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October 2016
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Transfers, sackings, injuries… most of it is untrue, and we can’t go on like this. But what happens next?

By Tony Attwood

Head on over to Free Betting Online if you want to put money on any of these transfer rumours.”

When you think about it, it is utterly bonkers.  92 players have been put forward as either having been transferred, or are about to be transferred to Arsenal, and the club has actually bought four of them.   And yet day after day more transfer rumours are published and people lap them up.  It is as if they had seen a Marvel Comic and taken it to be a description of life in modern Britain.  

As for the players leaving – it is virtually the entire squad that someone or other is after, and it’s got to the point where Alex Oxlade Chamberlain puts in two great pre-season performances and the next thing you know – the story is Man City are buying him.  Two weeks before he was seen as so useless he needed to be offloaded quick – if anyone would have him.

In the recent articles I’ve tried to show that the evidence to hand about transfers, strikers, and last season’s results, do not show that we urgently need a top striker, just as the evidence shows that most big money transfers don’t work in the following season, and most managerial changes are a disaster.  I won’t repeat it all – you’ve heard it from me enough times, and there’s a summary here.

So a question arises.  Given that it’s not just the transfers that are nonsense, but also all the other stuff (from there being no referee problem through to myth of Arsenal’s injuries) which is also quite wrong, what on earth is going on?

Is this a deliberate proliferation of chatter in order to reduce our access to hard real information?  Or is it happening by chance – a side effect of the rise of the digital society, perhaps?   And indeed does it matter?  So a huge number of people will believe in things without any evidence because someone says so.  Does that matter?  Of course it does in the sense that some of us living in the UK feel that this is what happened with the vote to leave the EU.  And a lot of people lost a lot of money when the mortgage market collapsed and all our economies went into recession, just because people believed in the insane. 

And is the science of rational thought, of experiment, evidence and logical deduction, being pushed aside to make way for these new superstitions?  Superstitions that suggest without any evidence that we’ll have £1m a week more to spend on health services in the UK once we leave the EU.  Superstitions that suggest that buying a centre forward and getting rid of the manager will take Arsenal to the top of the league.

The notion that some people are deliberately plotting this move into superstition is one I immediately shy away from, because it takes us into the world of conspiracy theory.  Not conspiracies per se – a lot change comes about by a group of people getting together to work for change.  Votes for Women in Britain was a conspiracy.  So was the Gunpowder Plot.  So was Bletchley Park in the second world war.

But a conspiracy theory is different – it involves such a conspiracy going on at the moment to achieve some monumental change to our society.  In this case by winding up rational thought and getting us all to think irrationally.  Maybe, but I’ll choose to avoid that one for a while.

