They don’t accord us the basic rights that even a murderer gets.
By Tony Attwood
If you have been reading Untold for a while you will know that part of our view is that a lot of information about football that should be discussed and made public isn’t. Hence the name “Untold”.
By discussing one topic (for example transfer rumours) and not others (the fact that there might be something seriously wrong with refereeing in the premier league for example) the media at large define the issues in football and propagate the notion that if the media doesn’t cover it, it is not important. As a result people discuss what the media tell us to discuss. The mass media doesn’t talk about referees so there is no problem with refs, and anyone who says there is, is a conspiracy theorist, wearing a tin hat, believing that the US never went to the moon, and suspecting that GCHQ is watching you via your computer.
(Actually GCHQ in the UK is watching you via your computer, and your mobile, and the network of traffic cameras, but we’d best leave that issue for another day).
So Untold has tried to bring to the fore football issues that are not normally discussed. The fact that clubs that spend the most money don’t automatically win the league. The fact that accuracy ratings for referee decisions are way lower than anything PGMO reports.
The fact that the editing of radio and TV broadcasts of games means that certain elements are never discussed and often never shown. And the dubious financial dealings of clubs which are never reported either because the clubs threaten the media that their credentials will be withdrawn if they do so report, or because the editors patronisingly say, “our readers aren’t interested in all the money stuff.”
I suspect people who support Northampton Town, Bolton Wanderers, Coventry City, Rangers, Portsmouth, QPR, and all the other clubs that have run into “difficulties” are actually very interested.
Then there is the strange world of transfers, the transfers that are invented, that are there just to confuse, that are there to mislead rival clubs… we’ve looked at them all.
And yes I have got this far without mentioning Fifa (now finally covered by the mass media) and the FA (whose support of Fifa, whose failings and whose financial implosion is still mostly ignored by radio, TV and the press).
But this is just Untold Arsenal doing its thing – reporting on the alternative universe from that inhabited by journalists. At least we are here to make a bit of noise – and yes there is evidence that occasionally the gentlemen and ladies of the press do cast an eye on what we say. Indeed since they failed to pick up on our lead about the way arrests could be made at the next big Fifa gathering in Switzerland because of a change in Swiss law (predicted by Untold five months before they happened), they seem to have noted our commentaries a little bit more. You may have seen a re-run of Untold’s summary of Mourinho’s reasons for leaving various clubs, for example, turning up in one or two places.
But what happens if no one holds the press to account? Does it really make any difference?
Well, yes, as we can see from Australia.
Australia, like all countries, has a few football fans of dubious repute, but last month that issue exploded when a Sydney newspaper publically released a list of almost 200 fans who were banned from games by Football Federation Australia. The language used in the paper was extremely aggressive, the fans complained that the list was inaccurate, and besides there was no right of appeal, so the process was against all the fundamentals of normal legal practice.
The headline statement in the paper read
“THIS is the shame file Australian football bosses didn’t want you to see. Top secret documents reveal the banned fans from 10 A-League clubs — with more than a third from the Western Sydney Wanderers. Includes PICTURE GALLERY of banned fans.”
Within 24 hours radio and TV picked this issue up and compared “thuggery” at football matches was similar to terror attacks in Paris. Instead of dialogue the person in charge of the league said that the league had measures that would keep all decent right minded people safe in the face of the violence that they faced.
With absolutely no one standing up either for the fans, or their basic civil rights that would normally exist in a democratic society, the fans started to plan walkouts.
But instead of any measure of coming together or understanding the local FA say that the publication of the list of thugs’ names shows that they are not weak on dealing with this menace, and that clubs could refuse membership to anyone.
Then more journalists pile in continuing to link football fans to terror organisations. The FA claims that there is an appeals process, but no one quite seemed to be able to find it, or indeed anyone who had been able to go through it.
All through this there is no clarity about an appeals procedure for those banned, and the language of the media and the FA and its supporters becomes more and more extreme. Gradually the football supporters coalesce around the slogan No Fans No Football.
You can see what has happened in Australia last month and this – the media and the clubs, so used to defining reality in their way, and with no one rigorously standing up to their interpretation of the world, have got to the point of believing that if they say something is true, it is true. It was weeks into the problem that someone in the FA actually said that there needed to be better communication between fans and clubs and the FA.
That didn’t make it happen, but it was the first tiny, tiny recognition that if only one side has control over the means of communication, that is not communication.
