Phone hacking and football: refs and club owners.

    Untold Arsenal on Twitter  @UntoldArsenal

    By Tony Attwood

    If you live outside the UK or you are within the UK and resolutely don’t ever read a newspaper, watch TV or listen to the radio you might not know that this country is in the middle of one of its biggest political crises and scandals of all time.

    It is generally known as the “phone hacking scandal” or a phrase like that, and in brief it centres around the fact that News International owned by Rupert Murdoch employed journalists who hacked into people’s phones.  When it was discovered it was denied a lot.  The police investigated and said there was no evidence that it was more than one rogue reporter on the job.

    Since then the arrests of senior people have started, the largest selling newspaper in the UK has closed, Murdoch has actually turned up in the Commons to apologise, two of the most senior police officers in the country have resigned, links between phone hackers and the police have become ever clearer, and it has also become clear that the Prime Minister employed one of the key phone hackers himself.  Meanwhile News International company has been found by a parliamentary committee to have ‘deliberately’ tried to block a Scotland Yard criminal investigation into phone hacking, and on and on and on.

    The corruption is everywhere, and everyone’s phone from the Royal Family through to politicians and the families of murder victims was hacked.

    But there has been very little in the public view to link any of this to football.  And indeed you might say, why should it?  This is a crisis in the UK of mega proportions.   MPs might unite (sine opposition and government were all linked to the Murdochs in their attempt to get a good press and spent years eating his food and drinking his champagne ) and sweep it all away.  But maybe, just maybe, there might be some reform.  So why even link it with footballers?

    Because behind the scenes there is a list of leading figures in football who believe they were hacked by News International (the part of News Corp that specialises in phone hacking).  And this is where the problem is.  News Corp is trying to buy Sky which has the rights to broadcast Premier League football.  And other broadcasters make money or get audiences from the Premier League and are dependent upon the EPL having a good name, so they can get their interviews on TV and space fillers on the back pages.

    Yet phone-hacking started with football. Gordon Taylor, the Professional Football Association’s top dog, plus Mick McGuire his former deputy, as well as the Association’s own lawyer, Joanne Armstrong, were hacked. If a player had a problem, the News of the World tended to find out about it via the hacking these people, and the private investigator Glenn Mulcaire – who was a footballer and a leading hacker was jailed in 2007 for his work.  (That was when we thought this was all a one off).

    It is, as they say, a funny old game.  BSkyB turns footballers into stars of front and back pages.  Those stars then sell the BSkyB packages to fans. And then the News of the World (part of the same group) destroys the reputations of those stars to sell papers and allow BSkyB to build up new reputations and keep us all interested.

    And at one hell of a cost.  As Arsenal fans we might not have time for Paul Gascoigne – but here is a man with a clear mental illness which needs proper treatment, help and support, and a man who needs to be left alone to get his life together.  Yet the News Corp team took him to pieces – a man already utterly vulnerable in every way.

    Mulcaire passed on personal information to many in the newsroom at the News of the World and there are legal cases running involving Sol Campbell, Andy Gray, and (soon to happen) Sven-Göran Eriksson.

    So why are we not hearing more about this?  Is it in fact a cover up of a cover up by News Corp anxious not to devalue the brand of football?

    Probably, but there is more.  Gordon Taylor who should be acting for his clients, can’t, because he settled his own phone-hacking case out of court.  He got something like £750,000 or so it is said, and agreed in the deal never to speak about it again.  He has been bought – although to be fair, when he signed the deal he had no idea how big phone hacking at the News of the World was.

    Yet even that is not explanation enough for why we don’t hear more about phone hacking and football.  Yes we all know neither Rupert Murdoch’s company nor the police nor the politicians can be trusted  in this case, but still…

    One explanation comes from a most unlikely source.  In the midst of the troubles the Telegraph turned the whole thing into a joke story

    The Mirror did the same also went for light-hearted banter

    “You might know Glenn Mulcaire as the private investigator at the heart of the News of the World phone hacking storm.

    “However, we’ve done a bit of digging around ourselves and have unearthed this footage of AFC Wimbledon’s first ever goal, scored at Bromley in 2002 by none other than Glenn Mulcaire,

    And what a beauty it is too: a stunning left-foot volley from outside of the area.”

