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When TV, radio and the newspapers invent a football story with no basis in fact, what’s happening?

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.

Recent Posts

24 comments to When TV, radio and the newspapers invent a football story with no basis in fact, what’s happening?

  • serge

    “Injury crisis”? Of course we’ve had an injury crisis. We’ve always had injury crisis’. So why keep going into denial? It’s just an expression, it doesn’t matter and is applied by the media equally ( albeit dramatically ) to all the Premiership teams with excessive injuries ( just try using Google, you’ll see what I mean ), but what else should we call it?
    How about….”an ongoing catastrophic escalating situation regarding the shortfall in well being & fitness”? Personally I’d prefer “Footballers Feeling Fucked (FFF)” but until some genius of terminology & phrases comes along with something superior then “Injury crisis” will do for me.

  • Florian

    serge,

    The correct term for what you’re trying to imply is KTSOOA. I believe the top link on Google leads back to Untold on this one, which makes the authors geniuses 😀

    But that is entirely off topic. No media channel will ever apologize because by definition media is interested in blowing things out of proportion. They know the impact of negative news is on average 5 times bigger than of the positive news, so they take the path of least effort and, instead of writing about going to Mars or fighting global warming they focus on the spilled blood. Sadly, there is no end in sight for the click-milking.

  • proudkev

    Florian, spot on.

    Football fans never cease to amaze me with the rubbish they believe and then react too. As you say, the journos are fighting for clicks in a saturated medium. I don’t like the blatant lies and falsehoods and I certainly dislike the media baiting of Arsene and our club, while fornication over Mourinho. Watch Sunday Supplement and you realise just how much the journos dislike our club. These guys are real idiots, their understanding of the game matches their level of morality.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    OT: Does playing last and late and mostly on Sundays by Arsenal in their Premier League game fixtures has anything to do with the recent poor run in Arsenal’s 4 BPL games?

    Can this be a grand design by the football League managements and the Sky Sports game telecasters to see that Arsenal don’t collect maximum points in the last 4 BPL games and thus slowdown their winning run in their topping the League table.

    Arsenal have to watch this trend and profess a way to stall the Football League and Sky Sports likely collaborations to set impediments against Arsenal in their Premier League games.

    I personally don’t want to see Ref Clantenburg to referee any of Arsenal FA Cup games. He’s a Pgmo agent referee who has craftly worked against Arsenal in last Sunday match on the orders of his bosses to make sure that Arsenal don’t beat Chelsea.

    After carefully reviewed the actions by all the players and the Ref on the Ems field of play on TV playback, I have arrived to the conclusion that, the red card shown to Rhinosacker by Ref Clantenburg was unjust. And therefore shouldn’t have been a red but a yellow should have been condoned if at all Mr Clantenburg must card Rhino’. Rhino’ had to apply that tackle to restrict Costa running towards Cech as Koscielny was out of sight to apply the necessary tackle to dispossess Costa if Rhino’ chooses not to tackle Costa. And Rhino’s tackle was a professional one with cynical intents. And he got the ball as he tackled kicked the ball to touch. So what has Mr Clantenburg refereed?

    Infact, it was Ref Clantenburg that robbed Arsenal of a possible win over Chelsea and not Costa as the Boss has adjuged.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    OT: Does playing last and late and mostly on Sundays by Arsenal in their Premier League game fixtures has anything to do with the recent poor run in Arsenal’s 4 last BPL games?

    Can this be a grand design by the football League managements and the Sky Sports game telecasters to see that Arsenal don’t collect maximum points in their last 4 BPL games and thus slowdow their winning run in their topping the League table.

    Arsenal have to watch this trend and profess a way to stall the Football League and Sky Sports likely collaborations to set impediments against Arsenal in their Premier League games.

    I personally don’t want to see Ref Clantenburg to referee any of Arsenal FA Cup games. He’s a Pgmo agent referee who has craftly worked against Arsenal in last Sunday match on the orders of his bosses to make sure that Arsenal don’t beat Chelsea.

    After carefully reviewed the actions by all the players and the Ref on the Ems field of play on TV playback, I have arrived to the conclusion that, the red card shown to Rhinosacker by Ref Clantenburg was unjust. And therefore shouldn’t have been a red but a yellow should have been condoned if at all Mr Clantenburg must card Rhino’. Rhino’ had to apply that tackle to restrict Costa running towards Cech as Koscielny was out of sight to apply the necessary tackle to dispossess Costa if Rhino’ chooses not to tackle Costa. And Rhino’s tackle was a professional one with no cynical intents in it. And he got the ball as he tackled kicked the ball to touch. So what has Mr Clantenburg refereed?

