be considered “mainstream”. As you have so expertly detailed above, there is a certain amount of appealling to the lowest possible comon denominator in most reporting/blogging (buy so and so, so and so is crap/genius, such and such club is the best/worst) and you do not seem to make much of an effort to appeal to that group.

    So I would ask you to get your house in order and start making Untold Arsenal more of a “tabloid” blog. Forget the (almost always successful) attempts at hilarity. Forget the (often deeply cutting) sarcasm. Forget the honest and truthful (and damning and under-reported) analysis of the finances of our beautiful game. Instead focus on boring match reports that simply regurtitate what is in the papers, shallow appeals for us to buy anyone and everyone under the sun with no thought as to how that player might fit into our system (Le Grove want us desperately to buy Gary Cahill from Bolton for instance, and after seeing him torn apart the other night I can certainly see where they are coming from – note, that was sarcasm).

    In short, grow up Mr Attwood, and start treating this blogging business seriously. For football, and supporting football, is a deadly serious business, and should be treated with reverance and seriousness at all times.

    Hmmmpppphhh.

  • Sam

    Below is another example of what you are saying:

    http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/2010/01/how-to-be-a-lying-toad-the-ten-rules-of-football-journalism/

    Note how the article starts off by saying ‘On the way up, they supplied a variety of reasons why they might not stay there until May’ as if it upsets them that Arsenal are doing well. The injury to Gallas shown in ‘slow motion’ just how bad it was…(now generally agreed to be a mis-timed tackle) and then how disrespectful the fans are during the t-shirt parading of Galls and Sagna, at the end of the match, once we had gone top of the league. Maybe just maybe the t-shirt should have been paraded before the match??…clearly if they can’t insult the players they move onto the fans…..and these people get paid to write this cr*p!!??

    I’m in the wrong business!

  • OK so how about we start a blog called Crap Match Reports just to counter balance this one?

    Or maybe a Tiny Totts site called

    http://www.MyWifeCouldHaveScoredFromThere.co.uk

    (don’t click on that – I just made it up)

  • Peter

    Your article is brilliant and so true as usual. You’d never get a job as a football journalist!

    Why is it that there are so few people who can actually see what is going on? Why do most of the morons believe what is written in the rags? Does it have something to do with the state of the education system in the UK that people are no longer able to think for themselves and have to go around believing all the s**t printed in the national newspapers? I have followed Arsenal since I was about 11 years old (1964), and have lived in Thailand for the past 18+ years. I still follow every game with live streams on match day and by downloading match caps from torrent sites.

    In all honesty, in all the years of following the Gunners, I have never met anyone who actually tells it like it is – until just recently that is. That was when I stumbled on that fine fellow Sir Tony.

    What is so sad is that one day one of the ‘big’ teams in the EPL is going to go bust and when Arsenal don’t follow suit, the moronic journalists will never accept that Sir Arsene’s battle plan is correct, absolutely 1000% correct. With His methods, how can we fail in the long run? Over 700 million pounds in debt and no way to pay it back; is that the way to run a football club? Noooooooooo!

    Thank God (or I suppose it should be Buddha here in Thailand) for giving us such a wonderful leader in Sir Arsene Wenger. Long may he live and lead our team to greatness.

  • It’s the same here in the U.S. People don’t think for themselves anymore. Part of it is lazyness and part of it is the herd mentality. It’s easier to go along with what someone else is saying rather than considering the facts.

  • LRV

    Tony: My wife is preparing to sue you. She believes that you are very soon going to murder me with your humour and sarcasm. So help! How do I stop her?

    Gun Head: Independence of thought is quite a good virtue. You must try it some day. And… maybe you fit more oop noff!

  • Arsene hit them hard this afternoon:

    “The problem in England is that the sensitivity of one media dictates what the whole country has to think and I raise big question marks over the competence and the objectivity of the guys who make these kind of decisions.”

