By Tony Attwood
If you’ve been reading Untold for a while, you’ll know that part of the essence of the site is to use the name “Untold” literally, and do what others don’t do. That has led to a range of campaigns, and we’ve had a range of targets over the years, and certain successes (as with things such as predicting that Man C’s financial approach would not get past Uefa last year, and with being I think the only site to highlight the change in Swiss law, which we said would be used to facilitate the arrests of Fifa executives – and of course many others).
Indeed in relation to the latter story – Switzerland takes a greater interest in Fifa – at last – was published on 22 January 2015, way before the explosion, and it is one I was particularly pleased with. No one else ran that story. Just Untold.
But a little organisation like ours can’t break new stories every day, so every year in the summer we’ve tried different things, not least because normally we’ve tended not to do too much of the “Arsenal about to sign” stuff. Indeed we’ve had quite a few laughs with the “spotted at the airport” type of story (although that headline seems to have fallen by the wayside after we did the “spotted on the M25” alternative).
We’ve also done quite a lot about the nature of transfers and how the market works. Way back in 2012 there was the piece The Vapour Transfer: how the mechanisms of football have been corrupted, which was based around not just observation, and a consideration of the way in which the IT industry was working, but on a couple of conversations with those in the know. I know, it was just a “couple of conversations” but the patterns we see in the transfer market do seem to fit with the approach outlined in those chats, with non-existent transfers deliberately leaked by those associated with one club in order to mislead those associated with other clubs.
Indeed part of that story arose after the Times actually reported Arsenal being interested in buying a non-existent player. Our headline “Invented player to sign for Arsenal according to the Times” appeared in January 2009, before we’d got the “vapour” title, and although that was a spoof (that convinced the Times) more than a vapour transfer, it revealed that newspapers were simply not checking even the most basic of “facts” before writing about the possibility of one player moving to another club.
So we’ve been through the lot: football clubs being used for money laundering purposes, the lunacy of PGMO and its bizarre referee accuracy figures, the FA’s gross incompetence and the removal of funding from it by Sport England, the statistical link between the success of a national team and other factors such as how many players play in their home league (answer = none), and the number of coaches (answer = very high), the refusal of the press to ask “why?” in relation to key stories, newspapers running press releases as news (the Independent with FC Barcelona and its lies about tax, the Telegraph with their coverage of PGMO and referees after Walter’s piece about video refs)… well, if you’ve been reading you will know.
This past couple of years has seen the rise of another menace – a set of identical blogs carrying highly misleading headlines like “Arsenal finally have bid accepted for striker and complete the transfer of 23-year old striker” and then a few lines basically saying at best that this is only a rumour, or at worst something very different.
What I noticed about these sites was that they had adopted a different way of generating income from the way that most sites use. On Untold, as on most sites, the site earns a fraction of a penny if a reader clicks on an advert. (That is not an invite to click – only do that if you are interested – we do have software that picks up repeated clicks, and if you do that you could get blocked from the site).
What these sites do which is quite different from Untold, is to have on the top right of the page a notice that says “Skip and visit site” while on the left is a series of numbers very slowly clicking down to 0 – at which point the number on the left says “close”.
I must admit that the first time I saw these sites I thought the “skip and visit site” meant, “skip the advert and go to the site with the story” and the first few times I did that. It was only after a while that I came to grips with the fact that the “skip and visit site” button actually takes you to the advert.
It is to my mind a very sneaky way of getting advertising hits and I am surprised at the bookmakers Coral and other prominent companies are associated with such a process. But they are.
But these sites are very popular and are normally at the top of the list on the news accumulator sites. For example, as I write this “Welcome to the Emirates as top-class striker OFFICIALLY signs with Arsenal” is at the top of the Goonernews.com list of most clicked on sites – and that story has been up there several days.
As was mentioned in one of Sir Hardly’s pieces, that headline from NoEasyGames.com is indeed true in that it is about a signing by Arsenal Ladies, but the implication is that it is a signing for the men’s first team – it would have been better to mention that in the title.
What struck me in fact was that most of the top 10 stories at any one time on Goonernews.com were of this type – and all with the same odd format that induced me (feeble old duffer that I am) to click on the “skip and visit site” button several times before I realised what was going on.
