By Tony Attwood
From time to time we get comments at Untold that the site’s operators in general (or more often, me in particular) are too smug and self-satisfied, endlessly talking up Untold as a crusader that gets things done.
That’s not how I see Untold (not surprisingly), but I do find that I like to put a historical context on the issues that Untold highlights, and since we have been operating for getting on for nine years, with over 6,600 articles published, there is quite a bit of history to be contextualised.
Of course we don’t have the resources or the clout of the mainstream media. We can’t put undercover reporters in to tap up the England manager, and get revealing in-depth interviews with insiders who will point the finger.
And of course the mainstream media won’t ever credit us with anything because we are endlessly calling them out for being complicit in not revealing all that is wrong with football in England.
All we can do is study the facts and draw conclusions. And then, yes I fully admit it, when we spot the media starting to consider seriously ideas that we have been propagating for years, I do a spot of crowing. After all, if I don’t, who will?
So if we see Fat Sam get his comeuppance I like to point out that we (almost alone) kept mentioning his previous misdemeanours, which the mainstream kept very, very quiet about until the Telegraph sent the lads round. If I spot the press moving to a view that England’s failure has nothing to do with too many foreigners in the English league but rather has everything to do with a lack of coaches, and then the media explain years later that Iceland were successful because they have so many, many more coaches per head of population than England, I do point out Untold got there first.
But some areas seem to have taken a very long time to come to the attention of the English media, not least because they have such a strong vested interest in everything being seen to be wonderful in football.
But then when someone breaks ranks, they all come along in a rush.
Walter’s article about how the Dutch FA is at last standing up to Fifa is a case in point. We have never seen the UK press take on the FA for spending tax payers money supporting Fifa – because they get so much easy coverage out of whipping up nationalism before each event and then being part of the wholesale blood letting after each event. But they are slowly picking up on the story that Fifa is heading back into the dock.
Shortly after we have had the Guardian picking up on what for it is a new theme with the headline, “Football insiders claim world game is ‘endemically corrupt’ in player transfers” and yes, I am going to do my crowing bit once again.
Jamie Jackson’s article in the paper is exactly the sort of research that is needed, and exactly the sort of thing that Untold with its minimal funding and resources can’t do.
But (and here the crowing really starts) it was in August 2012 that I wrote an introduction to the craft of the Vapour Transfer, having in previous articles explored the way that the transfer market was being manipulated by clubs.
Explored, not exposed, once again, because we don’t have the resources of the media. But I like to think we laid a bit for groundwork, drawing a comparison with the activities of companies like Microsoft and Apple, with their pre-announcements of products that never appeared, and which were announced in order to make life difficult for the opposition by leading them in the wrong direction, stealing their thunder, or just causing mischief.
My point in that article was that the three types of Vapour Transfer that I had found suggested not just that the transfer industry was bent, but that the media and the FA knew all about it but were keeping quiet.
It was a process that the judge investigating the Microsoft and Apple case said was “a practice that is deceitful on its face and everybody in the business community knows it.”
And yet it was a practice that seemed to be at the heart of football transfers, and no one has been writing about it, at least until now.
Indeed exactly the opposite was happening, for the media liked to write about vapour transfers positively because they didn’t have to do any work, and the bloggettas liked them because it gives them their utterly crazy stories day by day. But as we pointed out way back then, most of the stories were utterly wrong. Indeed as this summer’s Transfer Index showed, the whole of the Arsenal first team were supposed to be leaving and 115 players were tipped to be joining us, with the journalists in each case seriously reporting the comings and goings.
And these stories were appearing in the national press day after day after day. Including in the Guardian.
Of course everyone the Guardian spoke to is in total denial but the Guardian is firm as to what is happening. As one of their witnesses says,
“ Any agent could give many examples when this happens. It has happened at our agency. You go to the FA and report it. They’ll just say: ‘No hard evidence, it’s all circumstantial, we can’t do anything about it – sorry’.”
After our original piece on transfers the FA was given the chance to do something when Fifa handed over power to the individual countries to handle transfers. But as Andy Evans, a lawyer and an agent told the Guardian.