On the other hand, if this is all happening by chance, or as a result of the rise of social media or something like that, where on earth are we being taken?  Can a society as complex as ours survive in the face of such irrationality?
To try and answer my own questions I sought the help of a fellow Arsenal supporter, Dr Drew Grey, who is the Head of the History Department at the University of Northampton and who has studied the way in which newspapers present the news to their readers.
The press coverage of Arsenal (and as we have seen) other clubs appears to be so far removed from any attempt to report reality that it begs the question: is this evidence of a new world of superstition rather than rationality?
When I asked, Drew immediately pointed out that what we are seeing is nothing new.
“The 18th century press mixed up ‘news’ with gossip, political satire, and widely plagiarised each other. In the 19th papers developed and expanded to meet a new and growing reading public. Competition, especially after the 1860s drove this expansion and helped develop both investigative journalism and sensationalism. The newspapers became less and less interested in publishing the facts and more and more keen to present news as entertainment. They also sought to present news to reflect the interests and attitudes of their readership….”
“The challenge to this dominance was  first radio and then television. Both mediums offer the public news and entertainment in a more instant and 3D manner. In part the press retaliated by developing journalism and offering the public more in-depth features, Sunday specials, colour supplements, etc and high quality investigative research.
“They also increasingly  moved onto the territory of non print media. So eventually we see something like the Murdoch media empire emerge, blending all forms of media: print, TV, radio and (latterly) Internet.
“The Internet (and most crucially social media) has presented another challenge, news is almost rendered obsolete, even via the medium of television and radio when people can ‘make’ news themselves (by filming an event on a mobile phone and posting it to social media in seconds). News platforms now routinely use non-journalist created product in their rolling news programmes (see the Nice attack for example)….
“In effect what we have is a modern version of Chinese whispers. But Chinese whispers with the Internet and social media. As a result the blurred line between truth and reality is even more blurred. If a non-story can be started anywhere in the world at any time by anyone and then be picked up and given ‘authority’ by a media organisation motivated by a desire to drive readers to its site, then we are moving further and farther away from the truth (as in actualité).
“In this new world the blogger is on the same par as the news journalist, the tweeter on the same platform as the expert. Michael Gove told us during the referendum campaign that we had ‘heard too much from experts’ and the campaign itself was a triumph for misinformation, rumour and downright lies; the Trump race for the White House has followed a very similar path. We don’t trust politicians, and so we believe a non-politician when he tells us not to believe politicians. You couldn’t make it up.
“If there are no experts, no authoritative information, no facts, and no trust in our ‘leaders’ then the voice that is heard is the one that shouts loudest or the one that tells us what we want to hear. In my opinion that is why racism and prejudice is making a determined comeback in Western Europe, despite its awful history.
“In the early modern period tens of thousands of women (and men) were burned alive in Europe as witches and warlocks. In the twentieth century millions of Jews, and others considered as ‘deviant’ by the Nazis were systematically murdered because people were prepared to swallow propaganda without questioning it.
“We are gullible. We are ignorant. And the news media knows this. We prefer simple answers and binary questions to the reality that the world is a much more complicated place than that. Why should this not apply to football as much as it does to everything else?”

I think Drew’s explanation is deeply interesting, and to me these are profoundly strong points.  But what should we do?  What can we do?

There was a very curious piece on the other day which in part read like a standard attack on Arsenal with no reference to any evidence, but part way through mutated in the argument that one thing is certain; the current level of fees for players is unsustainable, and since this has become the driving force of football at the moment, football in its present form is unsustainable.

The article compared football transfers to the sub-prime mortgage market (you’ll remember that, it was the bankers fun and games which almost toppled several of the economies of the west and did bring down several banks) and it made this point.  “The player’s ability does not improve with an increase in his transfer fee and wages. An Andy Caroll will still get you 10 goals a season only.”

Eventually there will be no increase in audience figures, no more rich investors wanting to buy clubs, no more clubs that are going to reach the top in five years.  Eventually they will find out that only one team can win the league, and the bubble bursts.

Last year  around half the clubs in the Spanish top division started the season without shirt sponsors.  This year it looked for a long time like the League itself would not have a sponsor, until Santander stepped in just two weeks ago.

There is a limit to the rise in transfer fees and when it comes, clubs will be left with players for whom a year before they paid two or three times the amount they can now get for them.  It happened to house prices, it happened to bank debts, it happened to shares.  It happens.

But where does that leave the belief in all the crazy stories like the fact that Arsenal get the most injuries, that transfers buy success…  Do people suddenly wake up?  It appears from past crashes that they don’t.  And from Drew’s analysis of the media, it would seem that they will have no sudden transformation into reality.

But maybe what it does mean is that the clubs that can hold onto reality the longest (and those with the owners willing to spend the most, no matter what) will be the most successful.  Although….  but no, I will leave this for now.

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9 comments to Transfers, sackings, injuries… most of it is untrue, and we can’t go on like this. But what happens next?

  • nicky

    I sometimes wonder whether all this rubbish being published, is due to the frustrating absence of league football during the close season.
    In order to achieve circulation and/or ratings the most outrageous fiction is freely spread around.

  • Leon

    “Is this a deliberate proliferation of chatter in order to reduce our access to hard real information?”
    But where do you get “hard real information”? The .com gives next to nothing out, news outlets, agencies and blogs are mostly guessing or making it up.
    I’ve yet find a reliable source of up to date Arsenal news anywhere.
    Anyway, I’m not fussed about the rumours & gossip, it’s a bit of light relief, and only mugs take it seriously.

