By Tony Attwood
As you may have noticed we’ve been running a little series on whether, and then why, the media is so critical of Arsenal. That link takes you to the last in the series, and it has a list of all the other articles in it, at the start.
The discussion encompassed not just the media being more critical of Arsenal than of any other club, but also the issue of made-up news alongside the removal of solid information and facts, and its replacement by everything from opinion to downright untruths.
In the shockwaves of this move, informed, reasoned analysis based on facts, is reduced to a freak show which is laughed at, because the whole notion of reasoned analysis is not understood.
In such circumstances chit chat and uninformed opinion – indeed opinion based on falsehoods – pushes aside all rational thinking which is based on facts and logical deduction, to make way for what others have called the “new superstitions”.
It’s not just Arsenal of course that suffers, for in this world every attempt at reasoned argument is shouted down by superstitions which are, by definition, without reason, without logic, without evidence.
Throughout my life some people in the UK believe 13 is an unlucky number, and they might cite a few incidents in which events related to 13 have been unlucky. But rationality tells us that in other countries different numbers are unlucky. But 13 is considered lucky in Italy while four is unlucky in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. That’s always been there. But now all evidence is thrown aside and belief becomes the daily function of the brain.
Thus the New Superstitions are everywhere. In football they are the issues we’ve been arguing against on Untold for years… the notion that
- A new manager will improve the situation.
- That anyone can see how to improve a club without having had any experience of running one, sometimes without even going to games.
- That evidence equates to stating a series of facts, without any reference to what is going on around them.
- That buying a very expensive centre forward will make everything ok.
- That journalist commentators who have no experience of running a club at any level can have insights into the way a club is running which those experienced at working in the game don’t have – experiences that can lead to conclusions that can be expressed in a two minute argument on air.
- That we can tell what is going on in someone’s mind.
- That transfers are the answer no matter what the question.
- That criticising a club very strongly is actually going to make it better.
and so on and so on.
All the evidence is there to say that these superstitions are not valid, and yet they grow in strength month by month, and indeed have grown so much that now they swamp any attempt at rational analysis. So set up a web site that is meant to be a haven of rational debate and we then find we have to spend a fortune trying to ensure the expression of these views are not swamped by irrational often libellous commentaries.
By way of one simple example of where we have got to, I was driving to my saturday evening dance last night and for reasons which now utterly escape me, I had TalkSport on the radio. Danny Baker interviewed Stewart Robson, and to be fair, did say at the start that Robson was known to be anti-Wenger.
Baker then gave Robson a chance to put forward his views, asking a few pertinent questions and then letting Robson speak. Robson talked, as he always does, of the problem was not a case of buying this or that player but was Wenger who was stubborn and obstinate. No evidence was given to back this up, it was given as fact. Indeed facts were what was missing throughout – no discussion of how a manager with these negative traits could in fact have taken a club that was as used to finishing mid-table as finishing in the top four, to these 19 years of top four finishes. No explanation of how, with someone so utterly fixed in his views and clearly so stupid, could year after year outwit anything between 16 and 19 other premier league managers and their clubs.
This was a fundamental point in the debate. One can understand how any con artist (for that is what effectively Robson was calling Wenger) can get away with it a bit against a few people, but how does he create a system that is so appalling awful (according to Wenger) which year after year produces teams that come way above the majority of the others in the league?
So evidence was there none to explain this, or any other anomaly. Except at the end he did give one piece of evidence of Wengerian pathetic stupidity and idiocy – the horrific injury level Arsenal suffered in comparison with all other clubs, year after year after year after year because of Wenger’s training methods which he utterly refuses to change.
And there the discussion ended. Baker was not well-informed enough and had no access to any research (it was Talk Sport after all) to be able to contradict this one piece of evidence. Yet the contradiction is there, season after season, in both research from the BBC and from the Physioroom and indeed a couple of other sources that appear from time to time. No matter whether you measure the number of player days lost per season, or the number of players injured week by week, Arsenal come out a little above mid-table.
Of course we’ve been quoting these figures here regularly, and I don’t expect Robson, Baker or Talk Sport researchers to read us, but really, if on a national radio station one is going to make this a major talking point, should there not be just a little research?
Seemingly not and thus the one piece of evidence Robson gave was a total and absolute lie, and yet the impact of the whole discussion was that he (Robson) was right, and that the evidence was there for all to see.
Now I said earlier that our access to solid information and facts, and to informed, reasoned opinion, is being reduced – and I think that is right, given the difficulty one now has in finding any football related commentary that is based on facts and analysis.
I think we can also say this given the way that information about the topics I noted above never draws on evidence, but is presented as fact, evidence is pushed aside. It is a fact that a new manager or a new player will help – it is taken as a self-evident truth, no analysis is needed. Indeed sometimes this reality becomes laughable, as with the fact that the Transfer Index shows us over 80 players who are said to be coming to Arsenal this summer, (many of whom are apparently now on their way) and the fact that around 20 Arsenal players are leaving. And yet each day we have more “according to reports Arsenal are about to sign…”
These are the new superstitions that now run football and like superstitions, if they don’t turn out to be true, that’s our fault. We must have done something wrong in the ritual. Let’s do it again.
But in the midst of this decline into superstitions is our access to hard solid factual information being deliberately reduced?
I suspect the answer is yes, but not because of any sort of conspiracy. It is simply a result of the existence of news channels all fighting each other for an audience, using new techniques. From long established newspapers to the eternally loss making (but seemingly always there) Twitter the model has changed but people often believe that something must be true because it is in the media.
And Twitter is an important example, for the fact is that the way Twitter shows up on your screen depends on who pays how much to Twitter’s owners to get each story out there and trending. Indeed there is an awful lot of money changing hands (although seemingly not enough to make a profit).
So knocking Arsenal becomes a trend and a habit – as we have seen in this series, something that dates back to the 19th century and which grew dramatically in the 20th.
Knocking Arsenal isn’t new, it is now just much, much more widespread, and commonplace – so much so that people who do it actually come to believe that what they are saying is obviously right, and so doesn’t need to be justified with evidence, facts, statistics or logical deduction.
I don’t claim that Untold is valiantly standing against this decline into mediaeval thinking and beliefs (although I do think the retreat from a scientific and logical way of looking at the world is appalling and will quite possibly be the ultimate cause of our civilisation’s downfall – although hopefully not during my lifetime). Rather I just think that given we have a means to point these things out, we should do it, rather than not.
At least, for the few people who were thinking, “Am I the only person who thinks there’s something wrong when Robson is given a platform for propagating his myths about the Arsenal injury crisis without anyone saying, ‘factually this is completely wrong’?” Untold and a few other sites are here.
From today’s anniversary files – how transfers don’t always work out
- 31 July 2008: Tottenham bought David Bentley from Blackburn for £15m of which £7m went to Arsenal. He played just 42 games for the club before going on a series of loans to Birmingham, WHU, Rostov, and… Blackburn. Tottenham later did the same trick with Adebayor.
- Arsenal four times as likely to get negative media reports as Liverpool or Chelsea
- Let us just enjoy things a bit more instead of moaning and wishing the worst on others
- Why are the media so critical of Arsenal? How the habit developed over time.
- Arsenal Youngsters in South Africa for the under 19 International Tournament