Meanwhile the boycotts continue, and walk outs after 30 minutes become the norm, but still the newspapers, so utterly full of their own importance, carry on their campaign against football supporters and linking them to terrorism. And really they ought to know about terror, since Sydney has suffered its own terror attack just one year ago. There is no excuse for what they are saying, but they keep saying it.
Australian soccer fans shouldn’t be supporting banned thugs screamed the Australian Sun They’re little more than suburban terrorists it added just in case we hadn’t got it.
In the midst of all this the head of the A-League Damien de Bohun said that fans could not appeal spectator bans, and that lack of appeal was a deterrent to troublemaking. Then he said maybe the FA would look into a way to overturn bans. Then the FA said banned spectators have always been able to try to prove their innocence.
And you can tell how bad it is getting when it takes Fox News to stand up for football fans, for it was their sports correspondent Simon Hill who finally faced the FA and their chums in the media and said,
“When fans are labelled thugs, criminals, even likened to terrorists, you’d expect one of the main faces of the game to stand up and be counted. After all, those same supporters are the ones used incessantly in FFA marketing campaigns, to promote our point of difference.
“We expected to see a football version of Braveheart, all fire and brimstone, ready to charge forward in defence of the game’s greatest asset.”
Finally The Huffington Post Australia refused to back the local media, politicians and the sports bodies and started to argue the fans case. FootballAustrlia.com believing that they had all the media onside ran the insulting headline “Point made, time to support your team
Grant Muir the spokesman for Sydney FC supporter group The Cove replied, “That was the most insulting condescending tripe I’ve ever seen. It was so utterly tone deaf I cannot believe a man with Gallop’s [Football Federation Australia CEO] experience let that go out in his name.
“He’s trying to tell us how to support our game, I would give a kidney to get that man in a room and give him a piece of my mind. They don’t accord us the basic rights that even a murderer gets,” he said.
Fox Sports reviewing the FFA’s response to the crisis wrote this of the body’s CEO: “What did we get? A man trotting at a sedate pace, armed with a damp sponge, subsequently used to gently mop the brow of the games accusers. This was appeasement of Neville Chamberlain proportions.”
And then very, very, very, very slowly the FA and their chums in the media began to realise that people are just not going to football matches. Banners continued appearing on terraces and fans just walked out or didn’t turn up in the first place.
So what next? As always with officialdom when it is caught off guard because it has believed that if it is in the press it is true, it does far too little, far too late. In this case it wheeled out their best bet, Ange Postecoglou the coach of the national team who said yes maybe the fans have a case, but basically he says it is time to stop to boycott and get back to football.
Then ex head of the FFA and well known businessman Frank Lowy said he will meet with fans. The banners continued to appear at games now reading “Can you hear us now?”
And so slowly very slowly the word gets out. The number of people going to games at all is down by 32% and the number of people left in matches after the walk-outs which take place on the half hour is much, much lower.
Meanwhile all sorts of people are wheeled out to say, time for the walk outs to stop and there are signs that the FFA are desperately trying a) to hush up their own members and b) get the press to stop calling football supporters terrorists.
But of course the FFA has been in the pocket of the media for so long, the media don’t want to know.
The latest is that the FFA chairman Steven Lowy is going to meet representatives of fans from all major clubs to thrash out a resolution and try and stop the walk outs and boycotts. Good luck with that.
Of course a few blogs like Untold can’t take on the press and stop some of them being fanatical right wing fascist would-be dictatorships, nor can we stop them having their own definitions of reality. But the history of Untold shows that if we hammer away enough at issues, then slowly, very slowly, the media begins to redefine its vision of the world, for fear of looking too stupid and too out of touch.
When we started no one talked about referees except in the “evens out in the end” approach. This year there has been a 100,000 signature petition against one referee. No one talked about the FA much, now very, very, very, very slowly their appalling ineptitude is being mentioned. Just a bit. Likewise financial matters.
I’m biased, because I set up Untold, but I think as a forum for football issues that might otherwise be ignored, we need to be here.
8 December 1863: First rules of football published. In 1862, J. C. Thring, head of Uppingham School had drawn up a set of rules the year before which were presented in London on October 26, 1863 and on 8 December the first rules of football were published. They allowed catching the ball and there was no rule on the maximum number of players per team!
8 December 1888: Arsenal beat Old St Paul’s in London Senior Cup. Apart from a reference to the club in the FA cup the following season, details are hard to find.