By Tony Attwood
There’s an article by Ed Aarons, Guardian Sport’s deputy news editor, in which he says that “Even Lineker, who describes himself as “a proper boyhood fan” who went home and away to watch his hometown team from the age of seven, could not have dreamed what has happened to Leicester over the last few months.”
Of course Lineker might have REM sleep deficiency (which would cause a lack of dreaming) or he might just be rather unimaginative in his dreaming, as he appears to be in his speaking, but either way, since Lineker is obviously able to make up a lot of other stuff, we would expect him to be able to do it asleep as well as when awake. After all Leicester are hardly the first club suddenly to bounce up the league all in a flurry.
The problem is however that the mystique presented by the media (Lineker very much included) is that Leicester this season is a unique phenomenon. The mystique is presented by one media outlet, replicated by others, repeated and repeated and it becomes true. Leicester are a one-off.
A bit like saying, “Arsenal have more injuries than anyone else, and it is all Wenger’s fault.” Such an argument falls to bits when we find out that Arsenal don’t get more injuries that anyone else. But say it enough, and it becomes true. Or, “Arsenal have more red cards than any other team,” which was said over and over some ten years ago. Quite untrue. But say it enough…
Of course if you know your football history you’ll know it is all a collection of cauliflowers. Indeed one could pick any date to prove it – but since I am currently writing the history of Arsenal in the 1970s on the Arsenal History Society site, I’ll start with 1977/8. Nottingham Forest had come third in the 2nd division the year before, and won the 1st division that season by seven points.
But that was a one off wasn’t it? Well no as in 1981 Aston Villa won the league after being a mid-table club after winning promotion in 1975 and then becoming a mid-table 1st division club. The following year they won the European Cup.
Or Ipswich who just avoided relegation in 1978 and came second in 1982. Or Watford, promoted in 1982 and came second in the 1st division in 1983. Or perennial mid-tablers Southampton reaching second in 1984.
OK you say, that’s the 70s and 80s, what about more recent timings? Well, Crystal Palace came third out of nowhere in 1991. Sheffield Wednesday ditto in 1992. Norwich City 1993.
All right, you scream, metaphorically of course. What about the Premier League era?
Here we have Blackburn, 6th in the second tier in 1992 winning the Premier League in 1995. Leeds, 4th in the Premier in 1999, and third in 2000, having won it in 1992 and missed relegation by two points in 1993.
And then there is Newcastle who after years in the lower part of the table, missing relegation by a few points suddenly coming 3rd in 2003. I know they are historically called a “big club” but in reality had been getting nowhere much for quite a while.
Or Everton missing relegation by one place in 2004 getting a top four finish in 2005. It happens.
And do remember that although there is a lot of simplistic media chatter about there being a “big four” in terms of clubs, there actually isn’t. Since Blackburn won the league, the only teams to do this have been Man City, Man U, Chelsea and Arsenal. But Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton, Newcastle and Leeds have all also managed a top four finish this century.
Yes, we can say there is a Big Four plus Tottenham and Liverpool, but that does not preclude interlopers.
However it suits G Lineker and his agenda for Leicester to be seen as the great, amazing, incredible gate-crashers to the big boys’ party, but it simply doesn’t fit the historic facts. Think of Ipswich who spent three dizzy years in the top three before falling back towards their natural habitat. It happens.
It suits, because it is part of the Linekerian narrative of sniggering at Arsenal. And he was at it again this week.
The story was not something that would normally make the news: Leicester scout Ben Wrigglesworth has accepted a new post as a video scout at Arsenal.
Lineker said “I love how Arsenal nicked the wrong scout” after not taking Steve Walsh from Leicester. After all this time we expect Lineker to be sarcastic and rude about Arsenal – he generally is – but to knock a man like Ben Wrigglesworth who has been a valued employee at Leicester, by suggesting he’s such a lesser person than his colleague and that Arsenal “nicked” the wrong man is just insulting to Leicester, Ben Wrigglesworth, and Arsenal. And that is before we even consider the suggestion that Arsenal might not have done their homework properly.
It is rather like that somewhat off beam fellow who comes onto Untold occasionally and who said that Wenger was so stupid he had bought Mo Elneny without scouting him, played him for 30 minutes realised how bad he was and then dropped him in favour of the useless Flamini, ignorant of the fact that as part of the signing deal Elneny had been guaranteed time with his wife who was about to give birth.
I suppose what is particularly insulting – and this is what Linekar does all the time – is the way he simplifies the real world and expects us to accept that this childish reality he sets forth is what the world is like. Consider this outburst:
“Steve Walsh is the guy who found these players and bought them in,” he added. “I know when he found Mahrez he was sent to watch someone else and came back with Mahrez.”
Does he really expect us to believe that a scout goes looking for players like I go shopping for wine in Tesco? “I went to get some Chilean Merlot, but they were out of stock some I came back with some Australian Cabinet Sauvignon instead.” Is that how football works in the Linekerian world of makebelieve fantasy? I guess so.
For goodness sake, we have Danny Karbassiyoon writing on Untold telling us just how often he goes to see players, and the Linekar manifestation thinks we will take this gibberish about going to get one player and coming back with another????
But he is with the BBC, so the story is put out – this is amazing, this has never happened before, they are top of the league, the world has not seen anything like this ever, and their scout goes to see one player and comes back with another, and Arsenal are worried and so say, “quick let’s nick the Leicester scout whose put them top of the league” and they get the wrong man because they don’t even bother to check.
The football media has indeed degenerated into making up stories which are palpably untrue, but for Linekar to think we actually fall for all this garbage is a step too far. We expect him to spout tripe, but to think that anyone believes him is just lunatic.
- Arsenal in the 70s: July to December 77. Signs of recovery.
- Arsenal in shock as transfer sites now predict mass exodus
- 10 February 2001: Arsenal 1 Ipswich 0. (Henry). Arsenal were five points ahead of Liverpool despite Arsenal having sold Anelka, Overmars and Petit for £55m, but lost the next game 6-1 to Man U.
- 10 February 2002: Everton 0 Arsenal 1 (Wiltord) at the start of 13 a match winning streak, and as part of a 22 match unbeaten run. League match 26 of the 3rd Double season.