    Now the Telegraph and Mirror are great rivals of the News Corp papers (The Times, The Sunday Times, the News of the World, the Sun).  So why this light banter?  Could it be that because they too get page after page of cheap coverage of football from mindless stories about players and their private lives, they don’t want anything to sully the brand of the EPL?
    If one casts one’s mind back to the infamous Italian football fixing scandal one remembers that the scandal was made public by phone tapping.  Put simply the Italians bugged the mobile phones of the refs and the owners of top clubs and use the conversations to reveal what was going on.
    Since that knowledge is in the public domain and since phone hacking in the UK has become a wholesale industry involving the biggest newspaper organisation in the country, which has direct connections with the biggest broadcaster of football, surely someone somewhere would have thought, “hey we’ve just done the top man in the players union, we’ve been hacking the phones of the Royal Family, and the relatives of murder victims, why don’t we now do a few club owners and oh, I don’t know, a few referees as well?”
    The answer is, with an industry the size of phone hacking in the UK, and with the police clearly very close to the whole business and not doing their utmost to stop the illegal activity, and with the political classes employing people who have been at the heart of the affair, someone somewhere would have thought that refs and owners were fair game.
    So why didn’t they?  Or did they?  And if they did, why didn’t everyone start reporting things?
    I can’t answer this but I can guess.  It seems unlikely that News Corp would lay off the refs and club owners.  It seems unlikely that they wouldn’t find something to print there.   And yet not only did nothing appear, other papers, when linking football to phone hacking just turned it into rather childish jokes.
    I described above the Sky “build them up into superstars” and News of the World “bring them down to earth by revealing their sordid lives” routine.
    That worked for News Corp because it didn’t affect the brand.  In fact it helped the brand, because each time News Corp’s News of the World brought down a player by private life revelations, so Sky Sports could build up another player, and so fill up more minutes – just as the Telegraph, Mirror and others could fill up more pages when they picked up the stories on the cheap.
    But revealing the secrets of refs and owners is a one-off story – it has no continuity for papers and broadcasters desperate for football in England to remain the biggest of all and the cheapest of all stories.  It destroys the brand.
    Of course I can’t prove it, but the alternative (that they didn’t bother to hack into any refs’ or club owners’ mobiles) is just too odd to believe.  If they did hack those phones, and found no matching fixing, they would certainly have found some juicy private life tales – and that was what they have lived on for years and year.  But if as a matter of absolute policy they either left those two groups alone, or they found out about match fixing but then pulled the plug on the story, there is only one reason: to protect the brand.
    The trouble is, as our revelations last season confirmed, there is no brand worth protecting.

    49 Replies to “Phone hacking and football: refs and club owners.”

    1. Kudos, Tony. Great piece. To date, it’s reported that 4000 mobile phones and 5000 land phones have been hacked. And, only 150 of those hacked have been even informed. And of the 150 only a couple of names have been mentioned: Wayne Rooney’s in passing; and, most prominently as you note, Gordon Taylor’s. In yesterdays hearing, Murdoch the younger was asked about the discrepancy that most payoffs would be in the 20K range, but that Gordon Taylor’s was 700k, and shouldn’t that have raised an eyebrow around the office. Murdoch was quick to point out that ONLY 250k was actual payout and the rest of the 700k was for legal costs and so forth. Oh. Alright then. Time for my nap. The brand is surely in safe hands…

    2. p.s. and now that EPL/Scudamore have verbally committed to goal line technology for 2012-2013, nap time will be more restful than ever. (Especially if you’re an investor in the company with that game-changing contract. Perhaps it’ll be an affiliate of….oh no! so much for that restful nap &)&)*#@#%&)

    3. Brilliant work Tony. Sad thing; if there is , as we all suspect , match fixing and deliberate bias in the Prem the whole hacking thing could have revealed it and actually be a force for good.

    4. Big Rupert is watching you.
      So they have hacked the phone of the top dog of the FA.. just wondering if they have hacked the phone of the top dog of the refs…

      Talking about dogs maybe Dogface and Billy the Dog have been hacked also? 😉

    5. On the scandal itself and I must admit I don’t follow it very close but from what I hear in the media over here it looks as if the top of the pyramid (Murdoch – Brookes) are all playing the ‘wir haben es nicht gewusst-song”. (I’m practicing my German a bit for Saturday). They all claim they didn’t know anything about it. Yeah sure…

    6. If they hacked my phone they might find out that I need to pick up some bog-roll on my way home from Untold Towers… but that’s about as exciting as it gets.

