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August 2021

If Football Journos Were Judged As Footballers

By Mike Urbanski

Let me preface this piece by letting you all know that I was once a journalist.  A sports journalist at that.  And, while I might not have had a national readership like such luminaries as John Cross, the website I worked for did charge a monthly premium fee, people paid to read my content and I was paid a wage to produce that content.  So, despite the disparity in readership, I was John Cross.


I’d also like to state for the record that I actually like John Cross.  I don’t know him personally, but he seems a good bloke.  I like seeing him on the Fans’ Forum.  I often like his opinion pieces for the Mirror.  And I like the fact that he’s on Twitter with the rest of us suffering Gooners and that he makes no bones about being a Gooner.  So while he’s the focal point of this article, it’s not really about John Cross.


As we’re all aware, Robin van Persie is in the midst of contract negotiations with the Club.  How do we know this?  Well, it’s all over the red tops.  Ask any football journo and they’ll tell you that Arsene and Robin were locked in a survival-of-the-universe level stare-off this week.  From the tenor of most of the breathless headlines, the talks were near catastrophic.  Lets peruse some of these headlines, shall we?


From the Mirror on Thursday:  “Outgunned? City lurk as Van Persie tells Arsenal he’s sick of being potless.”


From the Sun on Thursday:  “RVP talks crisis – ROBIN VAN PERSIE’S Arsenal future hangs in the balance after showdown talks with boss Arsene Wenger.”

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From ESPN on Thursday:  “Initial Van Persie talks end in deadlock”


It’s all quite dramatic, isn’t it?  Hair on fire, doomsday proclaiming stuff.  I’m now less worried about the 2012 Mayan calendar than I am about Robin leaving.


But hang on a moment.  From whence do these headlines come?  What is the REAL genesis of such calamitous proclamations?


I’d like to direct you specifically to the Mirror article noted above.  Here’s the link:


In this article, Mr Cross notes that Robin “made it plain that he is fed-up with not winning trophies.”  Also, Robin has apparently “expressed his frustration to Arsenal and given a clear hint that he is ready to quit.”


Sound pretty dire, if you ask me.


But I’d like to point out that there is not a single quote in this article.  Not one single attributable comment.  And not one fact (save for the mentions of other teams being interested in Robin, which is hardly “news” at this point).  Let me repeat that – without even so much as citing an unnamed source, John Cross speaks as the authority on all things Arsenal to ensure us that the above assertions are true without quoting anyone, making any kind of attribution or noting a specific fact that he can verify actually took place during the meeting between Robin van Persie and Arsene Wenger.  To be fair to John, he doesn’t write the headlines.  But still, as a journalist, it’s at the very least disingenuous to “report” these things took place without backing them up in some way.


This brings me to the headline of my article – that we should start judging football journos as we judge footballers themselves.  Heck, even as the journos often judge footballers.


Earlier today John Cross engaged several Arsenal supporters in a conversation on Twitter.  He was receiving quite a bit of stick for his article and, as he often does, discussed the content with some disgruntled readers.  True to form, John was generally pleasant in this conversation (and I commend him for this – he’s got shedloads more patience than I could muster), but one comment struck me as odd.  He said that, as a journalist, he was no different from the milk delivery man who wants his company to make money from delivering a product.  In John’s case, it’s delivering article content and the earnings come from newspaper sales or clicks on links.  Fair enough comparison, I guess.  But it got me thinking – what if we judged football journos as we judge footballers themselves?  As supporters we pay a fee – ticket prices (at a minimum) – to see a product on the pitch,  just as John produces article content.


When a footballer goes through a bad patch, we often hear “He’s not fit to wear the shirt!” or “What kind of wages is he on?!?”.  I’d like to see that judgment applied to football journos for producing content similar to that mentioned above.  So, when John Cross writes an article that’s not an opinion piece, but is presented as “news”, and does so without backing up any assertions in the article, I want to hear screaming about his wages.  I want protests demanding that he be relegated to a lower division Russian newspaper that’s more befitting his journalistic skills.  I want him transferred to covering a team no one cares about, and that he should support that side until he starts producing better.  We can then ease him back into the “starting rotation” of the Mirror – perhaps a whimsical Sunday piece about new kit or some such.  Until he proves himself again and is worthy to cover The Arsenal.


