By Tony Attwood
During the last couple of days a friend of mine has received messages on her Facebook page telling her that
- Mrs Trump has filed divorce papers against President Elect Mr Trump
- Facebook is starting to charge everyone who has fewer than 10 friends, from midnight
- Stephen Fry has died
- The queen hasn’t been ill but was accidentally shot by one of her security guards
Such ravings show the world at large catching up with football journalists and bloggettas who for several years now have daily been making up stories about football transfers, bust ups between players and managers, while supporters get so angry they send Twitter into meltdown (as evidenced by five comments).
In such a world, the real issues of the day are often ignored. On the world front, climate change, the fact that all IT systems can be hacked, total and absolute surveillance of the population of the UK under the Investigatory Powers Act, the end of the era of free trade… these and many other rather important stories are ignored.
It is the same in football, and it was indeed incredibly easy for us to produce a list of 20 things that are seriously wrong with the game from child sex abuse onwards in a recent article.
What was not expected however was the torrent of abuse that was received in response to that article (which we didn’t publish). It seems an attempt to report the hard news really does upset some people.
And perhaps the anger came because despite there being so much real stuff to talk about in football, for years journalists and bloggers have spent their time primarily making up trivia. And of course there is nothing wrong with fiction, so long as it is indicated as fiction. For example, the author of our summaries of transfer nonsense is named Sir Hardly Anyone. I think that is a bit of a clue.
But making up stories and passing them off as true has been the staple diet of football writers for years. And now it seems the rest of journalism, and indeed lots of people on Facebook and Twitter have seen football journalism not as a dire warning of what happens when newspapers allow their writers to make stuff up as they go along, but as a blueprint for the future. Let’s all make things up and pretend they are real.
However last year something else happened, as the general perception of what would happen got totally out of kilter with what actually did happen.
In August 2015 the odds on Leicester winning the league were 5000 to 1. In December 2015 in the UK 23% of the population thought a vote to leave the EU was likely in the next year, while 8% thought it likely that Cameron (the Prime Minister of the day although you may be forgiven for having forgotten him) would resign in 2016, and 7% thought that Mr Trump would become President of the USA.
I don’t think anyone did a survey of whether people thought terror outrages in Nice, Brussels and Orlando would happen, but probably they were not expected either.
This is an interesting contradiction. Journalists now are given total freedom to write anything they like and display it as the truth, and yet still they can’t guess what is going to happen. So although media owners and politicians looked at the new model of making up the news as a cheap way of making money, and thus started to adopt it, they still couldn’t get any predictions right.
In short, reasoned debate based around facts and evidence which had long been hard to find in football reporting, has now been abandoned in all other forms of reporting in most newspapers.
The only question left is this: are we now entering the new age of darkness? Football in England has, courtesy of its regular courting of the disgraceful Fifa and Uefa by the inept FA, and by the media’s long term refusal to challenge the appallingly secretive PGMO, has been living in the dark for years now while being avidly supported by journalists who know an easy life when they see it.
Indeed contrary to Bob Dylan’s claim that “It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there” we’ve been bungling around in the pitch black for so long we don’t even realise it any more.
What is interesting for me is that the more I write about this (be it by commentating on how bad being negative is, by noting how previously good journalists have become corrupted by the desire to knock through misleading lines or by pointing out how many things are wrong with football), the more I get very long tirades sent to me (sadly mostly from non-existent email addresses) telling me that I should not be expressing these views.
This is interesting I feel, because anyone who wants to ignore Untold can readily do so. Those who want an alternative approach to football are spoilt for choice. But still these people are telling me, day after day, that I should NOT be expressing these views. One of the fundamentals of a democratic society – freedom of speech – is itself being cited as something to be removed.
There is no doubt that the notion so beloved by some correspondents to this site, that all one needs is the evidence of one’s own eyes has spread to the mainstream. When the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP said, last June, that “Britain has had enough of experts” he not only decried the work of people who gather and use evidence, he also attacked the motives of experts.
And that raises the point, if we are not going to trust experts who have devoted a lot of time to studying the facts and analysing the data, then we are lost in a sea of stories – rather like the ceaseless transfer rumours, but on a much larger scale.
As US anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter has said, “The simpler past seems more attractive than today’s complex reality, and so people vote thanks to inchoate frustrations. They choose simplicity and locality over complexity; identity over internationalism.”
The same in football. The two championships of George Graham are remembered – as most certainly they should be, particularly 1991 in which the club had two points deducted and still won by seven points. What is forgotten is that two years later is forgotten; the season when we scored the lowest number of goals in the top division and came 10th.
As the UK looks at the current state of newspaper reporting of football and sees it not as a dire warning of how quickly proper analysis of reality can vanish, but as a blueprint for the way journalism can be done on the cheap, so we increasingly need to challenge the stories we are given and try and deliver an alternative vision, no matter how much the lovers of the fantasy world created by post-truth reporting might deride what we are trying to do.
It is, I think, a rather important battle.
Untold Arsenal: The curse of time wasting
New from the Arsenal History Society – all the player histories indexed. The AHS player histories tend to be more detailed than those on the official Arsenal site – especially for players from the early part of Arsenal’s history. Now we are undertaking the huge task of indexing the main articles. Players with surnames A to K have been linked to their main articles and we are continuing the task day by day.