By Tony Attwood
The point that I have been trying to make in my articles on Untold of late is that we are all being fed a conception of football which is simplified to such a degree that it becomes removed from reality.
Football as a game is complex with so many combinations of possible movements and strategies that the number of possibilities exceeds the number of atoms in the universe. Football as a business operation is likewise phenomenally complex involving as it does such an enormous number of possibilities that we cannot imagine them.
And all that before we consider the social, political and financial implications.
Put the various sides together – football as business, football and a socio-political-financial affair, and football as a game, and there is no way we can express what it is about; it is too complex.
That does not mean that we should not begin to explore what is going on, and look for ways of doing it better, but it most certainly does mean that we can be sure that the notion that football in general or one club in particular can be changed by implementing one particular approach.
This is why anyone pointing out that Arsenal was the only major club in Europe not to buy an outfield player last summer, and that this is the reason why Arsenal failed to win the league, is talking nonsense. Arsenal could have bought 20 players last summer and been in a worse position than now. Or a better position. Or the same position.
It is also why saying that we need a new manager is nonsense. Of course it might work and a new man could walk in and take Arsenal to the league title the following season, but the historic analysis show us that most of the time this doesn’t happen. Even the almighty Chapman took five years – and even then he just won the cup (which is not a trophy).
But not only is the proposition that simple solutions can resolve a situation in football totally false, having TV, radio and newspaper journalists saying this is the case does us a gross disservice in another way. For it treats us, the football supporters who have enquiring minds and who want to know what’s what, as idiots.
We are being fed a daily diet of nonsense. Not nonsense in terms of suggesting that Plan A should be adopted rather than Plan B, but nonsense in suggesting that the writers and commentators have a plan that is the slightest bit viable as a way of changing anything.
The history of Britain, and I suspect much of the rest of the world, is a history of people with power putting out false stories which are so utterly simplified in their versions of reality that they can’t possibly achieve anything in such a complex world other than by pure chance, or by relying on the fact that the other people involved are doing things that are even more irrelevant.
Which leads to the problem. It is much easier to see what is wrong than it ever is to put forward a notion of how to make things work, just as it is much easier to reduce everything to a very simple cause and effect vision of life.
What is interesting I think is that most of the people who are telling Arsenal what to do and Arsene Wenger what to do, have either no experience of running a football team, or have tried it and failed. Everyone can have an opinion, that’s not the issue. What is the issue that these people’s simplistic visions are given far more credence than those of people who are actually in the game and know how difficult running a team is.
As this continues so we get an overall effect in which football is reduced to something it isn’t – something very simple. As Johan Cruyff so memorably said, football is played with the mind; the legs are just a mechanism. What he might have said also was, the mind is the most complex thing we know about in the entire universe, and there are an awful lot of minds involved in a football match.
And even this is just the beginning, because football takes place within society – a society which is so complex we can’t properly describe it, and which is changing all the time.
Let’s take just one example – an example away from Arsenal so that we don’t get tied up with “if you don’t see Wenger is useless you’re an idiot” comments.
Referees in grassroots football receive levels of verbal and physical abuse from players and spectators that for many people is simply beyond belief. And it is getting worse month by month.
Keith Hackett has, to his credit, pointed out that the FA Football Association does “not have a clue” about the scale of the grass-roots problem and that is undoubtedly true.
A report in the Telegraph showed that there were 3,731 incidents of misconduct involving adults in a 15-month period in children’s football matches. The real figure is a lot higher as many refs are apparently unwilling to report offences.
Officials in the Thames Valley Premier League withdrew their services for a weekend in protest at violence and threats and Surrey Youth League have written to parents, “warning them that someone could be killed if behaviour continued to escalate out of control.” Hackett has now written to FA chairman Greg Dyke to urge him to focus on the issue. Expect some words but probably no action.
Now, pause for a second and just think about this. The violent and aggressive behaviour of parents and children at children’s football matches, aimed at officials, is easy to spot, but its causes are incredibly complex. Back in the 1960s we had “I blame all this TV the kids watch.” Now there’s the internet. A lack of discipline in schools and at home has always been brought up, along with immigration (always blamed for anything).
Paul Cooper, the president of the Sheffield Referees’ Association, gave the Telegraph lots of evidence and then said, “Someone needs to speak out. Everything isn’t hunky dory. A boycott is something we are looking at…. I am worried that sooner or later there will be a serious assault.”
So we have a highly complex situation, the causes of which are most certainly not agreed upon, but which probably have something to do with the way society has changed, and a very simplistic solution – a boycott.
Just take a look at this from the Telegraph’s report…
“On just one February weekend this year, Graham Ekins, the chairman of the Surrey Youth League, received allegations of a linesman being headbutted, two parents fighting, a child referee being abused, a referee being threatened with a stabbing and players being encouraged by managers to smash up a changing room.”
The cause… is not examined. Instead the Telegraph reports people jumping straight in with simple solutions. As a result the issue is not properly examined, and options are not properly considered. All in the name of one thing: simplicity.
I use that example because it is one that is away from Arsenal, away from all the argument about Wenger and the board and the team – but it shows the same point. The behaviour of children on the pitch and their parents on the touchline is getting so bad that one could not blame any official for giving up.
But the issue of why is not considered. Why is behaviour getting worse, why are parents not dealing with their children, why is the FA not tackling the problem? And above all, why are so many journalists afraid of dealing with complex situations?
My guess (and it is nothing more) is that they are so used to reducing everything to simplicity they now believe everything is simple. Anything that suggests it is complex is considered a conspiracy theory.
Put another way (to add to the inane statement of Margaret Thatcher: there is no such thing as society; it is just a conspiracy theory.
And where can you go once that thought is out?
- The press are suggesting Thierry Henry cheated his way to his coaching badges. But there is more to this than it seems.
- Next season’s line up as commentary remains in the days of witches and Enlightenment is as far away as ever.
- Alex Iwobi chooses, David Ospina is blessed and injured (or injured and blessed) and other international events