    7. If some of the top referees are revealed to be victims of having their voicemail hacked, then I would say that points to a campaign to influence the refereeing of the EPL by News International.

      The problem is that if the referees are an active part of the conspiracy then why would NI want to hack their voicemail as it would gain them nothing.

    8. Apparently Billy the Dog’s mobile has been hacked. The journalist concerned studied all the messages and conversations for a month before leaving the News of the World and retreating to a tiny island in the middle of a lake in Sweden, where he met one of those women from Abba. She took him under her wing, and after two months she reports that he had at last had a five minute spell where he stopped crying.

      Progress indeed.

      But this makes me think. Maybe we ought to have an Untold Department of Misinformation. A Department that makes up a story that is quite bizarre and eccentric, but which might just perhaps be true.

      Then we write it up and propagate it day after day and just watch and see if anyone ever picked it up. I was about to say, we could do it with Adebayor to Tottenham, but bugger me if that isn’t already happening.

      The Cesc story would be a perfect one. Barca is bust so can’t afford him. Barca don’t need him since they already have a perfect mid-field (I hate to say it, but watching them that is how it looks to me). So why run the story, except to annoy?

      It is a sort of Alice in Wonderland approach to journalism….

      Speak roughly to your little boy,
      And beat him when he sneezes:
      He only does it to annoy,
      Because he knows it teases

      The chorus of that poem, if you remember it from childhood, is Wow Wow Wow Wow Wow Wow wow.

      Which seems about right. Anyone up for a department of misinformation?

    9. From the Untold Misinformation:
      “I’ve had enough with the likes of Xavi here and wish to make amends with the only other team and manager that appreciates and practices beautiful football,” he told Deportes Mundial today.

    10. @Tony – could we call it the ‘Untold Ministry of Truth’ and locate it on the 14th and a half floor of Untold Towers?

    11. Oi bob,
      I suggested the same story weeks ago, only linking it to Messi’s fear of Guardiola’s departure.

      How about Xavi to MCFC for €50 million then Cesc to Barca for €45 million, so they can afford colour photocopies again?

      Or how about any decent playmaker to MUFC? That surely takes the piss. Anyone available Chelsea will want first dibs on and no-one seems to be for sale.

    12. I’d like to have heard recordings of Phil Dowd’s phone calls the week before our game at Newcastle.

    13. Adam,
      Yes, and Riley’s that week before they did us at OT. (I know that one’s spilt milk, but seeing that xxxx-rated video of his performance again last week, it’s tough to get it out of my mind’s eye.) And the week before he was anointed Chief of Refshite.

    14. Woolwich Peripatetic,
      Those do take the piss! I think repeating the Messi stories and their variations ad nauseum could be a full-time summer job at Untold’s Ministry of Untruth ( – if only we could get a Murdoch Foundation cheque to support the very principle). Cheers.

    15. Did anyone else see the BBC drama The Shadow Lines?

      Now, Aunty Bleeb is not my favourite source of gossip, but I watched it on a filmmakers recommendation.
      Dodgy hacks, hacking away. Dodgy coppers and Webalty’s, melting with every breeze.
      A very well timed script.

      Though, anyone who grew up on 2000AD, read the Calcioploi reports or the like really should’ve been savvy to the unimaginable genius of the hacking cables.

    16. @meditation
      Agree, I watched it on Monday and, while it had the usual Dispatches “lets over-dramatise everything!!!”, it did raise a few eyebrows and (sadly) cast a dark shadow over Robson. Interestingly though, absolutely nothing has been said about it in the press (that I’ve seen). It’s almost as if a certain chap with a big red nose has spoken to all journos and threatened to take away their “free entry into old trafford” lanyards if they so much as even refer to it 😉

    17. Stevie E,
      Is that right? There’s been ZERO press coverage that you can find? That’s really significant – that the mainstream ALL close ranks? Are you including both TV/entertainment sections of the press as well as Sports/Football sections? From an Untold Media standpoint, I think finding that silence wherever you’ve looked is a big deal. It shows how the idea that the current epidemic of football scandals could never happen in the EPL gets to stay in place. A well-known TV show that could raise questions about it simply disappears from sight. Talk about 1984 and the Ministry of Untold Misinformation. It’s now the Ministry of Never Happened. Anything further you/anyone else can find would add a lot of insight and context going forward. Cheers!

