By Tony Attwood
Over the years I have become very interested in the way that the media do and don’t report certain issues in football. Perhaps the most famous was the Rangers tax case in which one web site constantly hacked away at the story while the Scottish media ignored it totally and the English media referred to it very occasionally, and even then mostly obliquely.
I’ve noted other stories like this, such as the way the media ignores things like vapour transfers, and keeps on talking up the option of the “English league for English players” with ever increasing home grown rules (even though the evidence shows that the number of home grown players in a league is irrelevant to that nation’s success).
There’s been a prime reluctance by the media to understand and report on what Fifa laws on the transfer of youngsters actually says, as there has been on the Court of Arbitration in Sport ruling about the validity of contracts that last over three years.
But what about when they take it much, much further, and instead of not publishing a story, actually publish the opposite of the story. And then go on building on that story over and over and over.
Of course this starts to sound like a conspiracy theory – a bit like the Americans not landing on the moon but faking it all, just to keep their own population feeling that they were ahead of the nasty communists, and indeed keep the communists worrying.
Conspiracy theories are revealed by their complete lack of evidence – they are an explanation of the facts but without anything to back up the explanations. It’s just an idea, no evidence.
But when we have the media all following one particular story which could readily be checked to see if it is true or not, but which no one checks, and which all the media goes on publishing the false story, we get to the stage where everyone believes it.
Then that belief starts to lead to subsequent views built on this wholly false “fact” and generally it all becomes more and more bizarre. And still no one bothers to check.
I am writing of course about the FACT! that Arsenal have far more injuries than other Premier League teams, year after year and that it is all Wenger’s fault, not least because he won’t listen to his training staff, he uses outmoded methods, the training pitches are the wrong texture of grass, and so on.
It’s always been here. 14 November 2005 the blog bigsoccer.com said Arsenal’s injury crisis worsens as defender Gael Clichy suffers a broken foot playing for France’s under-21 side.
This story was still around back in 2011, when Dale Higginbottom joined Untold and wrote a regular column about injuries. We were often in the upper half of the injury table but not out in front and certainly not in front by a mile, which is what Raymond Verheijen, the coach who blamed Wenger’s prehistoric methods endlessly suggested.
But the story we were in a desperate plight was always there. On September 8 2011 the blog Arsenal Opinion said, “Nobody (other than Wenger?) knows what the exact problem(s) is but since 2005, we have been severely hindered by our failure to keep a fit team over a complete season.”
Or go back to 27 November 2009 with the Mail announcing that “Arsenal injury crisis deepens”… thousands upon thousands of articles in the press and the blogs, plus endless commentaries on the “Arsenal injury crisis”.
Then in late 2014, after Untold had been raising more and more questions about our place in the injury table, questions started to be asked. There was no suggestion that Arsenal didn’t have multiple injuries and the suggestion that Arsenal were top of the list was still there, but there was a noticeable backing off from the notion that the manager was totally to blame or that we were out on our own at the head of the list.
On 14 October 2014 the Mirror said, “With Arsene Wenger’s squad dropping like flies, John Cross tries to get to the bottom of why the medical staff at the Emirates are so busy this season…” But the conclusion was it wasn’t Wenger’s fault. Still a crisis, but not Wenger’s fault.
The theme continued through the year until on 30 November 2015 Martin Keown announced in the Mail that “Arsene Wenger is not to blame for Arsenal injury crisis.” Yes, a crisis, but no not the boss’ fault. (The Mail can be a bit late on picking up some stories but it does get there in the end.)
Five days later the Independent suggested that Arsenal were only the fourth worst team for injuries this season. Even that figures was wholly misleading, but slowly the story slipped away until last month the BBC published its analysis which measured injuries this season on three different parameters:
- Player days lost where it turned out we had 300 player days less lost than Man C
- The total number injures this season – where we were seventh and close to the average
- The total number of players injured? – again we were mid-table.
So how come the injury crisis story has run and run and run, without it ever being true? It wasn’t true when Untold ran its weekly analysis, and it is not true now.
But why did this totally false story keep being repeated for over ten years without anyone n the mainstream media (who have far more resources than we do) bothering to check?
The key points are these:
1: Clearly, no journalist did any checking before using the term “Arsenal injury crisis”. It was an invention.
2: There was a mass take-up of the idea. The number of injuries Arsenal had could look concerning – but it was important to know if this was normal for clubs, or not. Turns out Arsenal has always been middle of the road. If there is a crisis it is a Premier League Injury Crisis.
3: No one has subsequently apologised for constantly misleading the public with utterly unchecked facts.
4: No one has ever apologised to Mr Wenger for suggesting that throughout much of his time at the club there has been an Arsenal injury crisis, and worse, a crisis of his own making.
So was it that just one journalist making it up and others followed? Or was it deliberate? Put another way, was it rank laziness or were people deliberately trying to undermine Mr Wenger?
My response is always to shy away from conspiracy theories, unless there is clear evidence, in which case they become an actual conspiracy, like the Gunpowder Plot or Fifa’s corruption. So I go for the notion that someone said, “look Arsenal have seven players injured” without asking “how many players do Man U have injured?” and this turned into “Arsenal have an injury crisis” which became, “Arsenal get many more players injured than any other team” which became “It is Mr Wenger’s fault.”
This is the not the only story like this that we’ve uncovered. Stories ceaselessly propagated by the media but which are utterly untrue include the famous one about Arsenal getting more red cards than anyone else, referee accuracy levels being 98% in the Premier League, that transfers work…
By hammering away at this stories eventually we manage to find the truth, and show up the media as a bunch of ne’er-do-wells who can’t be arsed to check a single story they are running. Or worse, actually make things up.
Thus the question now is, which other stories currently doing the rounds are simply journalistic inventions?
Who knows. But I doubt very much that we have found them all.