In the past with the various issues that we have focussed on the tendency on Untold has been to go straight in and reveal what’s what, but I thought this summer Untold might try a different approach.
This came about because I was fascinated that people would fall for these crazy headlines not just once (we can all do that) but over and over and over again. I was fairly certain that the Untold readership was far too bright to be taken in, and indeed our long history of stories by Ima Madeup, Dr Billy “the Dog” McGraw and the like meant most readers knew that we liked to mix the real with the make believe.
So we ran a series of stories with headlines like
Confirmed Arsenal complete 2 shock moves and other spoofs
which had the byline of “By Sir Hardly Anyone, listening to football’s chatter, rumour, and mindless gibberish.”
That to me seemed to make it clear to the audience that this was Untold doing what we have done most summers for the past seven years. Having a laugh. As was…
If all the spoofs say it’s a DONE DEAL that must mean it’s a DONE DEAL – the list went on.
As the analysis of our readership shows, the vast bulk of Untold readers are regulars – and for that I am very grateful – and such readers know what Untold is, and (from what readers say) really like the mix of the utterly insane with a spot of serious investigative work that our friends in the press seem unable to do. Indeed if there ever was proof of this, the generosity of readers in funding the Untold Banner which following agreement with the club will be up in the Emirates this season on permanent display, is really heart warming.
And to me there should be that combination. When I get together with Blacksheep, with Walter, with Andrew and others involved in Untold we have serious discussions about Arsenal and football, politics, life, etc etc and we have one hell of a laugh. Same is true in the stadium with the people I sit among. We get angry, we chatter, and my goodness do we have laughs. OK not very profound laughs but still, watching a match with your mates who create bizarre chants can be fun.
There’s always a but. A handful of people have got a bit upset about the Sir Hardly Anyone series. Two in particular have become quite annoyed, and even now got to the stage of suggesting that Untold is involved in a fraud, rather than mocking both the DONE DEAL type headlines, and the people who are taken in by them day after day.
It is not unusual for people to get annoyed with Untold, and for those who get annoyed with Untold to make assumptions, and here the assumption seems to be that we get paid for the number of times an advert is seen, rather than what happens – we get a little money for each time an advert is clicked upon. The fact is anyone who comes to the site and feels cheated is not then going to click on an advert.
But we are told we are crooks and fraudsters – and true to the Untold tradition I have published those comments which although occasionally insulting are not just abuse. (Straight abuse we try to cut, not least because it is so boring. Threats are forwarded to the authorities).
The fact is that for all blogs the summer transfer is the time of top readership, and this year we’ve seen the number of page views (basically people clicking to read one of our articles) has gone up from over 800,000 in 30 days that we were getting in May with the Cup Final to over 1 million in 30 days, which is rather nice – but it is the sort of rise we see most years. Hits up about 20% or so in the transfer period.
Of course it is true that some of those people might have clicked on Untold believing that the headline was actually true, because some of the headlines we’ve used in the series didn’t include the word spoof, (largely because even when we did put the word spoof in the headline, it made no difference to the numbers). But I am hoping those who were misled read the story, and realised that it was the spoof sites who were the problem, not us.
But the fact is that to my mind no one could be deceived – we are not defrauding our advertisers (and believe me if we were our advertising agency, who have many top names in football on their books would cancel the contract within a couple of hours) and if anyone is misled, they can see from the opening name (by which I mean – an article by Sir Hardly Anyone is not really likely to be real is it?) that this is going to be a bit of fun.
If anyone has been misled into reading one of our spoof stories (with or without the word “spoof” in the title) then I am sure they learned their lesson in one second and if annoyed, have left Untold. But I think a point has been made – there are some very dubious people around the world of rumours, and they have been encouraged by the endless repetition of the “rumours” (for which read “invented tripe”) by the way the media reports the stories all the time.
If nothing else, I hope our little bit of fun has made the point that we’ve been making for a long old time. Most of the media world is sinking fast. Not all – but a lot.
Thanks for reading – and if you have any ideas for our next bit of fun and games, well, you know where I am.
Anniversary of the day
12 July 1998 Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira (along with Thierry Henry and Robert Pires who did not play in the final but were in the squad) became the first Arsenal players to win the World Cup; Petit the first Arsenal player to score in a WC final. Dennis Bergkamp won World Cup Goal of the Tournament.
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