  • Nonny

    Excellent insight analysis once again Tony. Just like you said, the football industry will one day collapse because its reaching it’s peak where people will begin to see the disparity between what they pay and the entertainment they receive.

    Football is first and foremost for entertainment and the fact that Ozil is paid £130k p/w or Pogba paid £300k p/w will not make them less productive if they are paid 10% of those fees. Alas a point will reach when most club’s will realize they can’t sustain this model irrespective of the yearnings of their fans.

    Even if Arsenal can afford to buy Messi for £300m comfortably, I’d rather we continue our sustainable practices because in the long run, it will pay. Economic problems at Leeds, Portsmouth, Blackburn or Rangers seems not to have taught us any significant lessons.

  • Top Guns

    Of course what you fail to mention is that it has been known for some time now that Premier League clubs would have added riches due to the new TV deals…

    What a pity then that the club were the only one last summer in Europe not to sign a single outfield player…surely last summer would have been the time to buy as anyone could have predicted that fees were going to increase this summer.

    As for the limits of how far fees can go all it will take is for 1 or 2 more billionaires to enter the PL and there is no reason to suggest fees will suddenly plummet. In a capitalist society the rich only get richer. I don’t think we are anywhere near the peak of footballs wealth, and more and more people are attracted to the PL because of that wealth.

  • westwing

    Wife says Tony you worry too much about nothing. All topper clubs are in transfer too and if player like Messi come to Arsene then we can laugh together. If not we support and put button on lip.

  • Goonermikey

    Gove was completely wrong but then he was completely aware of that when he said it. Expert evidence really didn’t support his argument, that’s why he chose to try and con the public into ignoring experts and believing stuff like £360m a week would go to the NHS; or that we could have sustainable trade with closed borders without any negative financial consequences.

    The problem, as Gove (and the aaa) has so readily demonstrated for us, is that:

    a) some people prefer rhetoric to evidence (simplicity is far easier to agree with than putting in the effort to understand the complexities)
    b) it becomes increasingly difficult for many people to distinguish between the expert and the pretend expert since everybody claims that their “evidence” is the real evidence
    c) what’s worse, some people actually think an unsubstantiated statement actually constitutes evidence if it’s said loudly enough or repeated on a regular basis

    Disinformation is the real enemy

  • Pat

    The whole EU campaign was a smokescreen in my opinion, because on very few occasions were we told by anyone what the EU really is – in other words, an undemocratic rich men’s club whose main aim is to maximise profits at the expense of 99 per cent of the populations of the EU countries. An organisation intent on blocking the will of the people if it doesn’t go the way they want it to, witness Greece and Portugal.

    It wasn’t only Gove who told lies and brandished deceptions – it was almost all the politicians on the Remain and Leave side. Labour Leave, Campaign against Euro Federalism and other organisations that have a rational case against the EU never got any media time at all.

    You mention mortgages, Tony. Hardly anyone younger than forty can afford a mortgage because of the ridiculous price of housing, and the stock of council rented homes has been greatly diminished in the past thirty-five years. A lot of people would be very pleased if the price of housing went down – which it isn’t, by the way.

  • Ajay

    So long as the world tunes in every Saturday and Sunday and Tuesday and Wednesday for Pl and cl matches, and as such there are countries where the popularity is still building for the league. The tv money to be earned from broadcasting and advertising rights is like an iceberg, only we are just at the tip of it. Thus the amounts we call insane, crazy, over the top are all considered small change by these tycoons. In fact I think the PL will soon become a billionaires play ground where it would be a weekend pass time amongst themselves for a bit of banter and high stakes private betting whilst we the little people will continue to support our club out of loyalty, love for the game or for the history of the club.

  • Ben

    I used to have the habit of ifwhen the media is trying to wind me up with all the negative spins on Arsenal, I come to this site to have an understanding of their dark arts. Now after reading so long it doesnt affect me because i know what they are trying to do.