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How the media use fake evidence to attack clubs over crowd figures

By Tony Attwood

I know I know.  I have bored you stupid with talk about evidence.  The huge amount of evidence we have gathered year after year to show that the level of errors made by PL referees is so ludicrously high that at times the PGMO might as well employ a computer to give out decisions at random – knowing that this way at least 50% of them were likely to be correct.

Of course those who dislike evidence turn this notion of collecting data and looking at it to draw conclusions a “conspiracy theory” apparently without knowing what one of those is, or just how much data we’ve collected over the years.

But we go on and on and on and on and …. well, you know, eternally talking about evidence.

So when the Daily Telegraph, which represents the “no evidence but with long words” approach to football reporting says “Regular watchers of Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday programme will be well-versed in [Paul] Merson’s particular brand of forthright opinion seemingly based on absolutely no evidence or research,” it is worth taking note.  Have they suddenly left opinion based journalism and moved over to our way of thinking?  Have we won the debate????

Merson had been regularly laughed at for his wild rant against the appointment of Marco Silva as manager of Hull, and now at Watford.  It was similar to Tony Adams approach to the appointment of a Mr Wenger some years ago when he said, “He’s French, what does he know about English football?”

Of course Merson and Adams are not alone with their xenophobia.  Phil Thompson said of Silva,  “It’s astonishing that they have plumped for someone like this, when there are a lot of people out there who know the Premier League. He’s not got a clue. It’s a slap in the face for British coaches.”

Merson is well known as a man who rates his ability to read the minds of others very clearly, telling us what they are thinking, and how false their thinking in.  True, he also has occasionally laughed at his own ineptitude as a manager, but the worship of opinion against evidence remains the dominant theme on Sky, and in most papers.

In the UK, although racism and discrimination against someone because of their nationality are both illegal, the expression of the notion that foreigners are stupid and cannot understand the English or British way is not deemed illegal (and our authorities are proving very slow to act against landlords and business people who are openly discriminate against “Europeans”) and so the xenophobia continues and grows, endlessly supported by Sky (amusingly owned by a foreigner).

Of course many before me have pointed out that no Englishman has ever won the Premier League – an interesting statistic in itself.  But the Telegraph’s turn towards evidence, even if it is just in one article, is welcome.  As is the comment, “Merson and others’ ongoing prejudice towards foreign players and managers matters at a time when xenophobia in this country is on the rise. Giving pundits a platform to spout this sort of drivel without being challenged reinforces the idea that it is fine to overlook facts and reality as long as you shout loudly enough.”

But this was not the only statistical and evidence based piece this past week, for the Guardian too took up the theme saying, “Football fans attach emotional significance to how many people turn up to watch their team play. We feel pride when our club packs out our home stands or takes a boisterous army on the road and we delight in mocking our rivals when clusters of empty seats punctuate their sections.”

The article then talks about the way American attendance figures and how they are manipulated noting that Major League Soccer promotes itself as “the world’s sixth most popular league based on a deeply flawed comparison to global averages.”

Now I am not sure that attendance figures are actually that important when compared with the growth in the UK of the habit of refusing jobs to “Europeans” but the Guardian, which is generally quite a liberal paper, certainly put a lot of effort into gathering data from the US to show that this “crime” of manipulating crowd figures is rampant in that country.

And this is where things get very worrying.

The decline from the high and mighty quoting of the manipulation of the figures starts with the statement, “Most fans in the US seem unfazed about clubs lying to them about attendance, figures,” without giving any evidence for that assertion.   But it rolls off the page, and somehow I guess many readers just accept that wild generalisation about American sports fans  as a fact, since the previous statement seemed to be fact based.

From here they go on to assert that “‘Everybody else does it,’ is a typical excuse for a practice that may benefit a club if those fake numbers succeed in attracting income to invest in better players, better facilities and, presumably, higher bonuses and salaries for the executives peddling such falsities. Perhaps American fans have merely become desensitised to blatant distortions. After all, the White House press secretary blethered on about a record audience for the inauguration of Donald Trump.”