    18. p.s. Searching around in say even 5 (if not more) big newspapers is enough and finding a blackout (or whatever else) I think could be a great contribution as an Untold Media watch piece.

    19. @bob
      Well, I haven’t actively searched for it, but I have google news open all day and check it every 30mins or so and nothing has caught my eye. As you know, I get the Metro & Evening Standard daily, and there hasn’t been the slightest mention of it. It’s scary really, can you imagine if AW had been implicated?

    20. Stevie E
      OMG (the first time I’ve ever used this expression, but I do feel it,) that would be game over, season over, career over, arsenal…. The sports sections would play it as big as today’s Murdoch scandals. Wow.

    21. @bob
      So, I entered “panorama” into each of the following papers search engines, ensuring I was searching the entire site. The results are a bit scary…

      The Telegraph – nothing
      The Guardian – nothing
      The independent – nothing


      Daily Mail – nothing
      Daily Express – nothing

      Red Tops
      The Sun – nothing
      The Mirror – nothing
      Daily Star – nothing

      wtf??? (not the first time I’ve used that)

    22. Sorry, let me clarify. The “panorama” search did bring up results (100’s in some cases) but none related to the “buying a football club” programe on Monday

    23. Stevie E,
      Just for due diligence sake,
      how about “dispatches+panorama”
      and/or “dispatches+panorama+ferguson”

    24. p.s. I don’t know the schedule, but wouldn’t a review show up on Tuesday? (or do I have that wrong, etc.?)

    25. @bob
      Luckly my misses is out tonight so I’m able to check this (I’ll get back to you after I’ve grabbed another beer).
      In all honesty, I’m probably not the best man to ask about the UK press, given I tend to ignore most of it and disbelieve the rest. However, I would expect any tv programe to be reviewed in the next days paper. Given there’s never anything worth watching on tv (500 channels of repeats), I would expect an expose to at least get a mention. Anyway, off to research

    26. @bob
      So, half a lager, “panorama & dispatches” boolean searching and much celeb gossip headlines later (apparently becks’ phone has been hacked), I offer the following ammendments to my earlier offering –

      The Telegraph – nothing
      The Guardian – nothing
      The Independent – nothing

      Daily Mail – nothing
      Daily Express – (This is the full article, cut & pasted) FOOTBALL League chairman Greg Clarke has admitted his organisation find it “difficult” to have certainty over who ultimately owns their member clubs.
      Clarke’s admission is made in a Dispatches programme on Channel 4 tonight.

      Red Tops
      The Sun – nothing
      The Mirror – nothing
      Daily Star – nothing

      What earlier was an almost flipant comment, has now got alarm bells ringing. Seriously, wft?

    27. @bob
      Ahh, type into google “dispatches & football club” and you get (only) 107 results, mostly relating to Robson. Weird how the actual newspapers search engines don’t bring anything up, why are these stories buried???

    28. Thank you, the only sound blogging site on Arsenal worth reading. The rest are just like or worst than the tabloids, I wouldn’t be surprised if the tabloids paid bloggers to steer up emotion amongst fans to make them hungry and eat up the junk they sell us, maybe i am just reading too much into this!!!

      again thank you Tony

    29. @tony,
      i thought you missed the perhaps most obvious explanation for the newspaper’s flimsy attempts at (gallows) humour re the phone hacking scandal, the mirror being a case in point, the explanation is simply that they all paid “private investigators” for their information- it was on piers morgans’ watch that the ulrika- sven story broke and lets say the cat is out the bag that they paid for information from a phone hacker and probably a Swedish interpreter.
      So while everybody else is crowing at news international’s misfortune, i am sure they all have lawyers are working overtime, and interns are nervously filling the paper recycling bins with so much trash (their stock in trade).
      everyone just wants this to go away, poopie roopie has already sacrificed his minions and a paper, it is fleet street’s dream he will go down alone. we hope not!
      Our best chance of getting anything out of this will be to wait for the shit storm to subside and then submit a freedom of information request for particular evidence.
      I also haven’t been following this close enough, but i am waiting for the investigation’s terms of reference and hope the public interest gets a look in, i am not holding my breath but lets hope details of payments to whom might just stir a hornets nest, just which house in the fourth estate is clean enough to investigate or at least contextualise payments and hospitality to certain figures in football i am curious to see but someone will.