    Arsene was too lenient. I often question the sanity of the mad hatter of Talksport, Stan Axeman, the sanity of Oliver “Spurs have a better squad than Arsenal” Gay, Myles Palmer, Jamie Red-nap and so many others.

  • Cujo

    Great article. Just wondering what these same ”journalists” who attack our dear Arsenal FC are going to say come May when arsenal win the league? Hmmm.. Should be interesting (^^,) Keep up the great work Sir Tony!

  • Kevin

    Dorely – you’re right about the lack of black referees, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be more.

    Not very long ago we used to have Sheffield’s finest, the wonderful Uriah Rennie. I thought he was great not least because he gave Alan Shearer his first red card. That alone deserved an OBE for Mr Rennie. Funnily enough, he was always getting in trouble for not giving out as many cards as some of the others. Apparently that meant he was too soft whereas I think players knew he was a martial arts expert and were too scared to misbehave. He’s over 50 now so I don’t think he’s allowed in the EPL.

    The Uriah Rennie Fanclub (membership: 1)

  • Arsesession

    Tony –
    I think you’re being too generous with the term journalist. Most only qualify as tabloid secretaries.

  • walter

    What a great and complete overview of football journalism Tony. But must say that in my country the sports press can have different views on incidents on the pitch. So maybe I should be happy to live in a country where the press has not yet gone overboard ? Last weekend Axel Witsel (Goonerfan – Standard Liège player and leg breaker on an Anderlecht player) got a red card for a dangerous tackle in the game against… Anderlecht. Some papers said it was red others not … I think if this would happen to an Arsenal player 99,99 % of the English press would say : guilty as charged.

    So maybe I am a bit lucky but when I read the headlines of the press yesterday I really was shocked about the way they were handling the Gallas incident and always related our win with that tackle.

  • eduardo

    great article Tony, up to your usual high standard.

    I used to buy several papers each day but I got so sick of their bias against Arsenal I no longer buy any

  • tim

    Tony, are you Arsene Wenger?

    I’m beginning to harbor some suspicions after reading his recent comments.

    Or perhaps the great man himself might actually read this blog.

  • well-endowed gooner

    But you know, we’d walk the league if we only bought three new players…

  • AnonymousGun

    HAHAHAHA @ Daily Mail..

    They downplay Coyle statement by saying it is to sweeten up relationship to get Jack on load.. NOT because he was wrong from the very beginning ..

    >.>

  • walter

    I really loved the way that AW talked about the Gallas incident yesterday in his press conference. It wil make him even more hated by those pundits because he dares to stand up to them and tell them the truth. Well done Arsène.

  • Excellent article this one. No wonder most news stories these days are mirror replicas of each other with a different touch-up done to fool guess whom, the readers!

    Tony infact is amongst the select few doing rounds, who gives it a fair shot even when the chips are down, & exactly that sets him apart from the crowd. This reminds me of an article he did for us, i.e. 11Gunners not much time back. Have a read, and I’m sure you’ll get my drift.

    http://11gunners.com/just-for-fun/how-to-become-a-football-journalist/2698/

  • Christianjimmy

    re: Tim’s comment…
    How good would it be if it turned out that the great Lord Wenger read Sir Tonys blog?! You’re absolutely right, his comments about the press mirrored Tonys (Possible Sir Tony was inspired to write this very piece by Lord W’s comments? But if not, wow)
    Or maybe Sir Tony and Lord Wenger are the same person? I’ve certainly never seen them in the same room…

  • Arsene Wenger

    I believe that you are right and we have great potential to prove that you are right. Contrary to what some people believe, I believe we will win something this year.You are a very intelligent player with great vision, but it would be foreign to our policy to sign you as my deputy as you are too old. I would like to thank you for your article and would like to inform you that I did not see it.

  • IndianGooner

    It seems Wenger’s comments on Media yesterday is a diplomatic way to put this article.

    Loved the following comment from the Lord!!!