“The FA refused to enter meaningful discussion with anybody on the agents’ side,” he says. “The FA was given a chance to regulate by Fifa. They had it all in their own hands: whatever systems, whatever regulations they wanted, to regulate the transfer system, the conduct of agents. And they chose to do the bare minimum and, significantly, to adopt a far less regulated system than the one previously in place.
“The FA opted to implement standard pro-forma documents and chose to absolve themselves of any real responsibility in the policing of the transfer system. They removed the entrance exam [for agents], which was a real barrier to entry with only 10% of candidates passing, and they opened it up to a £500 fee, basically saying: ‘Give us £500 and you can be a professional.’ You can’t imagine a similar system of licensing in the legal, accounting, financial services sector or any profession that values the role of the adviser.
So, there is real concern about transfers, and about the competence of the FA who saw the system as another way to plug the ever growing hole in their finances.
And now just as there has been concern about how the FA could appoint Allardyce – a man with unresolved issues in football, and just as there is talk about something being wrong in terms of transfers, and just as Fifa is being taken to court over the issue of worker conditions in relation to Qatar, now we have another of our favourite issues coming to the fore: referees.
There was a time when no one knew about PGMOL. When the only talk about referees was one in which Alan Green on BBC Radio 5 would talk about how awful their decision making was on the radio. Eventually he was told to shut up about the subject, and so by and large did.
And then Untold started reviewing referee performances and found that things were not as they should be. And for a long time we were told to shut up and not be so stupid, but because of Walter’s tenacity we kept going.
Only this February the Guardian was running an article saying that the time had come to shut up about referees and let us all just get on with enjoying the football. (“Premier League failures show it’s time to stop talking about referees”). In March the same paper was running, “Let’s talk about Manchester United, not the referee”. Then in April we had from the same source,”If you think referees can ‘ruin’ matches, perhaps you’re not watching them right”.
It’s a bit of a theme: February, March, April – each time telling us we are stupid to talk about referees. Nothing to see, turn away, no issue.
Why? Who persuaded the Guardian to make this a regular theme? It surely couldn’t be the PGMO could it?
If it was, then the PGMO didn’t get at the Telegraph (who previously had lapped up a couple of PGMO press releases and republished them as news. Because now the Telegraph is saying,
“The decision to put Anthony Taylor in charge of Liverpool and Manchester United’s Premier League showdown has been condemned, with former referees’ chief Keith Hackett branding it “grossly unfair” on him.
“Taylor, from Altrincham, Greater Manchester, was awarded the fixture for the first time on Monday, sparking a backlash from Liverpool fans angry at the appointment of a man who lives just six miles from Old Trafford.
“Although referees are banned from officiating matches involving clubs they support – Taylor is an Altrincham fan – there are no such restrictions when it comes to games which merely feature teams from their home towns.”
“Everton fans were left fuming in April when Taylor, 37, was placed in charge of their FA Cup semi-final against United…. Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was fined £8,000 in January 2014 after questioning the decision to allow Bolton referee Lee Mason to officiate his side’s 2-1 defeat at Manchester City.”
Now none of this suggests that the Telegraph is about to start taking Untold’s analyses of how referees do each week, but it does note that PGMO has in the past taken action “to avoid controversial appointments, with Leicester City supporter Kevin Friend removed from a match last season involving their title rivals Tottenham Hotspur.”
I’m not saying any of these guys is reading Untold’s series on transfers or referees or Fifa or corruption in football or anything else come to that. But I do get a feeling that slowly, very very very very slow the media is moving away from being the absolute lapdog of the FA, Fifa, Uefa, PGMO, agents and a handful of clubs, and is actually doing a little spot of investigating itself. And that, I think is rather nice.
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The Long Sleep recalls a time when professional footballers in England were inextricably tied by contract to their club and not allowed to earn more than the statutory maximum wage. It traces Arsenal’s fortunes through that era, as well as the stand taken by one man who went on a 141 day strike against his club – a strike which led to the creation of football as we know it today.
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