By Tony Attwood
A short while back the lottery thing that we have in the UK announced that two tickets had won a share of several billion pounds each [I think you might be exaggerating the amount there – Billy “the dog”]. One of the ticket owners came forwards straight away to claim the prize, but the other didn’t.
However a delightful lady of the more elderly variety came forth a few days later eventually and spake thus: “It is mine for I have the ticket.” She then showed anyone with time to spare an old ticket with the numbers tippexed out and replaced by the winning numbers in crayon.
When she presented this to the lottery operating company (they’re called Python Monty or something like that) the lady in charge politely pointed out that the old dear had indeed tippexed out the old numbers and crayoned the new ones in.
The elderly woman looked aghast at such a suggestion. “Why should I do that?” she asked.
We could all have answered, but it is probably best to leave the story there… except that last Friday night when driving from my village in Northants to Leicester I listened (more in fascinated horror than with any real hope of being entertained) to BBC Radio 5’s programme on the weekend’s football.
Here they have a multiplicity of journalists and wannabe match commentators pontificating on what will happen at the weekend and why Arsenal would lose. It’s the same each week, but it passes the time, and since I tend to go out most Friday evenings to a dance in Leicester or Nottingham or some such distant venue in the wild hinterland, I often hear it, and it is always the same. It sort of gets me all wound up and ready to bop.
Anyway, last Friday night they did a thing about Louis van Gaal and his comment at a press conference that a lot of the stuff written by journalists was simply invented. As in made up. Fiction. That sort of thing. There was a clip of LvG saying, “I don’t know why you are making this up” (I was driving at the time, and even though it was across the empty countryside on the Northants/Leics interface, it still isn’t really safe to write notes while at the wheel so I can’t give the exact words, but it was something akin to that).
So the pontificating programme anchor said to the journo, “Do journalists make things up?” to which the journo sniggered and said, “No of course not. Why would we?”
Cue chortling all round the studio at the stupidity of managers trying to blame journalists who of course know it all and NEVER MAKE THINGS UP. A little later they did read out a text from a listener who wrote words to the effect, “Journalists making it up, whatever next?” and there was a deathly silence in the studio. I imagine the production guy who selected that text as one to read has now been fired.
Thus it was that several questions occupied what passes for my mind as I made the way to Leicester for the meeting of the 100 or so crazy folk who think jiving is actually fun, a great way to stay fit as you get older and an alternative to being in the pub or sitting at home watching TV.
One was: do journalists really not know that a substantial number of football followers really do think that journalists make it all up?
Another was: while a journalist protects his/her sources absolutely, some sort of answer to the point from LvG would have been worthy of the debate – if there was an answer.
Another was: how do they square this assertion of not making it up with the fact that much of what they publish, if reconsidered a few weeks later, turns out to have been utterly, totally, completely and absolutely wrong?
Here I don’t just mean the lunatic transfer speculation that will start again in March and end in September, but the broader points, like Arsenal having a far worse injury record than anyone else, or like the notion that “it all evens out in the end” vis a vis referees. Or… well, you’re on Untold so you know.
Of course the problem is not just that journalists make things up, as we have shown on this site more times than the number of years that it took the gravity waves from those two black holes in the Omega Sector (actually it wasn’t the Omega Sector but when I did my little stint of writing Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 years back we always used to put things in the Omega Sector) to reach planet Earth. There is also the problem that they treat us like unmitigated idiots, so stupid that no only do we not know that they make things up, but that we will not see the fallacies in their “arguments” (I use that last word lightly).
Take the headline in the Telegraph the other day that read, “Could Pato be the new Kallstrom?” which was followed by the comment by Matt Law
Arsenal were, quite rightly, roundly laughed at when they signed an injured Kim Kallstrom in January 2014, but Chelsea have somehow escaped the same sort of ridicule over the arrival of striker Alexandre Pato.
“Quite rightly” indeed. Now leaving aside that the guy’s actual name is Källström, if you recall, Arsenal were going to be in danger of running short of players if they had an exceptional level of injuries between January and May 2014. Arsenal knew that they didn’t need Källström at once, and that he was cover, and also knew that he was injured, so they did a deal with Spartak Moscow in which Arsenal would not pay his salary until he was declared match fit. Also if it turned out that he really was good enough for the longer term, Arsenal could buy him.
In the end the injuries at Arsenal did not continue, Källström played three league games, and went back to Moscow, where he stayed for another year before going to Grasshoppers.
This was pretty much the same as Pato who joined Chelsea as a loanee while not being fit. I don’t know if Chelsea did the same sort of deal as Arsenal, but the thinking was, I suspect, still the same.
But, the semi-skimmed and half-baked report by Matt Law made much of the fact that Pato is still a long way from fitness and Chelsea really are short of strikers. Why, the report implies, didn’t they buy someone else?
And there is really where we get to the other side of journalism. Not only do some journalists make some things up, there is a dreadful lack of joined up thinking in football journalism. Most managers some time or other have said to the assembled hacks at press conferences that you can’t just go out and buy a player you want – because if he is that good the club he is with won’t want to sell him.
And indeed as Danny Karbassiyoon has mentioned in his column on Untold, you not only have to think about whether the player is good enough and will fit into the squad back home, but also, does the current club want to sell him, does he want to move, and will he adjust to a new climate, a new country, a new language maybe…
But these are difficult concepts for journalists, and so you can almost hear the sniggers when the Telegraph report says, “Hiddink has revealed that Pato requires a pre-season training programme to get fit, having not played since November 28, and Chelsea fear it could be as much as six weeks before the Brazilian is ready to start a game.”
Of course I don’t know why Chelsea signed the player, but the phrase “long-term” and “emergency cover” come to mind, along with the notion that they simply couldn’t get anyone else to come.
So to go back to the starting point, why do we all think journalists make things up?
Well, one, because we have evidence of how often their reports of “facts” turn out to be nothing like the facts we subsequently discover. Like when the Independent did an interview with the Barcelona chief and ran the figures he gave them on taxation, which were completely invented. No one at the Indy, it seems checked the data. That was up to little Untold Arsenal. We got a tax expert from Spain, asked him to check, and found that Barcelona’s man was talking PR not reality.
Thus it goes, over and over again. Sometimes the stories are made up, sometimes they are just wild assertions, sometimes key issues are ignored, and quite often nothing but absolutely nothing is checked.
Anyway, I calmed down, got to the dance, had a jolly nice time, and made it back home in the wee small hours. Not a bad way to spend a Friday. And anyway we have to remember that allowing journalists to write things and broadcast on Radio 5 does keep them out of the pubs. For a while.