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July 2021

Why is there collusion between the media and the clubs over the way the Premier League is reported?

By Tony Attwood

Between 2004 and 2011 Sir Alex Ferguson refused to talk to the BBC, after the Corporation ran a story about his son Jason.    It was just one of a series of spats that the man had during his career, and one of a series of occasions when football clubs and the people within them have banned journalists, or refused “co-operation”.

At other times Sam Allardyce when at Newcastle and Harry Redknapp when at Portsmouth decided they would not want to have anything to do with the BBC, largely because of their pesky questions about agents and the signing of players.

Rather curiously Ferguson, at a Q and A in Glasgow recently also noted very positively that Jock Stein had introduced regular post-match press conferences in Scotland to lessen the impact of what Stein saw as a Rangers-dominated media agenda.  Ferguson said that Stein then had the press eating out of his hand.  An interesting thought…
For it suggests that the press are seen, at least by Ferguson, as good when they do what you want, and bad when they don’t.
It reminds me of a statement I read during the build up to the Rangers tax case affair, and their ultimate disintegration as a club (by which I mean, the old Rangers of the SPL are a different company and different club from the new Rangers who have just won the third division.)  The point was made that the press tended to treat Rangers press releases as the Scottish equivalent of investigative journalism.
The issue of the press and the clubs arises every time a football club bans a journalist or indeed a whole organisation – and it highlights a strange relationship between football and the media.
The media does publish some investigations into football – the Observer has a Said and Done column in which it highlights the awful goings on Fifa, and the silly things managers and owners say.  A typical example from recent editions:
Jack Warner complaining of years of “vindictive”, “unholy”, “dirty” press smears for forcing his resignation as a Trinidad MP.

• Italy, 25 Feb: Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini rehires coach Gian Piero Gasperini, 19 days after sacking him. “It was time to act. We were better under Gasperini.” 12 Mar: Zamparini sacks Gasperini and rehires Giuseppe Sannino, who he fired in September. Sannino: “I’ll just take this job one day at a time.”
Ho ho, what funny people these foreign players, managers, Fifa people, are.
The “I’ll never sell the player” comment from a manager, followed a week later by the transfer, is the commonplace of the column, and it makes quite amusing reading occasionally.  But the whole piece loses all credibility because it never comments on the stupidity of the stories that papers run about players who will or won’t be transferred, nor does it really take on the issue of clubs that ban journalists.

Which seems to reveal a sort of schizophrenic attitude on the newspaper’s side – you can make fun of foreign football affairs but you can’t make fun of the media, nor can you reveal too much about clubs. And it is even more interesting when you combine this with the fact that when a club decides to ban a journalist for saying something they don’t like, journalists and the media in general don’t say, “right that’s it, if you want to censor what we write and say, then it is a case of ‘one out all out’,” (as we used to say in the old days).

So the media allows itself to be pushed into kow-towing to the clubs is a good thing, because it gives the blogs a chance to set out information that simply isn’t found elsewhere, because the media is to scared to run it.  (I am of course thinking of Untold here – but more on that in a moment).

The Rangers tax case is a case in point where the bloggers really did take up an issue that the media ignored – presumably because they didn’t want their main source of stories cut off.  (Although just to put a bit of balance in this Scottish thing I understand that Celtic have also banned reporters from time to time and again the media has not clubbed together to protest).

Apparently in Scotland they also have some press conferences at which questions are not allowed, apparently, and no one argues with that.

The media does of course have a huge amount of power in this. If a club bans a journalist or a paper, all the papers, indeed all the media, could just ignore the club.

Why not?  Well I suppose because they don’t want to have readers turning away because they can’t read about a certain club.   Except almost certainly they would not do this.  They would not turn away in their billions, because whatever club you take, most football fans don’t like that club.

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So, to give an imaginary example.   Newcastle United ban the Telegraph.  The Telegraph then in retaliation runs a series of stories about the Newcastle  United no one knows.

