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By Sir Hardly Anyone
So proclaims the Mirror on its website today, followed by the secondary headline, “Former Arsenal star hunted by police after failing to appear in court for third time.”
It is a story that might come as a bit of a shock, and you might well want to know who the “former Arsenal star” is who is “hunted by police”.
Now the player in question is Anthony Stokes, who we are told is 35, and who was “handed a non-harassment order against his ex-girlfriend but continued to bombard her with messages.”
OK that’s a thoroughly nasty thing to do, so quite right that the police are after him, but still you might be a little puzzled by the name. Anthony Stokes. An ex-Arsenal star? The name doesn’t seem that familiar but the the Mirror is not saying “Ex-Arsenal player” but “Ex-Arsenal star”. Really? How come I can’t remember him.
And yet the Mirror is pretty certain of this “star” business since they say “Stokes was born in Ireland but joined Arsenal’s academy as a teenager, making his first-team debut in a League Cup match.”
So a debut in a League Cup match … that sounds possible – lots of Arsenal players have started in that way. But the name still doesn’t seem familiar. So time to go searching.
Yes, Stokes did indeed join Arsenal when he was 15, and he did indeed make his debut with the first team (or rather with a bunch of reserves) as a substitute in the League Cup match against Sunderland on 25 October 2005.
But… he came on in the 88th minute as a replacement for Arturo Lupoli. So with the added time awarded by the referee, that would mean he played at most five minutes for Arsenal. After that he went to Falkirk on loan and then was sold to Sunderland, followed by a varied career including playing with the wonderfully named Tractor Cultural Sports Economic Club in Iran. His longest spells after Sunderland were with Hibernian and Celtic.
But with Arsenal his career literally was five minutes – although it could have been four – I can’t find a record of how long the time added on was. And yet the Mirror proclaims in a banner headline “Ex-Arsenal star hunted by police after failing to appear in court.”
So what on earth did he do in those four or five minutes to become a star?
Well, nothing. Nothing at all. After those five minutes he left Arsenal and never returned.
But now we are told that Stokes “was expected at Hamilton Sheriff Court on Thursday for sentencing for sending offensive messages to his ex-girlfriend and her father. But he was nowhere to be seen and his defense lawyer confirmed he has ‘no explanation for his absence’ with another warrant now issued for his arrest.”
We should also add that Stokes was found guilty of sending abusive messages over a seven-month period and was given a four-year non-harassment order and apparently has failed to appear in court on at least two other occasions.
So, on the basis of that reporting from Scottish newspapers, we can perhaps build up a picture of that player. But the one thing that comes across very clearly indeed is that in no way can a teenager who played for about five minutes in a league cup game be called an “Ex-Arsenal star.”
Of course, a pedant might argue that the player was Ex-Arsenal in that he was on the club’s books, and later he played for Celtic regularly for a few years, so was then a “star” but whichever way you look at it, he was not an “Ex-Arsenal star”.
But it is perfectly clear that the Mirror is trying to link this law-breaker with Arsenal. So we might ask “why?”
One reason is that it will bring in more readership among English readers. And this notion is supported by the fact that in the Daily Record (owned by the same people who own the Mirror) the headline is “Ex-Celtic star Anthony Stokes hunted by police after failing to appear for sentencing”
So clearly the headline has been changed just to get readership, and of course that’s what headlines are for. But that does not give the headline writer an excuse to be deliberately misleading – which the Mirror’s version is.
There is little that Arsenal can do about this, but it does seem to me to be worth holding in mind that basically, all we are getting from the Mirror in relation to Arsenal is a constant stream of misleading headlines and articles presented with the sole intent of knocking the club, and giving supporters of rival clubs a laugh.
We might ask why they are doing this about Arsenal – and that’s another matter. But I do think this constant campaign by the Mirror should be regularly exposed for what it is. This is yet another in a stream of fantasies designed solely to denigrate Arsenal. And that is what the Mirror’s football reporting is about.
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