Alas, I expect the Mayan calendar thing to come about before football journos are held to any sort of standard in reporting.


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35 comments to If Football Journos Were Judged As Footballers

  • Magneto

    Interesting article.

    If football reporters and broadcasters were judged as footballers, then most of the ones currently providing national football “coverage” in England would be relegated to the conference division.

  • DR

    Aye, ‘don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story’ has been a motto of the media for a long time now; I like to think the Internet is going to start to hit them a little harder and that might force standards up but I’m not holding my breath.

  • ClockEndRider

    Acid test question: would your knowledge of football and the ins and outs be in any way decreased if sports journalism was excluded from newspapers? I guesstimate that around 1% of what is available in the news media is of any value. Compare that to some of the excellent analysis and comment available on the net. Not the reams of dross obviously. The obvious answer is to give up buying newspapers if your reason for doing so is sport. Better for the environment, better for your knowledge of the game and events surrounding and better for your wealth..

  • FinnGooner

    That was interesting.
    Funnily I had a conversation today at work with a customer about something similar. Last week Finland played in ice hockey championship match against USA and lost 5-0. Then on Thursday again on next level of tournament. Well on Wednesday (I think) sportwriters in news papers were writing that Finland will lose (but we won) so the customer said:” those writers should be put in sinbin for those articles”. So maybe in football when they write that kind articles they should get yellow for 1st wrong article and red for 2nd (red =ticket to Siberia).

  • nicky

    Those who are good at sport PLAY. Those who aren’t WRITE….or even COACH.
    The main object of newspapers is to increase circulation and there can be little doubt that sports stories are often “adjusted” towards this end. Sub editors and their headlines play an important part in elevating a mere story to a breathtaking scoop.
    Journalists, being allegedly human, have their favourite Clubs and players and it is often difficult for readers, when searching for unbiased sports news, to separate wheat from chaff.
    As DR implies above, the internet may well improve standards
    of reporting on sport. Otherwise the day of the newspaper may well be numbered.

  • Wooby

    Unfortunately, that is the way journalists need to work now in order to earn their keep. There is no such thing as “reporting” because with the advent of the Internet and blogs, people who have attended games can all “report” on the on-field activities. Journalists are now required to provide, and are judged by, their opinion and how well it is received.

    I have read some of the articles on the “showdown” talks and have noted the lack of actual quotes. Once there was no announcement of a signed contract, the headlines were very predictable. No news from RVP / Arsenal talks do not generate as much headlines as RVP concerned about Arsenal’s lack of trophies. Heck, for all we know, it can be a plant by RVP’s agent to create leverage for his client (I have NO knowledge of this but just presenting an argument).

    I have given up on reading a number of publications because even for non-sports articles, journalists are judged by their employers for the eye-balls they attract and not necessarily the quality of their work.

  • Well the sad part is that the article had 80 comments and you linking to it increased it’s pagerank.

    Best way to fight such articles is to ignore them. It is as simple as “if it does not intrest us they will stop writing it”.

  • LRV

    Well, I wish people will just give up reading these rags. I stopped a long time ago.

  • Ian Jenkinson

    Great article Mike.

    The amount of articles written out there that have no quotes or back up is astounding. The writers simply fill in the blanks themselves. When i click on a headline link that catches my attention i immediately scroll down the article and look for inverted commas, that way i know immediately if the article has at least a bit of substance. Even then sometimes the writers skew quotes from players.

    I’d say the players themselves must laugh at the nonsense being written about them (not that they would be reading much, if any of this tripe). If your neighbour made up stories about you like the press do about footballers you’d be taking action against them!

    The trick is to just avoid the sites and rags that publish this nonsense.

  • Ant

    As much as I may agree with your sentiment, there is a flaw in the argument here. All of a football team’s customers (both fans and advertisers) require the team to perform well at winning and playing the game. In other words the team’s end-product is victory and therefore exposure exposure of the advertiser.

    However, for a journalist on the net, the reader is not the customer, and the article is not the product. Instead, the advertiser is the customer, and the journalist’s end-product is readers, and therefore exposure of the advertiser.

    In other words, John Cross delivers exceptional value to the advertisers in the Mirror merely by incensing you enough to further his exposure through your own website.

