By Tony Attwood
Newspapers are in competition with each other. And yet they collude over their general approach to football reporting.
It would be awfully nice if they didn’t and if as well as competing over headlines, they also competed in other ways. Here are a few suggestions…
1: Just one newspaper put an investigative reporter onto football.
Instead of reporting “rumours” which are inventions, and covering the same issues from the same “there is nothing amiss” angle as the TV companies do, find an issue and go for it. The BBC used to do it occasionally – it did a decent Panorama job on Fifa in December 2015 and May 2011, but the last big domestic investigation it did was way back in September 2006 when Sam Allardyce was accused of taking bribes and Harry Redknapp accused of tapping up.
Allardyce made it quite clear and public that he was innocent and would sue the BBC. He never did. Also named was Portsmouth first-team coach Kevin Bond, Chelsea director of youth football Frank Arnesen. Liverpool and Newcastle United were also implicated in attempts to sign Porritt.
And since then? No more. The only thing we have had is a couple of pieces recognising that referee decisions are not 98% accurate and can favour one team more than another.
There is a lot of good stuff out there to investigate – the question why the PGMO alone in Europe is organised along the lines of the referee association in Italy at the time of its great match fixing crisis. So if the BBC are not going for it, why not the press?
2: An end to “Arsenal supporters were in revolt” and “Arsenal fans will be disappointed that…”
The notion that there is a unity of thinking among Arsenal fans – or indeed among any football fans is utterly daft.
I am not recommending that you do it but if you went to the Daily Mail and followed their permanent link to Le G (a blog) you would find a style and approach in the commentary section far different from anything you see here. The same is true with many many other sites.
The “Arsenal supporters will” approach is ludicrous on so many levels, suggesting not only that the writer can read how people think, but also how people will think in the future, all while suggesting that all Arsenal fans are the same. And it has now moved into the press.
Of course not everyone who reads Untold agrees with Untold’s vision of what support means, but given the number of people who come back and read a number of articles rather than the odd one, it appears that quite a few readers share our stance. We tend not to be part of the mindset described, and yet we have quite a large number of readers.
3: For newspapers TV critics to be allowed to talk about football
Most newspapers have one or two people who specialise in commentating on TV programmes – reflecting on the way issues are presented, the people who were on the show, how well it dealt with its theme.
That is fair enough; much of TV is an art form (although much of it is very poor art in my view) and art is always open to debate and analysis. But football is banned from this area; there are occasionally a few very short pieces about an individual commentator, but nothing in terms of an analysis of the whole approach. Indeed nothing remotely as penetrating as the short-run approach that appeared in the 1970s where newspapers accused TV of manipulating the showing of recorded games in order to make them look much more exciting than they were, while all the time talking them up, in order to keep their audience.
A mention of the way TV always hides time wasting by goalkeepers would be a fair place to start.
4: Stop taking Twitter as something that seriously needs reporting
“Twitter in meltdown” is not only inaccurate but also silly. Some people like Twitter, and that’s ok. It is a permanently loss making enterprise based on the notion that something intelligent can be said in a tiny number of words. I use it myself occasionally to advertise articles in Untold.
But to suggest that what appears on Twitter is a measure of the way the nation is thinking is quite silly. Here’s some examples…
The 17 stages of a monumental Piers Morgan Arsenal Twitter meltdown – Mirror
Jack is back! Arsenal fans send Twitter into meltdown as Wilshere … Express
Arsenal stun Manchester United to send Twitter into meltdown … Standard
Vardy sends Arsenal Twitter into meltdown with social media … Metro
Vardy snubs Arsenal: Twitter goes into meltdown – Star
It is just dull.
5: A proper investigation into the FA and its remorseless support for Fifa and Uefa
I have seen a few articles in the press about how corrupt Fifa and Uefa is, a couple about how arcane is the way the FA works, a couple saying that government might withdraw its funding.
But the one issue that really does need looking at – the way in which the media universally ignores how the FA pumps millions of pounds (much of which it doesn’t have) into Fifa and Uefa, while failing to train coaches and failing to build modern pitches for youngsters to play on, is outrageous. It then fails to do its proper job and makes one third of its staff redundant.
6: To stop treating fans with contempt over the transfer rumour nonsense.
As you may know this summer Untold is charting every rumour concerning the transfer of a player to Arsenal and the transfer of a player out of Arsenal. We have seen about 100 different players mentioned in both the in and out approach so far. One of these players has arrived, none of the rumoured players has left.
By the end of the window the number of rumours will be greater (although now we find some of the rumours are coming around for the second time since we opened the Index earlier this year) still, but the number of transfers in and out will perhaps be half a dozen at most, most likely fewer. The accuracy level at the moment is under 2%.
Some of these stories are the total fantasy of blogs, but when you look at them, most have passed through some national newspapers at some point. It is a way of treating the readership with contempt.
7: To find a way of explaining to people who don’t understand it, what “evidence” means.
I realised how far my perception of “evidence” was from that of many other people when a writer on Untold wrote in to tell us that it was obvious that Wenger was an absolute failure. When I asked for the evidence to back this up he replied, “the evidence of my own eyes”.
The problem is that even serious newspapers (at least serious in many other things they report) seem to have moved into an acceptance of the same sort of non-evidential approach.
Evidence means the use of logic, analysis and numbers. It is used to draw conclusions which can be verified by others – which clearly the “evidence of my own eyes” can’t.
This misuse of phraseology of course is everywhere. I only have to write the word “referee” and a dozen people write in talking about “conspiracy theories” or as one person more amusingly wrote on a different web site, “Untold Arsenal is at the scientology end of football commentary”.
Three people coming together to draw up an idea for action in secret is a “conspiracy”. But a “conspiracy theory” has a quite different meaning. It is worth looking it up in a dictionary.
8: Do far more to make the case that TV’s moving of games at the last minute, and particularly moving them to fridays and mondays, is harmful to supporters.
While they are at it they could also point out that the model through which all top games should be shown live would be just as viable an approach as the current one, and would allow matches to be set on dates that simply don’t change.
Somehow this is a debate that the newspapers refuse to get involved in.
9. Tackle the inanity of radio phone ins.
Radio phone ins are not just a sideline, not just a piece of harmless entertainment. They are part of the constant downgrading of the agenda into things that can be expressed in a moment, and not properly considered with evidence. They are very very cheap to run, they require no rehearsal time, and on commercial channels adverts can be slipped in seamlessly.
But none of that overcomes the fact that they downgrade the analysis of football into trivia.
This downgrading wouldn’t matter if the newspapers pointed out what is happening, made fun of some of the lunacy broadcast, and developed a way of countering what is going on in terms of the debate. Or engaged in some other serious debate. But they won’t and they don’t.
10. Push for a proper introduction of video refereeing.
It is so obvious a need I can’t think of what to say. But PGMO, Fifa and Uefa are endlessly dragging their heels. Pressure is needed, and the newspapers could give it.
They could start by reporting where referees get decisions wrong. If we take the punch up between Chelsea and Tottenham at the end of last season, there was mention of the fouls not given, but it was all glossed over with an assumption that somehow this is the type of real English refereeing we all want to see.
I don’t know how they got that idea but they did. Oh yes, and they could stop publishing PGMO press releases as if they were facts rather than pointing out that they are fairy stories.
- Six players tipped to join Arsenal this week, and one tipped not to.
- Free Arsenal videos available
- Yes the season has already started over here and exclusive fixture announcement on Untold Arsenal
- The price of players has just gone up and the chances of signing them has just gone down.
The Untold Preview of the Under 18, Under 19, and Under 21 squads.
- Part one – Overview and summary
- Part two – Goalkeepers and defenders
- Part three – Midfield
- Part four – Attackers