But accompanying all this is a picture of the crowd at the Emirates.  I am reproducing it below in the hope that the copyright owner doesn’t sue me, on the grounds that this is the evidence I need to illustrate the perfidious approach of the Guardian’s article.

Another full house at the Emirates.
 Another full house at the Emirates. 

Yes that is the caption below: “Another full house at the Emirates”.  The suggestion is clear: Arsenal lies to its fans and the media but the ever alert media knows a crook when it sees one.

Now just look at the crowd.  I can see people reading (probably the programme), people turning to talk to each other, people looking off to one side, some standing some sitting.  Of course I talk to those next to me during games – but I do it while still looking at the pitch.  No, this looks a lot more like pre-match or half time to me.

Fake illustration to make a fake point with a fake headline?  I rather think so.  And not for the first time – you’ll maybe remember the picture the Telegraph ran taken from a match in the Emirates Cup in which Arsenal were not even playing, to illustrate the decline in attendances at the Ems.

The point is that there is a very minor issue over crowd numbers: do you quote the number of tickets sold  or the number of people who actually turn up?  Arsenal decided to stop the whole thing and quote neither some time ago.  The newspapers do quote crowd figures – but they don’t tell us the source.  Which places the problem back with… the newspapers – one of which is complaining about fake news.

And then it gets murkier because the newspaper starts quoting police figures for crowd size.   “Greater Manchester Police records revealed the average crowd at Old Trafford during the 2012-13 season was almost 10,000 lower than Manchester United’s figure; Celtic’s publicised attendance of 49,428 for a league game against Ross County in December 2012 was more than 20,000 higher than the figure reported to Strathclyde Police for crowd management purposes; and Rangers’ meeting with Queen’s Park in October 2012 showed a discrepancy of almost 15,000.”

And that raises the question: how do the police know?   I only have one contact in the constabulary and she told me that the numbers given by the police were “estimates”.  Maybe she’s wrong.  Maybe there is a head counting organisation within the Met.  Maybe they have clever software.

But maybe beyond everything the media should not start pretending an interest in accuracy, while at the same time using wholly inaccurate data, evidence and supporting pictures.

When it comes to football and the media, you can be sure of one thing.  You are being conned.

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21 comments to How the media use fake evidence to attack clubs over crowd figures

  • jw1

    Over here (US)?
    No one cares about attendance figures.
    Television ratings though? That’s how advertising rates are determined.

    jw1

  • Nitram

    So the whole point of the article is to have yet another pop at Arsenal?

  • nicky

    @jw1,
    You are so right.
    It all depends o ratings.
    From spurious news items to the most outrageous soaps, ratings are sacrosanct. 😉

  • Flares

    Phil Thompson is only ahead of Merson in the halfwit league on goal difference; I’ve always had the impression not a single one of the other pundits take him seriously and he’s kept around for rudimentary comic relief – a doddering old fool to be scoffed at ad infinitum.

    The appointment of Woy Hodgson at Liverpool – “the biggest job in club football” said Hodgson, as if Real Madrid were some plodding pub team – was a glittering opportunity for a whopper like Thompson to expose his thinly-veiled xenophobia to the world:

    “After having foreign managers in Gérard Houllier and Rafa Benítez, it seems there was a thought process of going back to British. The club needs a steadying influence and Roy will provide that. He’s done a fantastic job at Fulham and has a wealth of experience having managed all over Europe. With a new boss and new owners it really would be the dawn of a new era.”

    Good on you, Thommo. Standing up for the great British manager. Of course, six months later Thompson was spouting this guff:

    “Roy has got some things fundamentally wrong with tactics and personnel, particularly away from home. The truth is we have not seen one fantastic performance from Liverpool all season. And we have seen some abject ones.

    We are wallowing in mediocrity and the owners, who to their credit have taken their time and listened to lots of people to try and grow to understand the club, must surely know this is not what Liverpool FC is all about. Quite the opposite.”

