By Tony Attwood
“Why do you keep on talking about the media? Surely an Arsenal blog should be about football.”
That is a fair point which was made to me last week, and one I fully accept. But there is a contrary argument which says exposing the tricks of the media is utterly about football.
Many people accept that the world beyond their senses is fixed, it is what it is. There are four big trees growing in my garden – that is reality (at least for me).
But many also argue that the way we interpret the world, the way we decide this is important and that is not, determines what we take for reality. I am very much in this camp, and I am arguing here that the way we perceive football is not something that is obvious and natural and unchangeable, but is in fact constructed by the media.
So the media tells us that transfers are everything in football, and that if you don’t bring in lots of players each transfer window you are a failure. They do that because transfer rumours are cheap (free actually), have no comeback (in that no one points out the predictions and even assertions that x has signed for Arsenal), and because the supply is endless.
Imagine you were running a newspaper and had the choice between paying journalists to sniff out all the corruption at Fifa, and printing a page of rumours that you and a couple of mates invented down the pub, what would you do – especially if you had an editor screaming about keeping costs down.
This is what has been going on for years, and the inevitable conclusion has been reached. Transfer rumours are good because they are cheap and for some bizarre reason people treat the rubbish printed as true.
As I have been trying to show with my league tables that reflect both the points gained this season and the money spent, transfers guarantee nothing. (Does the amount a team costs reflect its position in the league or have we been led up the garden path?)
But there is more, because bringing your own players through is a much better and safer way for a club to proceed. You can deal with lots of young players to see who makes it. They all get a chance and even if they don’t make it they have the opportunity to continue as professional footballers at a lower league club, and they can be brought into the squad at any time.
However the press’ vision is not just about promoting transfers, for the media never fight on one front. They’ve also worked on changing perception away from the whole season, to part of the season, to the first three games in the season, to the last match, to one shot in the last match… I actually heard it said that if Giroud couldn’t score “that” goal against Stoke then he’s obviously useless and must go.
Presumably the same person also though that when Pires and Henry failed to take a penalty properly and instead tried to pass it to each other, they should have been removed forever from the team.
TV of course loves this, because if you are only as good as your last five seconds, you can repeat those last five seconds over and over. TV Rules OK!
So the fact that Arsenal has won the FA Cup two seasons running is meaningless because Arsenal won’t win the league this season and we know that because Arsenal lost at home to West Ham. It sounds fairly stupid when you say it, but that is how football is being packaged.
Thus the media is about doing stuff on the cheap, and determining the way you and I think about football. And it is not that they are winning this fight to change thinking – in many cases they have won. For when we write about dubious referee decisions, we always get a range of people writing in saying words to the effect “if you believe this you are an idiot”. (They don’t actually say “idiot” but I am sure you get the drift).
But behind the need for cheapness there is another deal. Never question PGMO’s figures or its bizarre secrecy. Never question why there are so few referees in the Premier League, thus making it easier for a match fixer to operate. And the press must never question TV’s approach to the game, must never say “TV failed to show…”
Thus the press don’t suggest there is something amiss with the organisation of refereeing, nor that there is something odd about the way matches are edited, even when supposedly going out live. It has all got a bit cozy and has crazily been supported by the blogettas, those little blogs with 100 word articles and pesky adverts that it is impossible to avoid clicking on, and which quote mythical overseas journalists working for news organisations that don’t exist, on transfers that will never happen but which they say are DONE DEALS because an ex-footballer who you thought has passed away and who certainly has nothing to do with football any more but runs a pub in Marbella, said so.
And to show how incestuous the little media club has got, the UK newspapers and TV channels start quoting them. Football is the media, the media is football. The way you think about football is controlled. Transfers become good in themselves with no reference to how successful they are in taking a team up the league. It is, because we say it is.
But for the control freaks who now run football, whatever they have is never enough. There is always a demand for more – as long as it is free. So next a new game is invented: “Let’s talk about fans being angry, about fans demanding more. Let’s make everyone angry.
Thus when 200 people stand on a mini roundabout outside the Emirates and call themselves a protest movement, they are given mass publicity. No one notes that they are one third of one percent of the people in the ground protested. Good picture, and oh look, it’s free.