    (and again, don’t get me wrong – I agree with your sentiment, and I also like John Cross on Fans Forum & twitter)

  • Paul

    Good article

    It’s also interesting that the narrative of the newspapersTalk sh**te is always that Arsenal is a club in crisis, always losing its best players.

    This goes back over 10 years, we all remember the will he, won’t he leave annual summer sagas relating to Patrick Vieira, in particular. This was when Arsenal were champions, yet in the end he went when Wenger wanted him to for a good fee.

    In reality, I think Fabregas and Nasri/Anelka (both for very good transfer fees) are the only players who have left before the ideal time.

    Even with Van Persie, I am sure the Club would ideally like to sign him on a new contract and allow both sides the option to sell him next year, when he is 30.

    I know I focus on Arsenal transfer news but I can’t remember the doom mongers out in force when other top clubs sell their top players:

    Man U – Ronaldo

    Liverpool – Alonso, Torres

    Tottenham – Carrick, Berbatov

    I appreciate that the key issue for Arsenal fans is that we have not always invested transfer fees in top new talent and without a doubt this has been part and parcel of the cost of building the stadium.

    However, with the finances now stabilised and new commercial contracts in place over the next year or so, there is no reason why Arsenal cannot compete at the very top of the transfer ladder, save for the oil sheiks.

    keep the faith!

  • rantetta

    I think if was here, at UA, that somebody christened him “Cross John”, and I’m sticking with that. During this season I’ve heard his opinions on the Arsecast, and I’ve peeked at a couple of his articles. I seem to remember Cross John even had some sort of ‘exclusive’ with Mr Wenger – sometime.

    I do not check out Cross John’s Twitter (even though I think he’s a twit), because all I’ve seen from him is the negativity I expect from the AAA/Spu*s, and he appears – at best – to be “following the script”. CJ tells anyone who’ll read/listen; It’s all being done incorrectly/Wenger no good/blah blah blah. And then he says he’s a fan. **** right off, CJ.

    When one considers the universal media reaction to the PL match at Newcastle last year (or even this year) – the fact that refs decisions/tilting are ignored, and instead, most commentators described the 4-4 as “Greatest ever Premiership match”, while few if any, comment on the assaults visited upon Diaby (last year), and on Song/Gervihno/any effing Ars player, by the “hero” J Barton, amongst others, speaks volumes, surely?

    Cross John, Amy Whiney and other supposed “Ars-fan – journoes” – it’s time to start reporting, honestly, what happens on and off the pitch, with regard to The Arsenal. Your credibility is already shot!

    The only way I’ll know of your continued Arsenal-destabilisation tactics throughout the coming summer – is by checking out articles here at Untold, and, as luck would have it, the writers insert a link to your pieces but then type out the offending quotes, so I won’t be clicking on your wotsits, right?

    Thank U, Mike U. This is an excellent article, and along with other UA media-watchers (Anne [You can keep your predictions] and Bob [Coronation of Rednose XX] et al), I urge you to “keep ’em peeled” and, please, keep us informed.

    Forward, Untold. (and defence, and midfield).

  • Ugandan Goon

    Fantastic article, Mike.
    I am like a few on this site, we just don’t care what these clowns think, i haven’t had any meaningful contact with a mainstream arsenal article for just about two years after reading a horror story splashed on two pages essentially stating that fabregas had told arsene wenger in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t returning from the world cup in the evening standard. i soon discerned the article had no basis in reality. Many didn’t or wouldn’t and i couldn’t get away from that story all summer,it was a rod for my back that i knew from the instant i saw the headline. I was a man on the edge. i vowed then they had no right to so much power and keeping us debating complete rubbish is a morally repugnant individual and i for one will contribute a cent to his upkeep and i have discovered peace.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Mike – nice article.

    I remain disappointed with Arsenal FC regarding John Cross, as his participation on Fans Forum in an offical capacity gives credance to his numerous inflamatory and poisonous articles which do the club no good. John Cross has actually been challenged about his poor ‘journalism’ concerning Arsenal before and was suprisingly affable in a way that reminded me of a politician especially when he seemed to point the finger at the lack of editorial control over his articles….

  • bob

    Mike, all,

    What do you make of the media gag on RVP?