    Infact, it was Ref Clantenburg that robbed Arsenal of a possible win over Chelsea and not Costa as the Boss has adjuged.

  • Florian

    proudkev,

    The target public usually matches the journos in intellectual abilities (or lack thereof). Most of the fan talk on the sports sites that I ever visited demonstrates a total lack of critical thinking, which is essential towards forming a founded and informed opinion. From this point of view, Arsenal stand out as a club that not only operates with sense and rationality, based on the intellectual power of its leaders, but also because at least a part of the fanbase is able to relate to that. And I’m not talking about the people who constantly criticise the club – although in the great scheme of things they have a role that is sometimes useful, as a feedback loop, whenever their criticism actually has substance. Sadly again, the journos have been rarely capable of articulating a coherent case – positive or not – which places them way below on the brain scale (I know there are exceptions, but it is obvious to anyone that this applies to the vast majority). It’s almost like their mantra is: “Who needs the truth, when we have readers that believe everything we write?”

  • Gord

    I’m back working on my numbers. A trivia tidbit. Up to the end of gameday 20, 6 games had not been refereed by PGMO people. Usually if a National Group referee was used, he was doing 4th official duties. Two of those 6 games were officiated by former PGMO Stuart Attwell. Two of those games were done by Paul Tierney. Keith Stroud and Simon Hooper were the other 2 games.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    An old man asks his wife: “Martha, soon we will be married 50 years, and there’s something I have to know. In all of these 50 years, have you ever been unfaithful to me?”

    Martha replied, “Well Henry, I have to be honest with you.. Yes, I’ve been unfaithful to you three times during these 50 years, but always for a good reason.”

    Henry was obviously hurt by his wife’s confession, but said, “I never suspected. Can you tell me what you mean by ‘good reasons’?”

    Martha said, “The first time was shortly after we were married, and we were about to lose our little house because we couldn’t pay the mortgage. Do you remember that one evening I went to see the banker and the next day he notified you that the loan would be extended?”

    Henry recalled the visit to the banker and said, “I can forgive you for that.. You saved our home, but what about the second time?”
    Martha asked, “And do you remember when you were so sick, but we didn’t have the money to pay for the heart surgery you needed? Well, I went to see your doctor one night and, if you recall, he performed the surgery at no charge.”

    “I recall that,” said Henry. “And you did it to save my life, so of course I can forgive you for that. Now tell me about the third time.”

    “Alright,” Martha said. “Do you remember when you ran for head of your the National Referees Association and you needed 73 more votes?”

    Henry fainted…

    The names have been changed to protect this site from prosecution !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    ‘ Oscar host Chris Rock appalled that Diego Costa not nominated for best animation award ! ‘

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A Scottish Jew decided to retire and take up golf, so he applied for membership at a local golf club.

    About a week later he received a letter that his application has been rejected. He went to the club to inquire as to why.

    Secretary : You are aware that this is a Scottish golf club?

    Scottish Jew : Aye, but I’m as Scottish as you are, Ma’am, my name is MacTavishstien.

    Secretary : Do you know that on formal occasions we wear a kilt?

    Scottish Jew : Aye, I do know, and I wear a kilt too.

    Secretary : You are also aware, that we wear nothing under the kilt?

    Scottish Jew : Aye, & neither do I.

    Secretary : Are you also aware, that the members sit naked in the steam room?

    Scottish Jew : Aye, I also do the same.

    Secretary : But you are a Jew?

    Scottish Jew : Aye, I be that.

    Secretary : So, being Jewish, you are circumcised, is that correct?

    Scottish Jew : Aye, I be that, too.

    Secretary : I am terribly sorry, but the members just would not feel comfortable sitting in the steam room with you, since your privates are different from theirs.

    Scottish Jew : Ach, I know that you have to be a Protestant to march with the Orangemen. And I know that you have to be a Catholic to join the Knights of Columbus.
    But this is the first time I’ve heard that you have to be a complete prick to join a golf club !

    He’s wrong of course , we can confirm for a fact that you have to be Complete and utter prick to be a member of PIGMOB . And UEFA . And FIFA .

  • Florian

    Brickfields,

    Re Henry and his wife, it couldn’t have happened to the current chief, could it? 😉

  • Florian

    …where chief=head of refs, of course

  • para

    When one looks at TV one would think they are all different entities, fighting for a piece of the pie and could expect varied and different reporting, yet they all follow the same format week in week out as if they are the same company(which is really 80% true).

    //
    Just like our Ref reviews, called a conspiracy theory by some, they usually provides facts and documented evidence. Those who prefer to be deluded by the “official” projection usually refuse to even consider the proof given.

    Most Conspiracy theories do have proof, at least as much proof and many times much more proof as/than the “official” theory. The media(again) projects a different story, much like in football too.

