By Tony Attwood
Earlier today Untold received a comment which began, “This site is pathetic, the moment someone dares to have an opinion that is different from yours you jump on them like spoilt little children!”
There was nothing special about this comment – we get a few of them a day, with a range of variations, some abusive, some just telling us we’re wrong.
When we first started getting them I was a bit puzzled but these days, what with this being the 6000th article to appear on Untold Arsenal, they bring a slight smile to the edge of my lips; the sort of smile one might give when the neighbour’s rather annoying dog has just made a mess in the neighbour’s own garden rather than in the middle of the road, or on the footpath outside my house.
I am of course much taken by the fact that the writers of such emails still read us, and indeed bother to write, for they surely must know that we’ve heard it before, and must understand that if you write to a publication to tell the publishers that their publication is pathetic, you are not likely to get your piece published.
But still, I do read some of them (although these days many are automatically caught by the spam filter and removed), and I do wonder.
Before I started Untold, 6000 articles ago, I couldn’t have imagined that receiving such missives could become part of my daily life. But then nor could I possibly have imagined that Google Analytics would kindly tell me that in the past 12 months, we have had 6,268,923 page views (at least as at 1600 GMT today.)
But to me there’s so much more to it than that.
I think that thanks to our unique team of Walter, Andrew and Usama, we really have opened the world of refereeing to a much wider public debate than ever more, and there are even hints that the media and PGMO themselves have noticed that we are here, asking that same old question – why are there so few referees that we get the same ones over and over, thus increasing the chance of corruption and local bias. (Plus of course that annoying statistic, that they are employing people who can get a lower accuracy rate in their decision making than if they handed out decisions on the pitch at random).
I guess I knew we were making progress when the BBC interviewed Walter and Dogface – and from that point on it has been smooth riding all the way. PGMO may pretend we don’t exist, but the still at which they moved after Walter made fun of their non-engagement in video refereeing tells its own story.
The amount of data that has been collected is stupendous, and while the supporters of some other clubs occasionally snigger at the effort, I know for a fact that a lot of supporters groups of other clubs wish they had the talent and dedication on board so they could do the same.
The work on pointing out how the media manipulates football seems to be gathering steam as well and again I perceive occasional changes of direction by writers and commentators who have been suckered into the dominant reality without really thinking what’s going on.
We even managed to enlarge awareness of just what sort of club Barcelona has become, following their run in with Fifa over transfers and the hilarious appeals they put in after they were found guilty. It was interesting that even after all the appeals were over and they were banned for a year, several English newspapers were still printing rumours about who they were going to sign in the next window.
And we had our fun telling how the change in the Swiss law could make life difficult for Fifa. I suggested (long before all the events that led to the fall of Blatter started) that Fifa would move its regular meetings to Venezuela, but they chose to ignore my advice, and look what happened.
It’s also been a good time for unravelling many of the established myths surrounding Arsenal (for example that Arsenal have the most injuries) and it was interesting just how quickly that whole “Arsenal injury crisis” story was abandoned by the media once the figures were out.
Of course that hasn’t always happened. We’ve shown over and over that having the home grown rule for Premier League players doesn’t help England at all – in fact it hinders. The model for the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries through which top players go abroad in order to learn their trade, combined with a much, much, higher number of qualified coaches, is the solution as the statistics show.
Which of course brings us on to our old chums the FA. While there are now several papers that are openly espousing a complete winding up of Fifa, no one is really willing to lay into the FA, so that remains a matter for us, exposing their incompetence and the financial disaster that the organisation has been, since its last insane World Cup bid. The fact that Dyke can seriously stand up and say that England should now be bidding for another WC shows we’ve still got a long way to go to convince anyone that the FA is far from fit for purpose.
Which I suppose inevitably brings us to “You can prove anything with statistics” – a comment we’ve had so often that it must win the prize not only for the most repeated comment but also the most boring.
The fact is you can probably prove most things with bad or irrelevant statistics, (although proving that gravity doesn’t exist and that television sets are operated by the sexual activity of gnomes in the garden is probably going to stretch the imagination of even the most mathematically illiterate person). But statistics which are well researched and relevant to the matter in hand are a major tool for unravelling what is happening and why.
The statistics that “proved” Arsenal got more injuries than anyone else, were completely wrong simply because they were wrong – no one had bothered to add up the data properly. The notion that the cause of “all the Arsenal injuries” was Arsene Wenger was just an invention; we couldn’t disprove that Wenger was the cause, because there was no cause. Other clubs got more injuries.
Now Wenger is the cause of our current poor form because he won’t change his methods. The fact that other clubs go through dips, often far greater than ours seems to be irrelevant. It’s all Wenger’s fault. So yes, you can assert anything without statistics – that bit is true.
Before I started Untold and published Article 1, thoughtfully titled Arsenal witness the end of football I didn’t realise how many people have the viewpoint that, “This is my opinion and it equals your evidence and research,” but that it seems is where we are in the world today. Thus I am reaching the conclusion that a substantial number of our critics are people who actually don’t know the difference between evidence and opinion.
I must say that I find the idea of a world in which the notion of “evidence” is missing, a rather strange world, but I suppose it is by and large the world of politics, horoscopes, transfer rumours and economic forecasting. Still, none of that makes it right.
Opinion, of course, is fine if it is backed up by evidence or at least a consistent theory, but by and large simply calling a writer an idiot is not (at least in my opinion) an evidence based approach.
And so we reach the viewpoint that because I don’t do this, it is by nature rubbish; because I don’t think this, it is by definition wrong. You’re a idiot, stop your publication, go away. Or words to that effect.
For a person brought up to admire all artistic creations as an expression of the human spirit, and to value scientific and mathematical analysis as the fundamental of our understanding of the world, it is frightening viewpoint, and so I have come to realise that before I started Untold Arsenal I had lived a fairly sheltered life. I mean I had friends in all walks of life, and found myself as much at home in a postgraduate conference on the psychology of perception as on the terrace at the Clock End at Highbury, but I am not sure I really had too much exposure to this view “I think this so it is right” view of the world.
Indeed I find this the most frightening vision of reality of all, for it is surely the basis racism and intolerance and is also the foundation of all forms of political and religious extremism.
But despite such revelations I am still here publishing Untold and when I get too depressed about the views of some of my fellow human beings I usually have Billy the dog, and Sir Hardly Anyone on hand to keep me sane (or is it the other way around).
And I am here because on the one hand because we have a readership far beyond anything I could ever have imagined, and on the other hand because it has given me my friendships with Blacksheep, Walter, and Andrew, plus I must mention Ashley of Goonernews, who has helped and supported us throughout. Plus of course all the many, many contributors whom I have never met but who so kindly send in their articles to be published here.
Thank you for reading; if you hadn’t been there I guess I’d have stopped long ago.
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.
From the History Society