Since most football fans are not Newcastle fans, they would read this, and enjoy it.  It would at least show Newcastle that banning a journalist for writing about some disagreement within the club between players, isn’t worth it.

I must say that if there were a decision by the united media not to cover Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester United, Celtic, Rangers and anyone else who banned individuals or whole media organisations, the football pages of the papers and the discussions within radio and TV stations, would be much more fun.   As it was there was no solidarity and instead Newcastle then went on to ban the Sun also.

Marina Hyde of the Guardian is one journalist who has commented on this, and in doing so reports that she asked the FA what David Beckham’s role was within the England during the 2010 World Cup and was told that the answer could only be given off the record!!!
But there’s another issue here, and one that relates to Untold very centrally.   Because of this pussy-footing attitude, the media in Britain refuse to carry out any sort of investigation into the situation concerning the refereeing of Premier League matches.
The facts of this case are simple: because of the lack of numbers of referees available for the Premier League the same refs keep refereeing the same clubs, leaving the possibility of corruption open.  A simple safety measure against any kind of corruption would be raise the number of referees so that each ref would only get to referee each club twice per season.  So if there were any bias it would be removed.
When Untold started to run this story, and started to enquire into the activities of PGMOL (the organisation that is in charge of referees for the Premier League) the BBC took it up, and PGMOL responded by closing down their web site.
These days Untold and Referees Decisions, and the other sites that we have mentioned in the past that also take an interest, take on the issue, on their own, noting as we go that when the referee problem broke out in Italy, one of the revelations was the fact that the media could be bribed by clubs NOT to show or report on bad refereeing decisions within certain games in case it led to unfortunate questions.
Media and Club collusion?  Well, if there were, on a large scale, it would explain why when there are banning orders, the media as a whole don’t complain but just get on with reporting football as they see it.
Media and clubs acting together to hide the difficult truths?  Surely not.

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16 comments to Why is there collusion between the media and the clubs over the way the Premier League is reported?

  • Tsaga rana

    Most English referees are bias

  • https://printerator.

    I was wondering if you ever considered changing the layout of your site?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it
    better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

  • soglorious

    @rana with Mike Dean and Howard Webb leading the front. I fear for our match against Wigan now that Chelsea is losing with a man out

  • AL

    Pussy-footing, that’s the term that perfectly describes the media here. They’re are awful people, in collusion with bent refs, managers, police, you name it. Horrible horrible people. No wonder we have had our own sportsmen leave these shores to go and settle in adopted foreign ccountries, just to get away from this horrible lot.

  • nicky

    A sobering post merely emphasising how the professional game has descended from a pure sport into big business.
    And when I survey the media and its latest corrupt practices and perpetuating made-up stories, I’m afraid there isn’t much good to say about that branch of our society, either.
    The PR profession (if you can call the the work of con artists a profession) are the third arm in this triumvirate of dishonesty where “anything goes in order to achieve success”.

  • Doanythingformoney

    Spoken in truth Tony.

    And a good game to play before watching a match is ‘Where’s the game management?’ The Villa game was a perfect example. The first question was ‘who do the Banking Elite, gofers and friends want to win?’ That must be Chelsea to keep them in the CL as they don’t care about Villa. The follow on would then be to look for evidence of bias towards Chelsea in the game. But that isn’t all. If there is game management going on- there must be a script. And if so, does the programme controller and the commentary team have this script also? Is there any evidence of prior knowledge as to who is wanted to win? And finally, who has been selected to give punditry? Are they balanced, even-handed, fair, or just a couple of safe pairs of hands to smooth over the inevitable contention according to the script?

    So what happened? Chelsea won after a myriad of strange decisions. Chelsea’s not given goal was replayed a dozen times. The red card tackle of JT was smoothed over nicely in commentary and Lambert was livid. Lampard,s cousin and Old Stoneface did nothing to highlight the gross unfairness of the result. And of course there was zero indication by anyone that game management is going on. There never is.

