By Tony Attwood
North Korea is apparently a fairly awful place where the populace is reduced to near starvation as the family that runs the show spends money on itself, its army, its propaganda and nuclear weapons.
How do I know this? Because I read it in the papers and I saw it on TV. I’ve never been to the country of course; it’s just what most people who write or talk about North Korea in the media say about the country.
In fact much of what I know is like this. I know that Venezuela, despite being oil rich is in a mess. That human rights are in fairly short supply in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, etc and that Iceland has a beautiful landscape and is bloody cold. I haven’t actually verified any of this personally, but still I think “I know”.
Which is why I spend so much time worrying about the state of football, because what I experience in terms of football – what I know through my own personal involvement in the game – is utterly different from what I am told by newspapers, radio and TV.
The trouble is I’ve written about this so many times that I suspect that by now my readership level is down to about five, so if you are one of the five, great to have you along. And if I may explain, I’m back to the story because the disconnect between my own experience of football and what I read about, hear and see in the media is now so vast it is sometimes as if I had gone to North Korea and found a green and pleasant land where everyone had plentiful food, luxury goods, wonderful spacious houses, fabulous community football resources, and the total freedom to say pretty much what they wanted.
And then along comes tennis.
There is a huge story circulating in professional tennis to the effect that some 16 players ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly reported to the Tennis Integrity Unit with strong suspicions they have thrown matches. These players include winners of Grand Slam titles, but all were allowed to continue competing and are still doing so.
So that is around a third of top tennis players who are reported to be fixing matches. Since there are two players in a match, and since the match fixing originates with gamblers, who aren’t going to fix both players at once, then if we took 100 top matches anything between 33% and 66% of those games were fixed.
Now this has apparently been going on for rather a long time. But my point here is not that tennis is fixed, but rather that the issue that tennis might be fixed has not been debated by the media. My suspicion as to why is the same as always – because the media that might unravel the story is the same media that has spent lots of money paying for the rights to report tennis.
Most democratic societies rely on their media to weed out corruption and bad practice, so this close relationship between media and sports systems that might be corrupt is thoroughly dangerous. This is not just because there might not be investigative journalism where there should be, but also because the financial relationship between the sport and the media also leads to excessively lazy reporting.
Take the issue of injuries in football – the common talk for years has been that Arsenal get the most and that Wenger must be to blame. It took the BBC (a news agency in part, but with a tendency still to do some very decent investigative work without being hauled back by the part of the Corporation that negotiates sporting rights) to show that the actual figures were completely wrong, and Arsenal were actually very average in terms of injury to players in the Premier League.
Now this led to one correspondent of Untold to ask a very pertinent question about the source of these revised figures, pointing out what appeared to be an error in their statistics. I answered his point on line, but it led me to do some more digging to understand exactly what definition there is of a player being injured or not.
I won’t bore you stupid by going through the details, but my point is, this is just Untold, a regular web site run by a few Arsenal fans with limited resources, and yet we have been suggesting for years that the injury story must have deeper elements to it than are reported. Fortunately someone at the BBC finally took the issue up and now we know a lot more. But why did this revelation have to wait for us to come along?
And since I am asking questions, where else is the reporting all going wrong because journalists won’t or can’t ask the right questions?
Remember all the “Arsenal the only major club in Europe not to buy an outfield player in the summer” story. Maybe that was true – I have no idea if it was or not – but the implication that this was a disaster and down to stupidity and incompetence was everywhere.
Worse, following that, and following Arsenal’s success this season, no one is investigating whether buying a lot of players is a good thing or whether Arsenal was right to hold back. Untold’s league table showing the amount spent on transfers v the position in the league suggests there is not much positive link between the two – but a full scale research project on this would be very welcome.
We know that Liverpool has been buying 10 players a season for years, and still can’t get out of mid-table – and yet the media still focus on transfer, transfer, transfer – and suddenly that image of a happy pleasant North Korea comes to mind. Transfer good. No transfer bad. Transfer good. No transfer bad. Transfer … well, you get the idea.
Then there is the eternal issue of referees. I read a piece just recently about a manager who was very unhappy about the way a ref had acted in a match. The report ended by saying the manager “was not a happy bunny”. It’s a phrase that removes all seriousness from the manager’s complaints, and which portrays him as being like a little child who has had a favourite toy taken away. It’s the latest way of throwing in “it all even’s out in the end”.
We also know that this season could see more managerial moves in England than ever before – but even though some of the media is reporting this, none of them is comparing managerial movement with club success. The Wenger out approach has at its base the assumption that another manager would do better than Mr Wenger and the proof of that is …. none. But I can’t recall too many media reports that follow that line.
Or take the fact that Mesut Özil won the German player of the year award for 2015 just as he did in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The reaction to that was a) did Arsenal fans fix the voting and b) how could he be player of the year, given that he was poor against Southampton? Apart from the number of pushes in the back the player got in that match, which were not punished by the ref, no one seemed to question whether a measurement over a year could be compared with a measurement over one match!
I could go on and on about the disconnects between the football world I experience and the football world reported by the media, but I suspect my audience of five is already down to three. So I’ll summarise.
The fight for video refs – so obviously needed, and yet an issue the media is strangely quiet about much of the time. The entire issue of PGMO, an organisation of fundamental power but whose existence you would probably not know about unless it was for Untold and a few other sites. But why the silence?
The way in which time wasting is always cut out of football on TV – even live football on TV – to make the game appear ever more exciting, when in fact one side is doing all it can to stop it being even mildly interesting. And while we are on that, the way TV will of course accept no responsibility for the fact that some grounds are fundamentally unsafe because of where the cameras are placed in pits near the goals.
What is actually going on in Spanish football resulting in three teams now being banned from transfers. What did Barcelona et al do to these children? Child abuse is normally front page news in England. Why not here?
Some issues the media can’t miss – like Fifa – although they ran very little on the subject until it hit them in the face. But even now most papers won’t face up to the intricate link between the FA and Fifa, nor to the FA’s enormous failings and its rank stupidity. Which is why they still accept the notion that having more English players in the Premier League might help football, and why they won’t cover the appalling decline in grassroots football facilities in England. Why they don’t cover the mass redundancies made by the FA, and its inept finances. It’s a bloody monopoly guys – it ought to be able to make money, not lose it!
And so, my one dedicated remaining reader, I have bored you enough. But just think on this. Is the football you know and you see, actually the football that is reported in the media. Or could it actually be that North Korea is a green and pleasant land of plenty?
In terms of North Korea, I seriously doubt it. But in terms of football, I know for sure, the football that is all around me, is not the football that is on TV, the radio or the press, any more than it is the football reported in Sir Hardly Anyone’s bloggettas.
Maybe that’s why Untold got over 6 million page views in the past 12 month. Maybe the readership is more than just you after all.
You might also enjoy
- How a gap in the story can give a totally misleading vision: the youngsters who don’t make it at Arsenal.
- Stoke – Arsenal: not losing and keeping your best players fit was the task
- The second deal of the transfer window is just on done
And two anniversaries from the olden days
19 January 1878: Herbert Chapman born at Kiveton Park, Yorkshire. After success as a manager with Northampton and Huddersfield he transformed Arsenal – but it took five years for him to win the club’s first trophy that everyone craved.
19 January 1889: Arsenal doubled the highest number of people turning out to see them as 2000 watch the game against Clapton. Being a London Senior Cup semi-final it was due to played on neutral territory, but it seems it was played at the Spotted Dog Ground which had become the home of Clapton in September 1888. See also here.
Bob Wilson writes for Untold