    Remember a coin always has two sides.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Florian – January 26, 2016 at 5:48 am – For legal reasons -NO COMMENTS !

  • Gord

    Short Memories?

    Didn’t The FA say back in September, that they would investigate incidents where a player feigned injury to get another player sent off? Regardless of whether the referee seen the incident or not?

    Where is the announcement that Costa is being investigated?

  • serge

    Florian
    “The correct term for what you’re trying to imply is KTSOOA”

    Yes, that might work, but I still prefer “injury crisis.” It’s so off the tongue trippy, and every team has one at some time or other.

  • Gord

    Where is the announcement by UEFA that it has been reviewing referee performances by English referees, and has decided that it does not want any English referees for UEFA 2016?

  • Pat

    You have a good point when you say injuries were used as a stick to beat Arsene Wenger with, Tony. Also when you say that our injuries were highlighted when other teams’ we’re not.

    However, our injuries were a repeated topic of debate on this very site and the conclusion generally drawn was that our players were not being protected by the referees. That opponents were being allowed to repeatedly kick Arsenal players and that in the end this resulted often in injury and a player being out for some time.

    Worse still, it was concluded that the failure to stamp on violent play early in a match could result in dreadful, career threatening injuries like the ones suffered by Ramsey and Eduardo. Diabi’s career was ruined by an injury incurred on the pitch that he never recovered from.

    Arsenal players are not the only ones this has happened to and the way English matches are refereed makes it more likely to happen. This has been a theme and a justified one on this site, and our continuing referee reports show this type of refereeing is still normal and therefore still worthy of our attention.

  • nicky

    Reading the post and the comments which followed, it is clear that
    1.Our injury list is no worse than that of other clubs at any one time.
    2.Key players at Arsenal being absent for long periods have had a lasting detrimental effect on the Club’s progress.
    3.Throughout many years of the EPL, referees, for one reason or another, have been reluctant to protect ball players.
    4.The introduction of video technology in matches is long overdue.
    5. With the forthcoming re-organisation of FIFA, the opportunity should be taken to introduce changes in order to improve performance by match officials.

  • Jerry

    @Gord,
    Funny you mentioned the National Group referees! The Man City-Sunderland game on Feb 2nd has Stuart Attwell in the middle and Paul Tierney as the 4th official! I’m sure whatever errors happen during that game will be credited to their inexperience rather than the corrupt and inept PGMO!

  • Jambug

    The sad truth is most people are lazy.

    Even when it is a topic they are interested in, even very interested in, they vary rarely know anything more about it than that that they are told by the media, and usually that is limited to the mass media.

    Whether it be Politics, Religion, Law and Order, Sport, or whatever, there views are, it seems to me, enormously influenced by what they read in the Sun and the Mirror, or hear on Radio 5 or talk sport, or see on Sky sports or on the main TV News channels, especially if it is just endlessly repeated as per Arsenals ‘injury crisis’ for example.

    It’s not a criticism. I am ashamed to say on many subjects I am the same. I am just too lazy to look any deeper. Half the time I just don’t care enough.

    And there in lies the problem, unless you DO care enough. Unless you ARE prepared to dig deeper into something yourself, then your views do tend to be formed by what is put in front of your eyes, and often as not without question. That is human nature.

    But isn’t digging deeper exactly what Untold did? Thankfully they did care enough.

    Wasn’t it the infuriating, nagging feeling, that something was very wrong when it came to how Arsenal where being refereed, and how it was subsequently reported in the media, that inspired Walter, Tony, Andrew and co to start the Referee reviews and found Untold Arsenal?

    The reality is, if you want the truth, the real truth, and not the truth the media moguls want you to believe, you better be prepared to get your hands dirty and do the investigating yourself.

    But as I say, most people just don’t care enough.

    Even when it comes to politics, law and order, the NHS, immigration, etc, etc, most people rely on the SUN and the BBC for pities sake !!

    If people don’t care enough about those weighty subjects how are they going to care a jot about how badly and inaccurately football is reported?

    The answer is they don’t..

    During a chat at work the other day with a few of the guys not one of them:

    – Had heard of PGMOL (or whatever they are now).

    – Who was in charge

    – What they did.

    – That they claim Referees get 90% of decisions correct.

    – How many A Badge coaches we have compared to our European cousins.

    – How the money for grass roots football was re directed.

    – How it was pretty common knowledge FIFA was corrupt even before we wasted millions on a bid that would never be successful.

    There was more as we know, but by now they where pretty bored. The truth is most people just don’t give a ****, beyond a cursory, ‘yeah it’s bad in it’ !

    Most of them STILL think it is all the foreigner’s holding back our lads.

    Most still think it is the big boys that get all the decisions, of which we are included.

