By Tony Attwood
When I published several articles on Untold which related to politics and football, I got a few comments back complaining that this was a football blog, not a political blog.
That point is true, but for me football is a topic that is integrated with economics, politics, psychology and sociology. It is because the newspaper journalists and many bloggers try to pretend that football stands alone and can be debated alone, that we often have a problem in debating football sensibly, in my view.
Indeed one of the biggest problems we have in discussing football is the notion that football is an area in which “anyone can have an opinion”. While that is true (as I attempted to point out recently) it is not at all a helpful or insightful comment.
Matters have been made more difficult by the statement of the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, the UK’s justice secretary, who is currently attempting to become the next UK Prime Minister. He said during the EU campaign, “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.”
Now forget that as a political statement, and see it as a football statement – and you can see the same thing. Many football fans long ago reached this conclusion, and it is a view that has been encouraged like mad during the last few years. And it means no one listens to anyone anymore.
Of course it has not been helped that the “expert summarisers” and the like invented by broadcasters, and the football journalists who pass opinion without evidence in the guise of being “experts” are no such thing. Experts use evidence and from evidence draw conclusions. I rarely see that or hear it, from football journalists.
Gove’s comment in effect said to voters, “you can dismiss expert opinion and use your own prejudice to make up your mind.” Or put another way, “Bugger the evidence, trust your instinct”. Exactly as many blogs proclaim daily.
(And let us remember he is the justice secretary – a man in charge of the courts and legal process in most of the UK. I wonder how the legal profession reacted to “I think the people in this country have had enough of experts.” Hopefully he lost a few votes.)
Arsene Wenger is an expert, who considers data, weighs options, and make decisions. Of course he gets it wrong sometimes, like all experts who are dealing with multiple variables such as players, referees and injuries. But in the last three years he’s got two trophies and a runners up spot. Not perfect but not as bad as most clubs in the Premier League.
But just because someone gets things wrong, that doesn’t mean one can dismiss all experts, and suggest that a group of fans holding up placards know more about who should be the manager of a football club than the directors of a football club.
However the fact that the experts with their factual analysis were defeated in the UK referendum does remind us of something important in football.
The study of psychology (of which I know something) shows that firmly held beliefs are not overturned easily by evidence. In fact there is some evidence to suggest that the more evidence one offers against a firmly held belief, the more people cling to that belief. In short changing people’s mind by offering them the facts that show their belief system is wrong, doesn’t work.
Which is why, by and large, I have never primarily seen Untold as a way of changing people’s minds. When I started the blog and picked up a couple of hundreds page views in the first three months, I realised that I had found a few people out there of like mind to me. I wasn’t trying to convert anyone. I just wanted reassurance that I wasn’t alone.
(And yes, I do smile when I see that there are now two newspapers that have picked up on the Untold research into why one country does well and others do badly at international football. I complain about the FA preaching a belief-based view rather than seeing the evidence, but that does not mean I ever expect them to change).
As time has passed my view has continued along these lines. I am not trying to convert anyone to believing that Mr Wenger is the right man to run the club, and that supporting the club, the players and the manager is the right thing to do. I’m just saying, in the wake of the remorseless negativity surrounding Arsenal that we get day after day from the mass media and the bloggettas, sometimes it is nice to know there are some other like minded people out there. That’s the point of Untold.
Facts and evidence rarely if ever carry the day, as the editorial in this week’s New Scientist says. And if ever there was a magazine that is dedicated to facts and verifiable statements, it is New Scientist. In summary, irrational and vague statements beat evidence and facts in gaining public opinion most of the time.
But football, like democratic government, really does need experts. We clearly don’t have many experts in government in the UK at the moment, for if we did, they would have been down on Gove like a ton of bricks when he made his “had enough of experts” statement. We could have had an assortment of farm animals in the TV studio and said, “right, we’ve had enough of experts, tell us your view”. If Monty Python were still with us we might well have seen that.
However we do have a few experts around when it comes to football. Not in the FA I grant you. But at Arsenal we do, with their StatDNA associate company mentioned on Untold the other day, and the team that works with Mr Wenger.
Experts can be dismissed in a Govian fashion, and that dismissal can be justified with the view that experts often get it wrong. And yes, I have often been known to say that economists only exist to give clairvoyants a good name.
But the world in general, and indeed football in particular, are both far, far too complex, not to bring in the experts to help us sort things out.
Given the choice I’d sooner have Mr Wenger buying players and selecting the team rather than a group of newspaper journalists, bloggers, fans or come to that Mr Gove. Mind you, I’d sooner have Arsene Wenger running the UK than Mr Gove too.
- Why so much hate? Why so much despair?
- AY UBUNTU BE WITH YOU , ALWAYS
- Sanchez, why we hate international football (complete with horrific pictures)
Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle. The books are
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page