    What did you think about the ManU v Chelsea game? ManU have won the title! Did you think- ‘I wish Fergie had played that team against us a few days earlier? Did commentators and pundits major on this point? Not really! Sometimes expecting things allows you to see them ten times more clearly.

    And all the time, the lack of integrity by those who do anything for money simply sickens.

  • Mark

    It is amazing to me that the press is not taking more seriously the investigation into match fixing and corruption in FIFA, or the strange financing of clubs. My guess is that they are lazy. And reporting on this would take some work and it might get some people upset who could block the journalist’s career. Journalists are in a profession with a lot of competition so doing things in ways that please the boss is very important. If SAF bans you or your network from the clubhouse the boss is upset with the journalist. So Untold keep up the good work you are doing to raise the real issues!

  • Rupert Cook

    I don’t think the majority of the media care. There is possibly a certain amount of “that couldn’t happen here” attitude I suspect in many sections of the media which is somewhat reinforced by that column you mention in the Observer, the only paper I buy every week, and I do enjoy that column but I do think they sometimes focus on slightly odd goings on in the English league yet I’ve never seen them consider the bias of refs. Maybe there’s too much conjecture without solid proof on that subject. Allegations of the nature some aim at refs on this site would have to be strictly scrutinized and investigated before going to print.

    That isn’t to say there isn’t dubious practices going on.

    @Al the reason many of our sportspeople leave these shores is mainly about tax and nothing else and I think you’ll find our media is quite tame compared to some foreign ones.

  • Stevie E

    “Allegations of the nature some aim at refs on this site would have to be strictly scrutinized and investigated before going to print.”

    It’s a shame the press don’t adhere to these high standards before printing rumour and speculation about a new manager being accused of child abuse. Or even a man on the street being accused of murder.

    The truth is the press will launch a witch hunt on the flimsiest of evidence in all other genres of the news, it seems odd to me that this glaringly obvious issue is swept under the carpet.

  • Rupert Cook

    Don’t think it’s swept under the carpet, I think the media don’t care. Child abuse and murder stories sell papers, they catch the imagination of the general public whilst ref misbehaviour does not. The public gets the media it deserves.

  • Stevie E

    Hang on, are you seriously suggesting that if it could be proven that refs are match fixing in the pl it wouldn’t be a sensational story? In a day and age where anything even remotely linked to the pl is headline news, why would corruption not be of interest? I think every football fan in the country would be very interested to learn that the pl is noting more than a glorified WWE…

  • Mike T

    Football is all about opinons the trouble it seems to me is too many on here take their opinion being 100% fact
    For instance @Doanythingformoney talks about Chelsea against Villa and how the cards were stacked by the ref in Chelseas favour. Odd really as had that been the case Chelsea wouldnt Chelsea have been awarded the goal for the ball being over the line, not had a player sent off and wouldnt the villa player have been sent off rather than being booked for the elbow ? Also they say Terry should have been sent off yet opinion is split as to if he should have been sent off
    The real strange thing for me is that so many of you really think that Arsenal are badly treated and I know you will point to stats which you believe proves your viewpoint after all what do they say about lies, dammed ,ies and statistics

  • Rupert Cook

    @Mike T, agree.
    @Stevie E It would be sensational but as it is merely opinion without solid proof it’s not going to be front page news.

  • AL

    Nice to see ‘arry come out in support of rafa that sir red nose bullied officials and got preferential treatment as a result. The only problem with that, is its come 5 years late. But at least its a start, let’s hope more follow suit.

  • Arun

    Sorry for going off topic Tony, but really needed to post this.
    Check out this series of articles on another blog.
    All the credit goes to Mahdain for finding out this brilliant link.

  • Mahdain

    @Arun no problem. Have read that blog for a while now and he really writes amazing articles.