    (this modified from what I wrote to iniez in the previous posting:)
    Obviously the gag rule could be a badly negative sign as the terrible typist at Manchester Guardian Foodball Department’s David Hytner has loudly trumpeted today. OR it could be a sign of progress being made, such that AFC don’t want it unsettled by a “Cesc Leaving” all-out media onslaught; trying to distort any/every word against us.

    Either way, it does speak to the urgency of this moment; and I would think AFC’s need not to be perceived as helter-skelter as at the end of the last window. Gone viral, that perception would, I think, scare off other signings that we might need to make: that is, beyond Podolski, signings to convince RVP that further top level talent is on the way; AND/OR to execute Plan B to replace the departing RVP and mollify a very upset (and not small) section of the fanbase in that event.

    I think that the measure of a media ban really speaks to how really crucial it is right now that AFC – for our own good – stay out front on and in relative control over the media narrative (given the vultures starting to circle, such as Stenographer Hytner, Cross John, and other media-minions of the Spurned Nose and the Petro-Ballers.

  • bob

    Mike, all,
    I don’t write the headlines, sure, sez Cross John. But that is morally toxic. It’s like a rocket scientist of another era saying, well, my job is to make them fly; where they come down is another man’s department. Cross John, like Goona Gal portray it, is a wily politician. He’s happy to have the work, ahem, no matter who writes whatever headline. How would anyone with an ounce of self-respect and actual morality deal with a headline at odds with what they really were saying or felt within? I submit that Cross John be put crossed off the list of actual jornos and has given both patience and affability very bad names, exposing their abuse in the interest of hurting Arsenal and pretending otherwise. Please, let’s not fall for how likeable this man is. Know them by their deeds, as you have shined the light above.

  • Prasanna Veeraraghavan

    Media Gag on RVP?

    I believe its more of an understanding than a gag. The Dutch team spokesperson had said they have made a DEAL with Arsenal and Robin Van Persie won’t talk to the media.

    Whats this gotta do with the BAN word?

  • The Spartan

    The media are making a big fuss over nonsense.Did they want him to sign the contract immediately after the meeting without considering all his options? The “media ban”/ “deal” is a good thing as it gives him protection, we all know how they can twist words.

  • TheSKAGooner

    Thanks for the comments, folks.

    As I mentioned early in the article above, my intent wasn’t really to savage John Cross. He’s the focal point mainly because of his comments on Twitter regarding the similarity of delivering a product like a milkman does. His original article set me off, but his discussion on Twitter really led me to contacting Tony with an original email rant about journos.

    I don’t really think there’s a workable solution to the issue of football journos. Yes, I linked to the article and that will drive hits, unfortunately. There’s no way around that, and I included the link in the event that readers might not have seen it. It’s a catch-22, but it would be disingenuous of me to complain about John Cross not providing attribution if I wound up doing the same thing only for the purposes of not driving a bit of traffic to the article in question.

    @Ant – There is sense in your point. However, as a former journalist, I can say that the readers are most definitely the consumer and the product is most definitely the article content. What you’re arguing is at the strategic level. The Mirror has customers…the advertisers. And they’re going to hire journos who can deliver page hits so that the advertisers get exposure and make money. My argument is more at the tactical, journalist level, the relationship between journos and readers and the responsibility of content delivery. The website I wrote for had advertisers. I never once met with them. I never once heard about advertisers from my boss. I did, however, hear from my boss about increasing readership. So MY client, as a journalist, was the reader. And the only way to increase readership is either to provide a product they want or to provide controversial content that compels them to read so that they can complain about it later. haha In any event, both sides of the coin…strategic and tactical…are at work regarding the delivery of content.

    This article certainly wasn’t intended to be the end-all, definitive examination of football journos. Mainly, it started as a rant to Tony driven by a personally experienced event with John Cross on Twitter. Take it as that, and nothing more. The larger argument regarding journos has been covered MUCH more effectively and in-depth by the other writers here on Untold.

  • Gooner S

    Nice article.

    It’s not just the written word either Talksport are masters at this; indeed from one point of view it’s truely impressive how the media/press do this.

    John Cross seems to be very personable and good at what he does but it is also, to some extent, disingenious because if you don’t understand what is behind his words (driving up readership or listeners to Talksport) you might be taken in by assuming what is said/written is the ‘truth’. And you might believe it more because it is about Arsenal by an Arsenal supporter. Same goes for Darren Lewis at The Mirror.