    Obviously the more intellectually astute amongst us knew very well at the time that this was going to be a disaster, despite all the chirpy positivity coming out of Anfield. Not so Thommo, who evidently thought this was the beginning of a shiny new age. Oops.

  • Jammy J

    I absolutely love it when Merson is exposed for the charlatan that he is. Arguably one of the worst pundits to have ever made an appearance on TV (not that that’s saying much).

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Girl : (to god) I don’t want to marry. I am educated, independent and self sufficient. I don’t need a husband. But my parents are asking me to marry. What to do?

    God replied : You are my finest creation and undoubtedly will achieve many great things. But some things, inevitably, will not go the way you want. Worst, some things will fail. Whom will you blame?
    Yourself?
    No!

    You need a husband!

  • colario

    Good one,BG. Just what the doctor ordered.

    It is going on my face book page.

  • momma

    Another interesting groundbreaking piece of journalism as an act of love. The sheer genius of it all is only matched by the global response. Why isn’t Tony Atwood on TV? Why hasn’t Tony Atwood won a Purlitzer? Or Brickfields a Perrier? Life is so unfair.

  • Mike T

    Watching the Arsenal game on Sunday it was abundantly clear that the game was not played in front of anywhere near a full house. To deny that fact would be just plain stupid. That said the numbers watching was still significant

    The premier regulations state that clubs have to submit on Form L39 details of attendances. That form requires two figures. First the number of tickets sold and secondly the number in attendance. To suggest the Met are guessing the numbers is simply just not the case

  • Mike T

    Apoliythe rule is L39the form is form 11

  • Nitram

    Mike T

    “Watching the Arsenal game on Sunday it was abundantly clear that the game was not played in front of anywhere near a full house. To deny that fact would be just plain stupid”

    Why even say that?

    Who is denying that?

    Everybody knows Arsenals official attendance figures are ‘tickets sold’ and not bums on seats. Jeez, it’s been in the media often enough.

    The point is, all clubs have empty seats at games, including Man Utd, who have lots of them, but none get the ridicule we get. We never get the SKY cameras panning round the upper tiers of old Trafford on a slow day do we ?

    Why is it always us that take the brunt of the derision?

    Can you explain to me, given the generally low attendances across the board for the last round of the Carabao Cup, it was Arsenal that were specifically highlighted in the media, given many Clubs, Man Utd and Spurs included, had far worse % attendances compared to there Stadiums capacities, than we did?

    Can you explain to me why it is a photo of the Emirates that is used to support this news item given the vast amount of options they had ?

    Can you explain why they’ve used an obviously misrepresentative photo, ie taken pre kick off or at HT ? It can only be to create yet more negativity towards our club.

    So although Tonys headline is general:

    ‘How the media use fake evidence to attack clubs over crowd figures’

    I’m more bothered as to why it is us, yet again, that faces the brunt of the attack.

  • Mike T

    Nitram

    Sorry but Tony clearly says the picture is used to make a fake point. The point the paper was making is clear yet Tony is challenging the suggestion that crowds at Arsenal are not being as reported.
    I had to smile about your comment about TV cameras panning around Old Trafford well dare I suggest that you are being over sensitive for on numerous occasions that’s just what they do and if there really was an issue At OT why are they increasing capacity even further?
    The issue lies more in the fact that few clubs force season ticket holders to have to buy tickets for non league games which is what happens at Man Utd and indeed Arsenal .

  • Menace

    ‘force season ticket holders to buy….’ Sorry Mike T but I have never been forced to buy anything by Arsenal. The league cup games are not included in the season ticket. The FA cup & Europa are include initially (& refunded if unsuccessful).

  • Mike T

    Menace

    Really? My understanding is that if you buy a season ticket at Arsenal you also pay for a number of games . Ok no one forces you to buy a season ticket in the first place and yes I am aware that the league cup isn’t included but unlike most PL clubs you have to pay for games in advance not knowing who the opposition will be..If I don’t want to go to a game at Chelsea for say a CL or an FA cup game then quite simply I don’t buy
    Meanwhile at Man Utd once you have a season ticket you are obliged to buy tickets for all first team games
    That all goes back to the issue of reporting the numbers who actually attend against tickets sold.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    How to achieve peace of mind.Not sure of its origins .Found it among my old stuff.

