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By Tony Attwood
From the start of Untold in 2008, we have suggested that the football media in general tended to ignore certain key issues. And we also noted that by and large most football bloggers (especially those noted by journalists as “highly regarded”) tended to lay off those topics as well.
The prime “do not touch” topic was of course referees and refereeing – the reliability of the refs, the bias, and above all the refusal of the media to engage in any critical comment about PGMO whatsoever. The fact that PGMO remains a secret society that does not even have a website while engaging in the very suspicious activity of deliberately keeping the number of referees incredibly low, meaning that the same ref sees the same team over and over.
So we’ve battered away at the issue, finding multiple examples of refereeing wrong-doing, and slowly has picked up on a few of these, although still never criticizing the secrecy issue at the heart of PGMO and never ever admitting that some topics were seemingly off limits for the media. But at least VAR, and the flying to and fro of refs in relation to Saudi Arabia, have become issues, although the fact that some refs seem to be very home-team biased (and what causes this, as has been shown through repeated serious research programmes) is never mentioned.
But now we have a bit of a fight back against our campaign, for the Athletic has offered up “Football conspiracy theories: Are we in a ‘golden age’ of fan paranoia?”
And that is interesting because this is a standard “put the story down by being sarcastic” piece, and as many in the business of writing about knowledge and reality recognise, when sarcasm is used as a weapon against an argument, it means the logical debate has been lost.
Thus we have moved on from no articles appearing investigating either incompetence or corruption of refereeing. Now we have, “let’s have a laugh at the stupid supporters who think there is something wrong with refereeing”. And sarcasm usually means the writer knows he/she has a lack of evidence to support his/her point of view.
True we are still nowhere near the media seriously investigating referees, why there are so few, and why some are so home-biased – and that is a shame. (If you have not been there before see Media’s feeble attempt to explain away wins while ignoring the true research which has within it links to the research).
But now The Athletic which once did seem to be adopting a higher standard, has descended into sarcasm, such as “If you’ve followed football for any length of time, then you know that every arm of the media is out to get the club you support. You should see The Athletic’s morning meetings where we plot against the teams we most want to stitch up (all of them, obviously). Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean we aren’t trying to get Mikel Arteta banned from the touchline. Or perpetuating bias in favour of London. Or scheming for more points deductions at Everton.”
And if we have had any impact at all, then someone reading, “If you follow a certain club, from time to time you’ve been seduced by the suspicion that somethig (sic) or someone is deliberately hindering it,” will then ask the question “where is the evidence of that?”
Quoting odd comments from a Chelsea message board is not actually evidence that the majority of fans (or even a small minority) are paranoid. Although it does suggest that the Athletic is becoming ever more desperate to stop its readers from asking, why refereeing is run in such a very strange and ultra-secretive way in the Premier League. And more to the point, why the Athletic never once seeks to investigate what PGMO are up to.
The real giveaway in the piece is how quickly the article sinks into generalisations such as “supporters of the smaller clubs think the 50-50s invariably go the way of Barcelona and Real Madrid.”
Here’s the main point. That generalisation has nothing to do with whether or not there is something wrong with Spanish football. Nor does the notion that Liverpool have more 1230 kick offs after an international break than any other team that there is something wrong with the PL. But they do invite us to ask, what is going on?
“Karen Douglas is a professor of social psychology at the University of Kent. Presently, she is also the director of a project, funded by the European Research Council, which is looking into the rise and effects of conspiracy theories; why they develop, why they persist, when and how they tend to be influential. Football, she says, is prone to conspiracies because of its tribal “group-against-group type of feeling” and the strong emotional investment it encourages.”
Such a sentence in the middle of the Athletic article is only relevant if they have proven that worries about referees in the Premier League are conspiracy theories. But it is also the case that small changes to the way refereeing is organised could answer the significant questions that we have such as why Simon Hooper hands out 5.4 yellows a game Paul Tierney just 3.6. Get Tierney to ref five of your games a season, and the number of players you lose through suspensions is greatly reduced.
Nor does the article ask why Anthony Taylor has 38% of his games end in home wins while for Chris Kavanagh it is 70%. Why one in two of John Brooks games end as away wins while for Robert Jones that number is under one in ten.
And once those figures are on the table, then the biggest question of all is “Who choose which referee does which game?”
Quite why such a silly article was given space in the Athletic I’ve no idea, since some of their writing is rather good. But it is symptomatic of what is going on in football. The fact is, this combination of referees having a tendency to oversee the same sort of result game after game, while making sure the same clubs get these referees match after match, raises concerns. The situation would be so easy to fix, which makes us ask: why won’t the media notice the issue, and why won’t PGMO do anything about it?
This issue is not proof that some matches are fixed, but sorting out this issue would reassure many supporters and lend more credibility to PGMO. And more to the point, actually noticing that this is happening, and then commenting upon it, would remove a lot of doubt that exists about what PGMO is up to.
But then, the media would still be left trying to explain why they have so abjectly failed to deal with this issue for so many, many years. It makes them look as culpable as PGMO.
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