    I still read what these guys write and I don’t mind admiting it. A ‘guilty pleasure’. I enjoy it. It’s part of football. Most of us would miss it if it wasn’t there.

  • bob

    Did you ever write an article and have someone assign a headline to it that you did not agree with? What did you do? If it mattered enough would you protest? quit? etc. Is Cross John not finally responsible for accepting or disavowing (one way or the other) the headline that goes out to hook readers into reading him?

  • Dear all.
    Thanks so much for your comments.
    A friend of mine alerted me to the piece. I enjoyed it and the discussion. Thanks. But I’m flattered and amazed you think I’m worthy of such a discussion. I’m not. If I ever felt I was becoming in any way self important I’d be devastated. I’m a sensitive soul, shy even.
    This whole ‘sources’ and ‘no quotes in it’ surprises me coming from a former journalist. I could quote an unnamed Arsenal source or source close to the talks. But would you believe it any more? I doubt it. It’s a style thing but I prefer to use it as information. If you don’t trust me then don’t read me.
    I have spent the majority of this week glued to my phone. Absolutely stuck to my ear. Do you honestly think I dream things up? If you really thought that then surely you wouldn’t spend so much time worrying about my work.
    Being a former journalist, I’m amazed the main author is not familiar with the saying: a journalist doesn’t reveal his sources. I’ve no intention of doing so now. Do you honestly think I directly quote everyone I speak to? Furthermore, do you honestly think I don’t speak to people about stories? I must have spoken to a dozen agents this week, players, 2 Premier League managers and senior people at more than one club and I’ve not quoted ANY of them. It was to gain information, knowledge and possibly a story.
    We got 90 per cent of the England squad right without quoting a source. I bigged up Oxlade-Chamberlain and said I thought I’d be in. No quotes or sources attributed. But he got in. No complaints then. Do you think we guessed? Of course not.
    Of course I get things wrong. I was utterly convinced Vertonghen was going to Arsenal. I think so were Arsenal. So it’s off to Russia for me then. But, funnily enough, I didn’t get complaints then because it was a positive story. I’m proud of the fact we did well on Podolski (though online bloggers only start to believe when Bild follow it up and, by the way, one well known German writer laughed in my face when I was writing about it less than three months ago and was then busy ‘confirming’ it on Twitter). But I didn’t get any abuse when I was writing about Podolski on Twitter. No requests for sources then. Funny that.
    I got dog’s abuse last summer on Nasri and Fabregas. But they left.
    I’m not absolving myself of blame when a headline goes on. It’s my paper. I’ve complained sometimes myself. But I don’t write them. Simple as.
    My milk analogy was this. Do you honestly expect a milkman not to try and sell milk and make the most of his best stock? Should he bury his Jersey cream gold top at the back for fear of upsetting anyone even though it’s on special? Of course he wants to sell milk just like we want to sell newspapers. People jump on journalists for saying that with the suggestion we make up stories to sell papers. I don’t make up stories. But of course we try to promote stories in a way which our readers demand. If they don’t like stories/headlines they have the option to stop buying the paper. If we made up stories surely they’d stop buying. Hopefully we’re clever enough to know what readers want and we abide by their demands.
    On RvP, I’m still not convinced he’ll go. City want him but will Arsenal sell? A whole different question. Let’s see.
    In the meantime, if shooting the messenger makes your life better then be my guest.
    Kind regards,
    John Cross.

  • C4

    @John Cross (or is it the other way around?)
    No need to feel flattered, he DID say the article isn’t really about you, he just liked your milk example and thought it appropriate to use it to make his point.
    So relax a little, and thanks for stopping by and giving us that long explanation. Now I’ll believe EVERYTHING you write. 🙂

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    So, to boil down the argument (evaporated milk?), reputable journalists will put in a decent shift, produce an article which to the best of their knowledge represents fact and then the editor(s) polish it to increase ad revenue?
    One could argue that two events changed Arsenal’s relationship with the press, firstly the appointment of Wenger, who is more media aware than his predecessors (the media is a dangerous pet, keep them at arms length, toss them scraps as they will turn on you in a heartbeat) and the second being the emergence of Chelsea as a talent hoover – I believe we missed out on a few prominent African players after word of Arsenal’s interest reached the wrong parties.