There are always wannabes who thrive on any hint of attention so always plenty of people willing to complain. Like that funny little kid who occasionally gets a seat near Blacksheep with his “enough is enough” t-shirt. So sad, so miserable, so utterly upset that Arsenal keep winning. (Editorial Note to Dr Billy “the Dog” McGraw, can’t we do something for these people?)
These stories are endless – and you can make it up as you go because now reality has nothing to do with anything. “I have said it, so it is true,” is the issue. Forget that Arsenal were only two goals behind Chelsea last season, which suggests the forward line was not the issue at all. Ignore the fact that Benzema is actually no better than the player in position at the moment. Forget that not so long ago the Daily Mirror screamed PETER CROUCH IS GOING TO ARSENAL. Keep taking them seriously, otherwise…
Otherwise the crisis and doom organised by someone else, at someone else’s expense so all they have to do is get someone’s picture taken on a mobile phone, and put it across the paper, vanishes.
“Chuckle chuckle,” goes the TV pundit and commentator. “Silly fans, ho ho, but still you have to admit these are dark days for Arsenal.”
“No we don’t believe you any more,” says Untold.
“Ah you’re just a blog,” says the media man, but with a slight frown as he sees our readership figures.
So the media run their story again, so then it must be true because it has been in the paper two days running and now the TV is talking about it. So the fans who can’t get to the game follow on the media and as that is their only source they start to believe. Arsenal is a Failure club. Arsenal fans are in rebellion – you can hear the booing (actually we were booing the Liverpool keeper and the ref for repeatedly failing to do anything about him).
TV pays a fortune for a product with no corruption, no negativity of bus parking and time wasting, and to get it they claim that they are the experts. They now define football.
But just occasionally they can get it all mixed up. BT Sport got it horribly wrong with Arsenal at the Emirates Cup the season before last when the team in the studio openly laughed at the competition because of its “impossible-to-understand” scoring system. A scoring system that was exactly the same as normal scoring (3 points for a win etc) but with one point for a goal added but was completely beyond the BT Sport team.
Those BT Sport studio guests got so carried away with their power to create reality that they thought that they could say anything and carry the audience along with them. They found they couldn’t, and a further cock-up of using goals against Arsenal as their advertising for the excitement of the league the next season was suddenly pulled as the protests against BT Sport (who by then were Arsenal’s official media partner) reached deafening levels. We all protested to the club, the club protested, BT Sport suddenly did a U-turn. Now the Emirates Cup is a wonderful competition which they are proud to show.
But mostly it is find the negative, make it cheap. For a while Tottenham’s reputed tough line in all negotiations is reported and held up as a masterclass in how to run a club. But that’s not news any more so suddenly it is not the best approach. They can’t sign players, they can’t get rid of Adebayor, the story grows that other clubs won’t deal with Tottenham.
So it goes on. The press set up transfers as the be all and end all of football, and then the Telegraph announces in big letters that Man Utd have wasted more on transfers than any English side since 2013.
Bit of a slow news day, how about Rooney and Carrick ‘complain about Van Gaal’s Manchester United training methods’ (Independent).
Even slower news day, take a story (clubs don’t want to deal with Tottenham) and move it sideways until you get Forget history – the sad truth for United and Liverpool is they are shunned by top talent (Telegraph).
To my mind, our football has been taken away from us by a bunch of people who don’t care about football at all, but instead care about filling newspaper space and TV shows with the cheapest possible material which then defines itself as important, so the media can run more of it.
Seven years ago I decided I wanted my football back, and so chose the name “Untold” for a little blog that I thought no one would read, because it was full of my perception of what happened in matches and off the pitch, which was utterly different from the media’s.
Very gratifyingly you have read some of my ramblings, and hopefully occasionally we have brought the odd pause for thought. It’s all very simple really, all we’re doing here is organising a “think for yourself” counter revolution to the “fear and loathing” approach to football.
Not much, but I hope it helps.
A time for goal scoring
- 15 September 2007: A 3-1 win at Tottenham made it four wins and one draw in the first five games. Adebayor (2) and Fabregas scored, in a run of seven consecutive games in London, all of which were won.
- 15 September 2010: Arsenal beat Braga 6-0, launching a new season in the Champions League. Fabregas (2), Arshavin, Chamakh, and Vela (2) scored.
- 15 September 2012: After two goalless draws and a 2-0 win at Liverpool Arsenal beat Southampton 6-1. Podolski, Gervinho (2), Walcott and two own goals
The Untold Books
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal