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October 2016
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Ten approaches to newspaper football reporting that would change football for the good

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.

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6 comments to Ten approaches to newspaper football reporting that would change football for the good

  • Nonny

    As always, on point Tony. Unfortunately, the press is always looking for the easy way out. It’s easier to print made up transfer rumours than do investigative journalism. I think you are asking way too much of people who simply don’t care as long as they have news to air. Necessary news or not is immaterial or why will Ramsey’s hair make headline.

  • Gunnerjoe

    It’s not like we’re looking for Woodward and Bernstine just a show of some competence even a small amount by the British press.

  • Pat

    Fully agree, Tony. Your description of Twitter is spot on. Sound bites replace proper argument and analysis. Also very true when you say the newspapers treat the public with contempt.

    TV is just as bad. You watch the first half of a match and then the pundits come on and rational analysis of what you have just seen normally goes out the window.

    Someone in the pundit room appears to have said something – often inaccurate – during the match and they’ve all jumped ion the bandwagon and that is the only thing they talk about.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    Yes, good morning to you Sir, Mr Attwood. How was the referendum voting exercise effect had on you? You haven’t told us if you’ve voted for the “Leave or the “Remain” campaign. But you don’t owe us that information, it’s your private right.

    I hope the media will make a U-turn from their deliberate half reporting of the truth or outrightly ignoring reporting of it in their news publications.

    But we have already observed that most of the print and electronic media organizations are mostly privately owned by an individual person or group of persons. And therefore the informations coming out from the mass media editorial boards are sensored by the owner(s). The editors of the news outlets of any section of the media are compelled to comply with the owner’s standard of disseminating the news on any topical issue. Which in most cases is not in conforming with the standardized noun standard ethics and ethos of professional investigative journalism.

    However, the BBC organization is still there for us to look unto for correct and unbiased reporting as the British government that majorly fund it have not placed any news reporting sensoring on them in their news reporting to the whole World at large. Unlike the privately owned newspapers who are disseminating news under the orders and control of their owners, we are still fortunate to have the BBC around who are giving us the true news on any topical matter and issue.

    Items 8 & 10 of your article topic posting are very serious issues I like to comment on. On item 8, because of the much better financial revenue that will accrued to us, Arsenal have to comply with the Sky Sports & BT Sports Premier League match time rescheduling in conjunction with the BPL management board. The Boss has already commented that Arsenal are compelled to accept the rescheduling of their own matches away from the original schedule since they want to collect the TV money payout. And besides, they alone cannot go against this arrangements which other clubs in the upper and lower echelons of the English football League divisions have all consented to follow.

    On item 10, I think Fifa has now agree after much outcry against the deliberate match rigging officiatings by referees across the World which is majorly in the Barclays Premier League, to put into place a test run of the vedio referee assistant at 2 major Leagues in the World which I think is in Germany and Latin America. So when this test run is concluded, successful and approved for applying. The Pgmo will be compelled to adopt using the technology in the Premier League games an others. Consequently forcing the fixing of match officiatings by the Pgmo officials to abate or be reduced to the barest minimum.

  • Andy Mack

    Sorry if this is mentioned elsewhere, but on God was giving an interview about why he came back to football and how he did some badges at home in the Netherlands.
    He says “You start to learn how to look at a game. As a football player you’re only watching the ball, where the ball is and as a coach you’re watching the whole team and how they are positioned on the pitch, which was a really good learning process for me.”

    Now for a football god like Bergkamp to state that should make us all wonder why any newspaper would have any interest in these unqualified former footballer ‘pundits’.

    Just one newspaper trying to explain that would be in interesting (obviously it would be BS but interesting BS).

  • goonersince72

    Valid points all, Tony. The two points I’d make are:
    The media have collectively degenerated to one purpose, i.e. making money.
    There is no journalism in football ‘reporting’ and the public need to be reminded of what journalism means.
    I love the fact-based articles here on UA, keep on with it, please, it’s the one site I can rely on.