- The dark arts: how football is not quite what we think
- Why do two sets of fans see a match in such a different way? Part 2.
- Why football fans believe the opposition cheats.
In the survey within the Journal of the British Psychological Society in which they investigated curious beliefs that different societies hold, they looked for “explanations within each society of three natural phenomena: infectious disease, natural hazards – such as earthquakes, and naturally caused food scarcity. They then did the same thing for three ‘social phenomena’: warfare, murder and theft.”
However, we live in a culture in which uncontrolled infectious diseases, natural disasters, and food scarcity outbreaks are rare. But I would contend that the desire to explain things very simplistically in terms of undefined or ill-defined outside agencies is still there, and so we look for other situations where such explanations can be invoked.
In this regard, the media greatly aids the spread of unsubstantiated rumours and explanations by, for example, refusing to investigate such issues as continuing overtraining of young players and the subsequent “loss” of all the relevant medical records, refusing to look at referee records to see strange and unexplained patterns of results, and failing to hold those responsible for such events to account.
But at the same time, these media outlets mostly offer a daily run of transfer stories, which we know from analyses over the past four years, are normally 97% inaccurate. In short the media prefer inaccurate gibberish to investigation into facts.
In the BPS survey into the beliefs of primitive societies, that I quoted previously, “96% of the societies had supernatural explanations for disease, and 92% had supernatural explanations for natural causes of food scarcity. For natural hazards, the figure was 90%.”
I suspect that if the same analysis were carried out among football supporters we would find similar high levels of belief in corrupt or dubious practices by opposition players and referees as the reason for the failure of the club they support.
82% of the primitive societies examined in the research held supernatural explanations for murder. I suspect if we could do the survey we would find among hardcore supporters who attend almost all home matches a similar view that referees are biased against their teams.
“In other words, when a person or group of people is not obviously to blame, humans tend to infer that a supernatural being or force is,” the paper suggests. But where there is a human present, then the blame is put on the human. The Newcastle belief in Arsenal as a time-wasting team using dirty tricks to get a result, and a referee who is not seeing what Arsenal do, means the blame is put on the Arsenal players and management – whether there is any evidence of a causal link or not.
So the belief that an outside agency like the PGMO and its employees are responsible for the failure of certain clubs follows in this tradition of blaming an outside group – particularly when it is a secret group not open to investigation. And here we have the core problem because PGMO could be open if it wished to (at the moment it has not even got a website). Its referees could appear before the media and it could discuss the concerns about why some referees oversee so many home wins while others oversee so many away wins. The question then is: what on earth is making the PGMO refuse to join in the debate?
Beliefs in bias and unfairness can only be overcome by the presentation of serious facts and analyses. But this is not happening in terms of referees because, I think, English journalists are compliant in the situation. No journalists call for an investigation into PGMO because… it is easier to make up more nonsense transfer rumours.
But by ignoring major issues in football today, such as the home / away bias of different referees, the safety standards of stadia, the effectiveness of transfers, the breaking of FFP and other financial regulations, the way children are looked after in terms of their long term health and well-being, the media creates an atmosphere in which blaming others becomes natural. Because the media uses no data, the readers of the media use no data, and thus Newcastle supporters can believe that Arsenal seriously are appalling time wasters, when there is no evidence of this at all.
I recently challenged a supporter on where the evidence was to show that Arsenal players were time wasters and particularly adept at undertaking fouls that referees would ignore, and he replied, “The evidence of my own eyes.” It is a phrase that is as meaningful as supernatural explanations for disease, volcanoes, earthquakes, floods or food scarcity.
Yet this form of primitive thinking is utterly and totally unchallenged by the media today.
The only way forward is to stand up against this nonsense and call it out for what it is: a type of thinking akin to that which believed that the poor harvest in a village in the Middle Ages was caused by witchcraft, as a result of which a few innocent old women were burned alive.
- Clubs are showing signs of fighting back at journalists
- Are Arsenal really making progress, or are we starting to slip back?
- Luton 3 Arsenal 4: maybe it is time to say positive things
- Luton v Arsenal – the referee, the team, Saka and Cliff Bastin
- Luton Town – how do they play the game. The tackles, fouls and cards.