By Tony Attwood
As I have reminded regular readers on occasion, I set up Untold in January 2008, just so I could put forward a few thoughts I had on stories that were never run in the newspapers or on TV relating to football. I hoped I might get a few people (apart from my mates) to look at the site, although I never imagined it would be as big as it is now.
Of course I’ve tended to publish the stuff I’m interested in. Things like refereeing, the way the media projects football opinion as investigative journalism, the financing and corruption of football, the ineptness of the FA, the lunacy of the transfer market and the hype that surrounds it.
But I have also been bemused quite a bit, by the anger. In a sense I suppose the anger that we see expressed on football sites is a bit like the anger that there is in the UK these days – the 500% rise in hate crimes since June 23rd was surprising at the time although listening to some people speaking before then I guess I should been ready for that.
And in football the anger seems to have risen as well. Only about 2% of the readers of Untold write to Untold, and we publish only about 60% of the comments we get. So by and large I have no idea what the majority of readers of Untold think. Which adds to the fun of writing and publishing the articles.
Anyway, the most common reasons for not publishing comments are
b) not related to the article
c) assertions that have been made many times before but without evidence.
d) the writer puts a false email address in
e) the software went wrong and kicked out the wrong person.
Putting in fake email addresses has always bemused me. I know that the convention on sites such as this is that people often don’t put their real name up – and I can understand that. But giving a false email address (which is of course never published) shows absolute contempt for the publisher of the site. In which case why bother to write in?
Likewise the abuse issue has always bemused me. Why write to a guy running a website to tell him what a moron he is, then expect that guy to publish your comment, and then act as if some deep and important moral line has been crossed when he doesn’t? To me that is just plain weird. Indeed one correspondent announced in the last few days that because he had “discovered” that we don’t publish every comment, the world could now see me for what I really am. Well, fair enough in one way but I am not sure the world deserves that, or actually needs to know.
So what made him so angry? I guess because he KNEW he was right, and the failure of Untold to publish his commentary (if we did, and I really don’t know if we did or not) upset him so much that his logic circuits were by-passed. But still I ask, why would anyone expect me to publish, on a site that I run, abuse against myself? It doesn’t really make sense to me. Especially in a world where everyone can do what I have done: set up a blog and work each day to find an audience.
It reminds me a bit of one of the anti-Wenger sites that the Daily Mail sponsors which, on receiving a comment for publication, changed what the correspondent had put. When this was protested against, it was explained as “a mistake”. It is easy for a publisher to change what a correspondent has written, but to do it by mistake??????
I suppose one reason for the rise in anger is that football discussions as handled by radio phone ins tend to be utterly emotional, related only to the last game (and often then just the last few moments of the last game), non-factual and non-sequential. In short what has been lost is a sense of perspective.
And I guess the reason I enjoy running the Arsenal History Society blog is because it gives me a sense of perspective. At the moment I’m writing the history of Arsenal in the 1930s, with a few lines on each game, and as I’ve progressed with the series I’ve expanded the writing so that I occasionally include notes on what other teams at the top of the league did that weekend. It gives a sense of perspective – at least to me.
But in today’s commentaries complex issues often become simplified and considered without evidence to produce purely emotional responses to matters that invariably need far more than emotion.
And yet this has become so commonplace, many people don’t realise it is happening. It was how the UK decided to make what was perhaps the most monumental decision since 10 May 1940 (when Churchill became PM). I have a few relatives who voted Leave in the referendum and I’ve been asking them why they did. The answers are quite honestly, frightening, for their knowledge of what would or might happen next was tiny, and thus far as been proven wrong in every detail. Today, it seems, most decisions are made for trivial reasons and most viewpoints based on a lack of evidence.
What also interests me is the difference in response to comments that are made on Untold about other clubs. Of course if we run a piece about Tottenham there are always three or four comments about Untold having a fixation with Tottenham and a few items a bit ruder than that. But we also get some reasoned comments and some interesting exchanges with information provided by Tottenham supporters without any exchange abuse and I am always grateful for that.
If we have a bit of fun at the expense of Liverpool? we don’t generally get anything back although I do have a couple of correspondents who write to me and say “I would never put this in writing, but you are right – it is a shambles”. But when we talk about Man City – the abuse level goes through the roof. And not just this time with the issue of getting around the rules on child trafficking, but it was just as bad before when we covered (ahead of virtually every other football outlet) the fact that Man City could get into trouble over FFP. The level of abuse was huge as the level of knowledge was minute.
Why do we get more abuse when we run a story about Man City which shows them in a poor light? I really don’t know. But what bemuses me is that one of the main arguments against us is that Arsenal themselves have some faults. Which I find very odd for of course Arsenal have faults. But does that mean we don’t point out issues we see elsewhere? If I had been arrested in my past for some minor crime (which I haven’t – just in case you were wondering) would that mean I shouldn’t report a crime I see elsewhere?
Untold proclaims what it is on the home page – a site that supports the manager, the team, and the club. I put that up because there are loads of Arsenal sites that don’t do that. It seemed a good way to provide a bit of balance.
Anyway thinking of all that, I remembered the old phrase about the “pot calling the kettle black” which always struck me as nonsense because no one has never got something wrong, made a mistake or done something that in retrospect they wish they hadn’t. If we followed the rule that only the absolutely purest of people could ever criticise another, no one would ever enter any debate at all.
So, to round all this up, bemused and bewildered, I asked our occasional psychologist, Dr Billy “the dog” McGraw to look at the comments (including some of those we have not published) made on Untold by Man City supporters to see what he could glean about the causes of the anger that was expressed in relation to the piece about child trafficking.
I asked Dr Billy to give me his immediate reaction to the psychological state of the writer of ten different comments sent to Untold. Here’s what he said.
1: I think he was overtired.
2: It was probably something he ate.
3: Could it be growing pains?
4: I suspect he was teething.
5: Maybe he had a virus.
6: I suspect he is coming down with something.
7: Maybe he’s not himself today.
8: They get that way at the end of term.
9: Perhaps he forgot to take his pill.
10. It could be a rash.
Which I think really makes the point. Commentaries made in anger can actually look a bit silly from a distance.
I’ve now got that list of Dr Billy’s explanations printed up and put on the noticeboard in my office. Looking at some of the comments that have been swirling around of late, it seems to offer me a little solace as I work with Walter, Andrew, Blacksheep, Don and all the other hardy souls who stay with Untold through thick and thin, to keep Untold running.
Anyway, enough introspection. There’s been another 2,354 transfer rumours since Sir Hardly’s last piece, so I’d better go and kick him into action.
If you have been, thank you for reading.