Suddenly we are told football news is fake. Did anyone not already know?



By Tony Attwood

There is an extraordinary story in the Athletic today headlined “Fake Man United news: Tracking down the people making thousands out of fictitious stories.”

What is strange is that it takes the notion that vast numbers of stories each day about player transfers are just made up by people who run websites with advertisements on them… and then suggests we hadn’t realised.

Indeed we are told that these fake stories bring in readers and then the readers click on the adverts so the fake news story inventors make money,   (For example, three weeks before the summer window closed in 2019 the media had tipped 84 players to be coming Arsenal’s way, and the number kept growing).  That season wsa tyypical, and the percentage of stories that turn out to be true are normally between 2% and 3%.

Except there is one difference: the story in the Athletic focuses almost totally on privately run blogs (like this one, only we don’t feature because we don’t invent such tales.    We include the national newspapers and major online news outlets too, because they are guilty of spreading these nonsense tales.)

So why does the Athletic not complete the story by making it clear that many national news outlets such as the Daily Mirror, the Express and the like, run these stories on their websites day after day?

If you have a subscription to the Athletic it is worth looking at the piece (I wouldn’t say worth reading it all) just to explore the extraordinary naivety of the publication in suggesting that this is news, and that readers might not know, and that the part played in the tale by the national media can be ignored.

But if you want to get an Arsenal related flavour of this, as I write on the morning (UK time) of 7 February 2024) the lead Arsenal stories on NewsNow are

Arteta wants a midfielder with 10 goals and 10 assists at Arsenal this summer CaughtOffside.  This tells us that “According to Dean Jones at Give Me Sport (h/t Fichajes), the Spaniard [Arteta] wants to sign Leicester’s highly-rated midfielder, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall.”

‘Talks ongoing’: Arsenal in negotiation to get new deal done for in-demand winger – Romano Sports View.   Which tells us that “Arsenal in negotiation to get new deal done for Amario Cozier-Duberry”

Exclusive: Arsenal entering race to sign Everton star Football Insider “Arsenal entering race for Everton star Amadou Onana.”

So there is one question as to why the Athletic thinks this is news. But there is another point: why is the process of publishing such nonsense successful?  

Answering questions like that involves a certain amount of supposition and guesswork, but one credible answer has to be that it is because so much of the football news run by broadcasters and by the media is not directly attuned to the feelings and interests of the fans.

This article by the Athletic is a perfect example of that – we all know there are thousands of fake transfer stories every day, and anyone who glances at Untold Arsenal each summer will know that Arsenal are generally tipped to be signing over 100 players through the summer window.   So why is that news?

But more to this running of gibberish transfer rumours than that.   Large numbers of fans are interested in what appears to be the curious behaviour of referees, and most of the media won’t cover that story at all.   Instead the media run with the notion that clubs could be buying top players but are inept, buying the wrong players and failing to get the right players, which these clever journalists would buy, if only they had a proper job.

Meanwhile vast numbers of stories suggest that managers should be sacked or are about to be sacked.  My favourite of those was

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta tipped to be first Premier League manager sacked next season

That was published in June 2022 in the Express.    You might recall that in 2022/23 Arsenal came second.

The fact is that the media feeds on invented transfer tales and nonsense predictions becuase it costs nothing to write them, and because there is an agreement between the mass media not to focus on other issues such as why PGMO is a secret organisation, and why the number of referees is so limited.   

Nor will they focus on factual stories such as how Chelsea got 77 yellow cards in the whole of last season and this season have got 73 with 15 more games yet to be played.

Or why the Manchester City enquiry is still ongoing.  Or on a more positive note how Arsenal moved from being the most yellow-carded team in 2019/20 to the 18th most carded team by 2022/23, cutting their cards by 40%. 

Or how this year they look like being the least yellow carded team of all, currently running at just on half the number of cards Chelsea have.   Now that would make an interesting story.  Why is no one running that?


12 Replies to “Suddenly we are told football news is fake. Did anyone not already know?”

  1. There are two reasons the media don’t run the stories you suggest they might.

    The first is that it would involve thinking, investigation and intelligence. The second is that it would involve honesty and integrity.

    I’d respectfully suggest that football “journalists” possess none of the requisite traits for such an approach….although why I have used the word “respectfully”, I have no idea! They actually deserve disdain rather than even a modicum of respect.

  2. Learn how to read, learn how to think, then this kind of fiction can’t reach you.

  3. In pro wrestling language, I always regard football coverage in the mainstream media as ‘kayfabe’ football, with most supporters behaving like ‘marks’!

    ‘Smart fans’ would include us readers and contributors to Untold Arsenal, plus a smattering of footballisfixed – their email newsletters are very insightful.

    On a side note, I see John ‘50% away wins’ Brooks has been assigned Man City vs Everton this Saturday (he also did the reverse fixture).

    Craig Pawson is doing West Ham vs Arsenal on Sunday, a ref with more home wins than away.

    Tim Robinson is at Anfield – whose results are the most ‘balanced’…

  4. I am not sure if you are saying that what you deescribe as this kind of fiction should not reach us, but if so, I would disagree. I think it is really important to see what the media is doing in the world of football. One should, in my view, always be aware of propaganda, in order to ensure one doesn’t get sucked into it.

  5. I suspect if someone could come up with a piece of software that could gather news on a club while taking out everything that related to transfer speculation everyone would use it. Of course the lists of news items it produced would be pretty short.

  6. A good idea though Jod. I can’t write the software, but I could try and take all the news stories at just one moment, and see how many are left with the transfers taken out – especially at a moment like this when we are around five months away from a window.

  7. I equate legacy media as old fashioned fishermen standing up in a small boat and casting their nets as wide as they can to see if they have caught anything. Then they can proudly claim to have “exclusively” reported the transfer of one of the many “fish” caught in their net.

  8. Perhaps PGMOL have had attention drawn to Arsenal’s low yellow card total? This might explain Taylor waving 6 cards at our players in the Liverpool match.

    The majority were awarded out of sight of the cameras, so no explanation offered. Noted Ben White’s for delaying a free-kick waiting for two Liverpool players to retreat to a suitable distance.

    We may find that this becomes the norm in remaining matches, like when Xhaka was frequently booked for his first tackle.

  9. Thank God the internet did not exist when that greatest of all transfer deals was pulled off back in the day , and all for the price of 1 Million Pounds !
    The deal I am referring to is selling Clive Allen for the same price we bought him , and bringing in Kenny Sansom , the then England left back .
    And how many 1st Division games did Clive Allen play for Arsenal ?
    None !
    Was our then manager a visionary ?

  10. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on how funds are calculated to be paid due to the number of clicks on a website. Is it purely the number of clicks or is there a quantative measure such as time spent on a website?

    I reckon that I am pretty average in my football viewing habits in that I look through news aggregators to see if there is something interesting. Over time, I have learned to avoid articles with headlines written incredibly vaguely. In some ways it is a game for me as I try to predict what the article will be before clicking on it, much like I, when watching a match, try to predict the next two passes as we knock the ball around.

  11. GoingGoing – most websites (as far as I know) don’t get paid on a click basis as such. The income comes from going onto the website and then seeing an advert that interests you, and then clicking on that.
    So the headline writer looks to write a headline that will get you interested in picking up the article from a news accumulator service, and then seeing an advert placed around the article and clicking on that.
    The income per advertisement is not great, which is why websites try to think of all sorts of fancy headlines to try and get you onto the website in the first place – they are not necessarily interested in you reading what they have to say. Indeed I have had it said to me that the more dull and boring and bland the opening of the article the more likely it is that the reader will hit a commercial link!!!

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