    Principles Of Peace Of Mind

    Do Not Interfere In Other’s Business Unless Asked
    Forgive and Forget
    Do Not Crave Recognition
    Do Not Succumb To Envy And Jealousy
    Change Yourself According To The Environment
    Endure What Cannot Be Cured
    Do Not Bite More Than You Can Chew
    Meditate Regularly
    Never Leave The Mind Vacant
    Do Not Procrastinate and Never Regret.

  • Jammy J

    Mike T – All you did was shimmy around Nitrams questions, without actually answering them, and then fired one back of your own, as if that question negates what he was saying.

  • Mike T

    JammyJ

    The answer to those questions best be asked elsewhere although it’s pretty obvious many on here think the press single out Arsenal .The irony is if you ask supporters at most other clubs they too think their club is the one that is singled out.
    For quite a long period Arsenal have had an easy ride. The negative press most clubs receive, and I include Chelsea, is justified.The reality probably is that for many years Arsenal were the model club where most issues were kept in house or didn’t actually exist. That very much is the past yours is now a club divided at many levels and by virtue of those divisions Arsenal have become fair game
    You have Kroenke and Usmanov with their on going spat, which seems to be intensifying, you have an increasing number of supporters openly moaning about Kroenke,and Gazidis , you have supporters, maybe not equally divided, but a significant number are now anti Wenger where your own fans TV is a major outlet of that division.On top of that you have forums like Le Grove who is extremely popular and who are far from happy with matters Arsenal
    As for exArsenal players now turned pundit it’s easy to dismiss then as being poor but the question really is why so many of them are less than complimentary regarding the Arsenal of today?
    I find it telling that so many are negative yet ex players elsewhere don’t continually speak in such a way about their ex employers.

    Turning to the Caribo cup and the reporting of attendances Utd’s was the biggest in the competition but to say there weren’t articles about Spurs is just not right.
    Nitram says that Arsenal’s official attendance figures are based on ticket sale and yet Tony says Arsenal don’t publish the figures so which is it?

  • Nitram

    Mike T

    “For quite a long period Arsenal have had an easy ride”

    If you truly believe that then you lack the intelligence I gave you credit for.

    “…..That very much is the past yours is now a club divided at many levels and by virtue of those divisions Arsenal have become fair game”

    But that is the point, it is completely the other way round. It is the constant derision in the media that has turned the fans against the club.

    If you believe what you’ve written then I’m sorry but you have seriously lost the plot.

  • Nitram

    Mike T

    Look, I don’t want to just keep going back and forth with this. We see this from polar opposites.

    I just cant see were you are coming from at all, and you me it seems. Perhaps you think I’ve lost the plot also.

    Maybe it’s best to agree to disagree.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Mike T, I think most ex-Arsenal players who became pundit were send away by Wenger at some point in their career. And I think they don’t like Wenger for that and will maybe want to have a late dig at Wenger and thus attack Arsenal in order to settle the bill they seem to have with Wenger.
    As for Arsenal having an easy ride… I think just 3 years after the invincible title the media started counting how long we didn’t won anything….and then focussing on the PL in particular.

  • Mike T

    Nitram

    I agree fully with you when you suggest that the press sway supporters opinions but the press have not played any part of the clear issues between Kroenke and Usmanov.

    My club Chelsea as I point out has been the subject of massive and in the main that negative purée has been justified yet the supporters haven’t turned against the club.

    I don’t think you have lost the plot, far from it debate is healthy and as you say at the end of the day it’s always best to agree to disagree.

    Walter

    Ultimately when a manager has been around as long as Wenger has he will have to let players go and yes he needed the Arsenal career of Merson but two of his main critics Henry and Adams didn’t leave in unpleasant circumstances.

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