  • Asif

    Good Article Mike…This site never fails to bring together the best of the Gooners!

    Well…how can the British Media assign someone who is a true Gunner to cover the team…they ought to have someone who feeds the frenzy and hadn’t i discovered Untold I would have given into the scepticism and there are many Arsenal fans who are a victim of this bloody lopsided coverage of the team/obviously there comes a time when you say maybe the manager is such! But Untold helped me keep the faith and I realise that Arsene is truly the Howard Roark of our times, who has stood up to everything thrown his way and never lowered his dignity!

  • Arvind

    @Asif: And I finally found another someone on Untold who also reads Ayn Rand ; )

  • Percy

    So Cross John has spilled the beans:
    “I must have spoken to a dozen agents this week, players, 2 Premier League managers and senior people at more than one club and I’ve not quoted ANY of them. It was to gain information, knowledge and possibly a story.”
    There we have it, *Kia Joorabchian, *Mancini, *Nasri, *Patrick and *Brian Marwood – he bought a couple of pints of full cream BLUE top from them and Robin is off to City. Now, there wouldn’t be any self-interest to promote here, would there?
    *Feel free to fill in the blanks with your own candidates – the ketchup on Fat Harry’s Burger Bar is not allowed.

  • Goona Gal

    If that is really THE John Cross, then I would like to ask him does he lie awake at night, his concious pricked by thoughts that he is stealing a living.

  • gooner murphy

    @ Cross John

    Thanks to unprofessional unisourced stories that appear In so-called Newspapers I can no longer bring myself to read anything writen in the “popular press ” In my opinion 90% of these stories are rubbish and have no bases in fact. Regretfully Honest journalism died a long time ago.

  • @John Cross

    Thanks for that fascinating insight into what modern day journalism has become – if I understand you correctly you rely on a series of networks to feed you information which you can create a story around?

    Of course – we are not privy to your sources so we cannot judge their reliability or agenda… and when I say that I mean that a, for example, agent may have an agenda which he wishes to promote. He can do this through guys like you, I would imagine, as long a he tosses you a few scraps of real information every now and then… and that is just one example.

    I don’t wish to ‘shoot the messenger’ – only point out that the messenger is often in a position where he/she can make a fairly easy living by promoting information not based upon research but upon gossip and hearsay.

    We are asked to trust you or at the very least – you are in a position of trust…

    …I would say that what you have described as ‘the jolly norm’ is an underground and unregulated network that is ripe for power structures to form that corrupt the game through media influence – an influence that by definition will never come under the spotlight by those bastions of truth who serve us plebs (that would be the ‘free press’ John in case you were wondering).

    Still – you are I suppose just a foot soldier (and a quite affable one at that), I suspect you have a mortgage and a missus and all that stuff – so we would be wrong to shoot you, as you say, and it would be totally unfair of us to ask you to put all those things at risk and shoot thyself by revealing your sources.

  • Rawiri

    John Cross

    dont take this article personally if you read this at the beginning

    “I’d also like to state for the record that I actually like John Cross. I don’t know him personally, but he seems a good bloke. I like seeing him on the Fans’ Forum. I often like his opinion pieces for the Mirror. And I like the fact that he’s on Twitter with the rest of us suffering Gooners and that he makes no bones about being a Gooner. So while he’s the focal point of this article, it’s not really about John Cross.”

    you can see that while it takes what you said as a starting point it is not really about you (even if some comments are), the author actually kinda likes you, i have read some of yours too and while I do not always agree i dont dislike them and it allows me to get other point of views, so yeah we’r not out to “shoot the messenger”

  • C4

    I think you once mentioned using stylometry to analyze some posters on UA and concluded some were actually one person using multiple user names.
    Can we do this to gauge whether or not this is the real John Cross?

  • @C4 – You can just tweet him on twitter and ask him – much easier. 🙂

  • C4

    True, though I barely touch twitter.
    It’s probably not worth the effort anyway. I expect he’ll be back to make noise if RVP leaves.

  • Goona Gal

    @ Dogface 11:53am) very well said!!!!

    I sometimes wonder if they should be forced to add a marketing disclaimer on their articles to say something like THIS IS AN ADVERT or THIS IS A PAID FEATURE on behalf of the agent/club/player.