By Tony Attwood
Untold Arsenal, as the banner headline on the site suggests, presents football news from an Arsenal perspective. But as publisher of the site, I’ve always had the vision that we could do more than that, by picking up issues that others ignore and seeing where they lead.
Of course when I launched the site we couldn’t do that at all – the audience was tiny. But now that we regularly get between 750,000 and 1 million page views a month, I think we can at least highlight some issues that afflict football in England.
One topic that has been occupying my thoughts quite a bit in the past year has been the way the media is not reporting football stories but creating an endless stream of negativity. This didn’t happen before the internet in nearly the same way – it was there, but the coverage levels in the media was so much smaller that I seem to recall we just laughed at the media much of the time, and used it for our own amusement the rest of the time. It was so out of touch with what those of us at the match thought, it was bizarre.
Sometimes of course we enjoyed the tat. When, for example, David Pleat was arrested for kerb crawling and the story was on the front page of the Sun, some bright spark reprinted that front page on cheap t-shirts. Half the crowd was wearing them at Highbury the next week. We all laughed and the songs were, well, droll I think is the word.
And when the same papers printed some anti-Arsenal stuff, we just shrugged it off. But now, with dozens of new stories appearing each day on some newspaper web sites, their influence is much higher.
And they are, I would submit, not just publishing nonsense, they are attempting to influence those people who don’t get to the matches but instead only ever watch on TV or the internet, or hear commentaries on the radio.
Here’s some of their current reality-shifting offers.
1. You can read something into one defeat
Only one club has gone through a season undefeated in the past 126 years: Arsenal. And yet now one defeat spells doom. It is arrant nonsense. Last season Chelsea lost three league matches and were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by a lower league team. Everyone gets defeats. But now, one defeat and that is the end of the world.
2. You can reject players after one or two “poor” games
Poor Francis Coquelin. According to today’s commentaries it is all over. He is not good enough and Arsenal need another defensive midfielder. But everyone I have ever seen play in that position has had rough times. I saw Gilberto Silva have the odd poor performance, and Patrick Vieira endlessly get sent off because of sins far greater than anything Coquelin committed. Once he was sent off, and then while playing the one game before his suspension started, he was sent off again. But no, all this is forgotten. Vieira is remembered as a god-like figure (quite rightly) and Coquelin who has had just half a season, ain’t as good as he was, so he probably never was that good, so he’s out.
It is mindless gibberish.
3. The fans are up in arms, the Gooners will be “disappointed”…
Goodness knows where this ability not only to read people’s minds, but also to read what their minds will actually be thinking tomorrow, came from. But at the risk of being really dull, let me tell you that telepathy is a myth. And yet day after day the papers and the blogs write as if it is real.
Let me make it clear: most of the time I don’t know how I am going to feel in half an hour, so the notion you can possibly tell me what I will be like next week is just such utter gibberish that words begin to fail me.
But I shall endeavour to proceed…
4. Ignoring key issues
No newspaper or blog can cover every issue in football every week, but constantly to avoid certain obvious issues is odious in the extreme. The cost of going into a Premier League game is not unrelated to the cost of players; to bleat on about one without mentioning the other is thoroughly misleading.
But the corruption and ineptitude of the Fifa poodle, the FA, surely demands more attention than it is given. The fact that Sport England withdrew its funding, the fact that is it now reduced to making redundancies in order to keep its core work going, the lunacy of the “investment” in bidding for a world cup and getting two votes, the insanity of them saying they will do it again now Blatter has gone… this sort of thing needs attention and discussion consistently, until the FA is cut to shreds. But it doesn’t happen.
And that’s before I get onto the issue of the level of coaching staff (see last article).
5. Glorifying a victory is not an insight.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be in various stadia at key moments in Arsenal’s history, and some of them I will remember until my dying day – memories that (rather curiously) are as powerful as those surrounding the birth of my children and the death of my parents – which must be the most overwhelming moments in all my years on the planet.
But there is no disrespect to my parents or my children when I admit that being at Highbury with my pal Roger for the match against Everton in 1998 to win the League, being there to see the victory in the final match against Leicester that gave us the Unbeaten Season that Sir F Word said was impossible, and (to choose just one more) being at Wembley for the utter destruction of Villa, are some of the most powerful memories I have and in terms of those memories seem as strong as the first and last moment’s of life.
But these are the extremes. To take two victories in a row and draw conclusions from that, is as dumb as taking two defeats and drawing conclusions from that.
Of course I’ve enjoyed the fact that Tottenham and Kane have stuttered in two matches, but I would not go around predicting that they are going to slip into mid-table obscurity. It would give me a smile, because I’m an Arsenal fan, but based on recent years I think recovery is much more likely.
What happened yesterday is not a good prediction of what will happen tomorrow.
6. Hiding stories because they don’t fit.
The way that the actions of the PGMO are utterly and totally ignored is just beyond belief. I can’t prove there is corruption, but I can show that PGMO is acting in a way that encourages corruption, and that its statistical statements don’t make any sense. Do you ever seen PGMO examined seriously in the media?
7. Running press releases as news
The Telegraph reached its lowest point when it took a report from PGMO which claimed it was involved seriously looking at video referee research, and then published it as news. As was the Independent when they took a Barcelona press release that claimed that they were incredibly highly taxed, and ran that without any questioning, and worse, as if it were their own news story and not a press release.
8. Suggesting success can be had just because you want it.
All the time we have reports about how this or that manager is “targeting the top four”. West Ham were apparently doing this last season.
The reality is that the top teams get better each season, funded by Champions League money and TV fees. So to break into the Top 4, one not only has to be better than before, one has to be better than the ever improving clubs already there.
But every year aspirations are talked up, breakthroughs are said to be happening, and they don’t, because it is much, much harder than just “eyeing a place in the Champions League” or a club being “set to get into Europe”.
9. Suggesting fans are disgruntled
Some are, of course. We get them on Untold. But the numbers are very small when compared with the numbers who are gruntled (if there is such a word.) I would never dream to suggest that Untold speaks for fans – it is a forum for discussing and putting forward certain issues in certain ways. Why then does anyone else, without proper research across a broad spread of fans, suggest they know how people feel?
10. The transfer trick
This of course is what powers the press day by day, and it is worth a whole article in itself, so I’ll leave that for another time.