    Most think it ‘all evens out in the end’, except of course for there own team who NEVER get a decision.

    -I have shown them some of the stats regarding cards and penalties, especially since the arrival of Riley, yet there view is unchanged.

    This can only be because:

    1) They believe what they want to believe irrespective of the statistics put in front of them.

    2) Alas they do in fact believe what the SUN says despite denials to the contrary.

    Up hill, against the tide, in to the wind, doesn’t even start to tell the story.

    Keep up the good work lads.

  • Gord

    Thanks for the reminder Jerry. Here are all the assignments.

    Tuesday 2 February 2016
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    19:45 Arsenal – Southampton _ _ _ _Lee Mason _ _ _A Halliday _M Wilkes _ _C Pawson
    20:00 Crystal Palace – Bournemouth Mike Jones _ _ S Beck _ _ _I Hussin _ _K Stroud
    19:45 Leicester – Liverpool _ _ _ _Andre Marriner L Betts _ _ P Kirkup _ _S Hooper
    20:00 Man Utd – Stoke _ _ _ _ _ _ _Roger East _ _ D Cann _ _ _M McDonough A Madley
    19:45 Norwich – Spurs _ _ _ _ _ _ _Kevin Friend _ R West _ _ _G Beswick _ G Scott
    19:45 Sunderland – Man City _ _ _ _Stuart Attwell M Mullarkey S Child _ _ P Tierney
    20:00 West Brom – Swansea _ _ _ _ _Neil Swarbrick S Ledger _ _M Salisbury T Harrington
    19:45 West Ham – Aston Villa _ _ _ Jonathan Moss _S Bennett _ J Collin _ _M Dean
    Wednesday 3 February 2016
    K.O. _MATCHES _ _ _ _ REFEREE _ _ ASST. REF. 1 _ _ASST. REF. 2 _ _4TH OFFICIAL
    19:45 Everton – Newcastle _ _ _ _ _Craig Pawson _ D Bryan _ _ S Burt _ _ _R East
    19:45 Watford – Chelsea _ _ _ _ _ _Mike Dean _ _ _J Brooks _ _S Long _ _ _K Friend

  • Pete

    I have gone back and looked at the summary injury stats. These originate from Physioroom http://www.physioroom.com/news/english_premier_league/epl_injury_table.php#c1 – who rather bizarrely think that Arsenal are only suffering from one injury at the moment (Wilshere) – but have historically been quite good. However the tables have been pulled together by Injury League: http://injuryleague.com/current-injuries/ – but based on physioroom stats.

    I hope this table tabulates properly – but, if not, I trust you can read it:

    Season AFC Injury-weeks Median Injury-Weeks Top Injury-Weeks AFC Position (of 20)

    2015/16 147 112 226 (Newcastle) 4th (all figures to date)
    2014/15 227 172 347 (Newcastle) 5th
    2013/14 289 158 289 1st
    2012/13 206 157 274 (Newcastle) 3rd
    2011/12 272 149 305 (Man Utd) 2nd
    2010/11 230 142 234 (Spurs) 2nd

    Average (5 compl ys) 245 156 290

    What does this mean? If an average season is 40 weeks then Arsenal will typically have 6 players injured at any one time. The average is 4. Therefore Arsenal will have 2 additional injuries over the League mean at any one time. If you want to look at days lost then multiply the weeks by 7… That gives us a little over 1,000 days lost so far this season…

    However, not obvious from these stats, but Arsenal, historically, have many more injuries in the first half of the season than the second half. As with the principal causes, I don’t know why this is.

    Noticeable that a slight improvement this season and last over what went before – Shad Forsythe’s influence?

    And Newcastle’s recent record has been absolutely catastrophic.

    Right now, we don’t seem to be clocking them up at the right rate as physioroom seems to have forgotten about Coquelin, Cazorla, Welbeck, Rosicky… Even so, season to date only Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton have been worse off. Man City are a little way behind in 5th, Tottenham in the pack and Leicester 2nd fewest.

    I think this is categoric evidence unless someone can accurately critique Physioroom’s numbers (other than the current anomaly).

  • Pete

    And a bit more:

    1. We have had worse injuries than any of our close competitors this season.
    2. We are still currently joint top of the league with 5.
    3. However all ours’ are close-ish to a return (although most injuries are short-term).
    4. We have been remarkably resilient over the last few weeks and have picked up hardly any new injuries. Which is just as well!
    5. Given our historic low rate of injuries in the second half of the season I am pretty confident the situation will continue to improve. I think our season high was around 10 – hopefully soon will be one or two.
    6. Tottenham (with the Europa League) and Leicester are at risk as most of their players have played every week and may start to feel the strain?