By Tony Attwood
Blueberries are good for you screams the headline, so people rush to supermarkets and buy blueberries. Some idiot eats blueberries all the time, and in due course is rushed to hospital. “Blueberry poison.” scream the headlines.
“No, blueberries are safe,” say “experts”.
“No,” say other experts, “they are in the list of fruits and vegetables with the highest content of pesticides is published by the Environmental Working Group. “Don’t eat the blues.” Blueberry shock as public told to lay off forbidden fruit.
Welcome to the one-dimensional universe in which everything is reduced to the simplest possible level. It’s in education (“small classes will solve our problems”, “school uniform is the solution”, etc etc), it has been at the heart of our politics for centuries, it is what makes economic predictions as reliable as horoscopes, and of course it is in football.
So pronounces the Telegraph today. As if one sale means everything. What I could say is “Telegraph writers are total morons,” in response to that headline, but of course I’d be doing the same thing as I am complaining about. Reducing everything to simplicity when in fact it is complex.
Sometimes one player, no matter how gifted, just can’t be made to fit in with the rest of the team, and in football individual brilliance has to be combined with the format and style of the team. But no, that is two concepts. Too much. I hear an editor shouting. “Too complex for our readers. Keep it simple stupid”. Which means of course, “Keep it stupidly simple”.
That’s the Independent today. It is a “fact” in as much as it is statistically true, but does it mean anything? Probably not. Did the fact that after Sunday’s games Arsenal were bottom of the league actually matter? If it did there should be dancing in the streets of N5 this morning because WBA is now bottom.
After Sunday’s game the word went around that Arsenal have never won the league after losing the on matchday one at home. As far as know that is true. But Arsenal have won the league after losing their first home match of the season (1989 under George Graham). And besides Arsenal lose the first home match of the season so rarely, and win the league so rarely that to turn this into stats is meaningless.
Arsenal have won the league 13 times in 110 attempts, and have lost the opening match of the season, at home, around 8 times (sorry I lost count towards the end), so on averages alone it is highly unlikely that the two factors would coincide.
Reality is complex, but the media is fuelled by simple folk who demean their readership by treating them like idiots, so everything is reduced to individual items.
‘It’s Szczesny in a hat’ says the Independent today. How odd that when they were saying that Cech was a major signing for us they didn’t point that out. And he did ok against Chelsea. And Szczesny wasn’t bad. (Actually to break off, there was one lovely shout when Cech took his first goal kick of the season. OooooooooooooCech. Well, it made me smile.)
Of all papers, however, it is The Metro that captured the moment particularly well with “Arsenal lose to West Ham in first game of the season, ‘#WengerOut’ starts trending on Twitter” and that is about right as a summary of where we have got to. One event, and the world changes, although the aaa moaners who were rather quiet during the Cup Final and pre-season now claim they were here all along.
Let me try another example. Yesterday we published the most comprehensive review of a referee’s performance I have ever seen. Of course one could take issue with items within it – because one can take issue with anything, but to write as one person did “What complete bollox” as their entire contribution to the debate, reveals just where we are. In a land where any analysis that lasts more than half of one sentence is considered gibberish. “Too clever by half,” as it used to be called, by those without enough brain to put two sentences together. “Clever clever stuff” was the phrase preferred by those for who the four words of “too clever by half” was a bit too much to handle.
So today we have “Van Gaal is destroying Man Utd!” as a headline in the Daily Express. Maybe it is true, but there’s no real explanation.
(On the other hand, the occasional juxtaposition that results from this desire to make one sentence all you need can be amusing. Try this one: “Liverpool flop Mario Balotelli’s career could be over – West Ham favourite”. That’s also in the Express.
Even people previously in the game who should know better get sucked into it. “Former Arsenal boss: Lack of leadership led to West Ham defeat” is apparently what George Graham said to the Express, while I suppose he was also contemplating the fact that he was responsible for the one win in 11 games in 1987, the league cup final defeat to Luton Town, losing the first home match of the season in 1988, having two points deducted for the kerfuffle at Man U in 1990, coming 10th in 1993 with the lowest number of league goals scored in the league (40 in 42 games), and being sacked for taking a back hander.
The fact is that George Graham was a great manager who rebuilt the club after it has fallen into decline and brought a whole string of trophies, but if we go round taking individual moments and giving simplistic individual explanations for complex occurrences, this is what we get. We lost the cup final to Luton Town, Graham Out!
And yet despite all the evidence that you can’t draw any conclusions from simplistic observation we have the Standard shouting Arsenal’s woeful start reflects badly on Wenger
Better said would be, “Reducing football to one line explanations reflects badly on journalists and editors.”
So it goes on…
And just occasionally, a bit of sense. “I can’t remember the last time Arsenal went into a season with so much positivity surrounding them. The West Ham defeat was bad, but there is no need to panic.” Martin Keown reported in the Mail. Always loved you as a player Martin, and seems like you are a bastion of sense in a world gone bonkers.
When a journalist talks sense it should be renamed: Doing a Keown.
But that is an isolated incident, and I am quite surprised Martin is managing to hold down is job as a reporter, being as reasoned as that. But as soon as we move on there are more one liners. All of this is from the Metro, all of it on their web site this morning.
- Arsenal set for crunch talks with key transfer target – fans desperate for deal
- Arsenal ‘ready to sign incredible £55m global superstar as alternative to Benzema deal’
- ‘We don’t miss him!’ Chelsea’s Mourinho claims Blues are not missing Arsenal’s Cech
- Big! Arsenal ‘ready to complete major transfer after he demands move’
- Huge! Arsenal ‘ready to sign world-class star after crunch talks’ (not Benzema)
- Arsenal transfer news: Karim Benzema medical, Lucas Silva move, Julian Draxler and Mario Gotze deals
- Arsenal fan Claude orders Arsene Wenger to seal Karim Benzema transfer or resign
And then, just to disprove my entire thesis, tucked away near the foot of one article they conclude
After a defeat like this people will start screaming for new signings. That isn’t the problem. The problem, as it has been for as long as I can remember, is all in the heads of the players.
If only the writer could have told us more. The social psychology of a football team. You read it first in the Metro.
Today’s tales of two goalkeepers
11 August 1977: Jimmy Rimmer sold to Villa. He had been displaced in goal at Arsenal by Pat Jennings one year later and stayed at Aston Villa until 1983 playing 229 games, and winning the league in 1981 and European Cup in 1982.
11 August 1977: Arsenal bought Pat Jennings. He had played 472 games for Tottenham, and went on to play 273 for Arsenal before returning to Tottenham once more in 1985.