    “Today, we are all brainwashed by one or two main medias who decide what we have to talk about and we talk about that.”
    “When it becomes the main story you have to give your opinion about it. I can accept that but it doesn’t always mean they are right. Some incidents they [the media] have not picked are sometimes more important than that. But I don’t get upset any more. It just glides over me.”

  • tim

    Gotta say, I’m happy for Senderos. Let’s hope he and Everton have a resurgence. Arsene is a smart, smart man!

    Eveton’s fixtures in February:

    Sat. 6 12:45 UK Liverpool v Everton
    Wed. 10 20:00 UK Everton v Chelsea
    Sat. 20 15:00 UK Everton v Manchester United

    Arsenal’s in late-Jan, early February:

    Sun. 31 16:00 UK Arsenal v Manchester
    United
    Sun. 7 16:00 UK Chelsea v Arsenal
    Wed. 10 19:45 UK Arsenal v Liverpool

  • tim

    Oh, I forgot this one:

    Sun. 28 13:00 UK Tottenham Hotspur v Everton

  • I am not sure of the timing of the my article appearing as opposed to when the Lord Wenger’s press conference happened, but I can say for sure that I had not heard the press conference when I published my piece at about 1pm on 22 January. Let’s believe that our great Leader read the article, and liked it. Such a belief gives me a warm glow.

  • Getty

    Sir Tony, I really enjoyed reading about the state of football journalism these days. It is so true, but don’t you think this is a reflection of the society as a whole? Everything you listed up there can easily apply to any politics, social, and entertainment news. Its depth of coverage ends at the flashy picture and title, if anyone goes beyond that, there was nothing worth of news. Someone mentioned about tabloid journalism, but I never really consider tabloid as a journalism work. But the main stream news outlets, regardless of print, TV, radio, etc…have been diluted with tabloid news makers. I say tabloid news makers, because they really never report news as they see it, but make up story or give you their opinion of the actual news instead. So, this type of reporting doesn’t require formal training of professional journalism. If the professionals do research and come up with reasonable and balanced articles, they still have to compete with the lazy copy & paste, or the tabloid news maker for the attention of the same public who has short attention span. If you ask the professionals they will say that’s what the public want, some from the public blame the media for watering down news. This is one of the age old question of chicken or egg question. I think the wider public should take some of the responsibility for not demanding better than what’s offered.

  • Paul C.

    Getty – so true. At University I did a course on modern jounalism and we were split into groups, told the details of an old story, and asked to try and come up with what we thought would have been the front page of The Sun if we were journalists. We were given a list of “tabloid” prinicples such as “forget about the truth, think about the impact” and so on. When we had all finished we got a chance to see the actual front page of the Sun for each of our stories. The people who were actually studying journalism and tried to take the exercise seriously ended up furthest away from what the actual front page had been. The middle groups, who tried to balance seriousness with ridiculousness (and which I was a part of), were closer but still a ways away. But the groups that had just taken the piss and tried to be as ridiculous as they could be were just about spot-on as far as headline, choice of front page picture, and story content. In some places almost WORD FOR WORD and this was about stories that happened years before. As you say, the “respected” news outlets now behave like tabloids, so this is the level of journalism we are getting everywhere now.

    Scary thought.

  • The Law

    Another example of the ten rules just popped up on ANR, that sad excuse for a site run by Pyles Murmur. Having declared in an earlier post that Edin Dzeko was at the Emirates which explained Wenger’s absence from training, he today claims that Wenger was in Stoke signing some 15 year old goalie whose name Pyles doesn’t know.

    At no point does he say, “Sorry folks, but the Dzeko story was just a rumor.” or “I called that one wrong.” He just acts like the earlier story doesn’t exist!

  • Getty

    Paul C. AMEN!

  • jazbo

    For anti Arsenal bias you can trust, see the following:

    ITV, BBC TV, Sky Sports, BBC Radio 5 live, Talksport.

    Daily Mirror, The Sun, The Mail, The Times, The Daily Star, etc, etc.

    And Blogs so stupid it’s amazing that they have any readers!

    So what chance does the truth have??