By Tony Attwood
Listening to TalkSport’s commentary on the Manchester City game at the weekend I was struck, not for the first time, by a very simple point. It was the failure of the commentators to ask “why?”
The particular situation was the Kyle Walker push on Sterling and the failure of the referee to take action. We know why Walker did the pushing, but why the referee failed to act, that was not asked at all.
Now it is true that occasionally the “why?” question is asked of a pundit, or by a pundit, but usually such a question is met with shakes of the head (particularly on Sky Sports whose punditary – the newly invented collective noun for a number of pundits gathered together in the same place (a punditarium) at the same time talking rubbish) and an admission that the pundit doesn’t know. The implication of this is not because the pundit is stupid but rather because the situation is so odd, that no one can know.
The process was used by Paul Merson and co on Sky when asking why Hull had appointed a non-English manager when there were plenty of English managers out there. Asking “why?” and suggesting no one knows in turn suggests that the people involved are idiots and that it is obvious that an English manager should have been appointed. The examination of evidence in terms of the success of English managers in the Premier League was not examined. The implication is that the Sky punditary are intelligent, and everyone who disagrees is an idiot.
Yet asking “why?” and finding proper answers is at the heart of our civilisation, and to my mind quite rightly so. The answers are not always clear, but that is part of the issue. Asking “why?” (and not just answering by a sad shake of the head) is part of learning and discovery. If we never asked, “Why is this happening?” we would have no science, no technology, no medicine, no civilisation.
Why is the climate changing? Why did so many people vote for Trump? Why did quite a few people in areas of low immigration and where the local economy is very dependent on work provided by European companies, vote to leave the EU? Why has fake news become so prevalent on the internet and in the mass media? Why do referees get it so wrong so often? Why do people who clearly reject the whole notion of evidence based analysis keep writing to Untold and telling us we are idiots?
Of course some “why” questions are more important than others, some can be quite readily answered, some take a lot of research to unravel, but generally speaking asking and then trying to answer the “why” questions is at the heart of our civilisation. Obviously when Paul Merson and Phil Thompson ask “why” and then shake their heads in despair, we don’t get very far, but when there is a serious intent to answer which goes beyond the implication that those involved are idiots, then progress begins.
I am not sure why football commentary has so resolutely turned its back on “why?”, but that question in itself is of interest.
It is not that football is more complex than say, nuclear physics or Britain’s weather and understanding the answers to various “why?” questions would be illuminating.
For example, why does Mr Wenger place a particular emphasis on buying young players and developing them at the club? The answer is possibly because he feels he can nurture the players’ skills and talents in a particular way to get them to play the way he wants. Also it saves the club money in terms of large transfer fees, and helps find Arsenal players who qualify under the “home grown” rule – an area in which other clubs struggle. Finally, it is clearly often the case that players the club would like to buy either don’t want to come to the club or are not allowed to leave their existing club, so having youngsters is helpful in that regard. And during the times of Arsenal’s austerity which coincided with the rise of unparalleled wealth for clubs like Chelsea, Man C and Barcelona, it allowed Arsenal to sell players for often ludicrously high prices.
Or to try another one: why does the PGMO have so very few referees at its disposal and operate in secret? We might also ask who owns PGMOB Ltd – who are the key shareholders? (Incidentally, the Wiki entry for PGMO has changed since I last looked and is more reflective of the controversy around the company. Worth having a look before someone in PGMO gets in and wipes it again.)
Why questions can be serious and trivial. For example why did a few people criticise the new banner at the Emirates with pictures of Alexis’ job call this “beyond embarrassing”. I didn’t feel embarrassed by it, nor was I beyond embarrassment. Why did the the media pick up on this and describe it in the usual “Twitter meltdown” mode?
These are all interesting questions, and just to round it up, here is a new one I would like to have answered just at the moment.
Why did the Lewisham’s mayor and cabinet claim that a £2m Sport England “pledge” had been made several years ago to help the redevelopment of Millwall’s ground (which they wanted for compulsory purchase) when no such funding agreement exists and no application for a funding agreement is in process? I’m certainly not a Millwall fan but I defend every club’s right to exist and not be forced out of its ground through lies and corruption. I really would like the answer to that one.
Some recent snippets
- Trump, Piers Morgan, Caligula, post-truth football, post-Wenger Arsenal.
- Arsenal – Burnley: The long road to the upper corner
- Steve Bould’s managerial career begins with a victory.
- Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek #15 complete with video evidence
- If TV football audiences really are in terminal decline, as the figures suggest, then what?
From the History Society
- Arsenal in the summer: the overseas tour of 1937
- Arsenal players 1936/7, Arsenal crowds in the 30s, and comparisons with earlier years
- April / May 1937: Arsenal slip back and Man City triumph – for the moment
- The Index of articles about Arsenal players throughout history: A to K L to Z
The picture above is of The Untold Arsenal Banner is on permanent display inside the Emirates Stadium