    30. Oh, and another thing, did you know that glen mulcaire was a professional footballer, who scored AFC Wimbledon’s first goal?
      He has been effectively gagged by news international but lets hope he had been hawking his services to some of the dodgier characters in the game, eh? (and of course that the police haven’t been frequenting the MacDonald’s car parks in old Trafford)

    31. Stevie E,
      Ok,so yes, there’s coverage of the program by using your “robson & football club” search term. It seems that with MU now in the States, Fergie offered a pooh-pooh ‘nothing there’ comment about the doco, and the FA says they’re looking into the C4 allegations, etc, so at least it’s not a total black-out, right? So, there’s a few to look further into by anyone interested, and to analyze further as the impact of the documentary can now be traced (as I’m sure many are now quietly doing). For example:
      the mirror above , telegraph , yahoo eurosport, oxford times, etc. etc.

    32. Stevie, all,
      It does seems that Fergie’s lawyers are having to react to the C4 documentary and that MU will want to reconsider Robson as one of its ambassadors: In this account of the C4 program and its initial fallout from
      “In the Channel 4 show “Dispatches: How to Buy a Football Club”, Thai FA official Joe Sim, a friend of former Manchester United captain Bryan Robson claimed Fergie “is going to retire in three years time”.
      Sim also made other revelations in a meeting which was secretly recorded by reporters.
      “Once you have put £5million into the fund, we have dinner with Alex Ferguson, then Alex Ferguson will tell you he is going to lend me the players,” Sim said.
      Lawyers for the United manager confirmed Sim is a friend but denied that Ferguson has ever discussed the loaning out of any Manchester United players.
      Former England captain Bryan Robson is likely to face calls to quit as Manchester United’s global ambassador after he was personally caught up in the sting operation.

    33. Bob, StevieE, now this is scaring… I must say I am shocked.

      And I will come back to this with a whole article because the things we learned over here about buying clubs…

    34. Excellent article Tony. One thought – if NI reporters did hack football ref’s phones and found evidence of match fixing any subsequent report would be blocked if someone at a high level in NI was involved in the same match fixing!

    35. I ‘ve not been following the story as coverage in the newspaper
      is just a little article but did get to see Rupie squirming and evasive when questioned by the MPs .I ‘ve learned more here than in the media- thanks guys for the info and leads.
      As for Robbo , I ‘ve always liked him even when he had his run-ins with the law ,as with his alleged preference for ladies loos in airports !
      It is going to be an interesting summer .

    36. I don’t think it takes a lot of intelligence to figure out the Knight of the realm is corrupt. He has been implicated too many times to be squeaky clean (apart from his bum!!).

      The betting company that has been set up within the NI monikers is an indication of direction of corruption. It is not sufficient to stick to media, they have to satisfy greed and get into the betting.

      I still believe there was something untoward with the Diego Forlan switch when he came to UK for an interview with Middlesboro.

      The abuse of Arsene Wenger’s private life by the Murdoch press is another area that needs to be investigated. He has had to ignore several variations of innuendo and subsequent chants from scum fans.

      The Police are so quiet over the Dispatches and Panorama programmes that it is almost embarassing. Someone has them by their meat balls in Northern gravy.

      Malpractice by Manchester United withdrawing loan players when a related incompetant was dismissed has not been followed up by the FA. This association that governs and ensures a fair, clean game in England.

      Too many aspects of sport have been impacted by corruption and untouchables. It is time for a clearout and the scales of justice need to be seen to bring a balance of honesty in the game we love.

    37. In the style of the scum headlies……….

      The News of The World has gone and The Times has forcast an environmental disaster with The Sun and Sky going down with it.

    38. @menace: Could you provide a couple of links that show what you’ve said: “The abuse of Arsene Wenger’s private life by the Murdoch press is another area that needs to be investigated. He has had to ignore several variations of innuendo and subsequent chants from scum fans.”
      You can use one link here live, so don’t enter the other ones as live links so that you can list a few of them, if you would.

    39. @ Admin:

      Can you please remove my previous post as it was intended to another column and was misposted here.

    40. You won’t say I didn’t tell you. I was the first to raise this phone hacking in football.

    41. And about your ‘misinformation campaign idea’ as well, which was a joke on my side. I didn’t think you’d go down that road. Fascism isn’t far away.

    42. Interesting development. I just read on a Dutch news website about former employees of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror that their papers were involved in the phone hacking as well. I can imagine that more papers are involved, neither one of them of course wanting to stir the pot that NOTW is involved in.

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