Gotcha: How a newspaper will change football news to suit the agenda

By Tony Attwood

This is the story of Untold, and the way one of our stories was picked up by the Daily Telegraph, and then changed.

On 26 May Untold ran its story Football, politics and religion: where’s the research? in which there appears the sub heading…

3.  What is the explanation of one club having more injured players than another?

This article, in case you missed it, looked at some of the original research undertaken by Untold writers in recent years, and this third section focussed on Walter Broeckx’ work concerning why Arsenal get so many injuries.  The conclusion was that because some referees are known not to punish nasty fouls against Arsenal, some players of other teams are increasingly encouraged to go in harder and harder on Arsenal players.  There is no protection, so the injuries happen.

There has been no other news around on this subject of Arsenal injuries from any other source since April this year when Arsenal announced their own enquiry into the problem.

So it was interesting that on 27 May, just one day after the Untold story was published, the Telegraph also focussed on Arsenal injuries.  Was that coincidence?  Well, coincidences do happen of course, but it was a strange story to pick from nowhere given that other than our article nothing in particular had appeared on this topic for a month.

Type in “Arsenal football injury analysis” to Google (which ought to pick up anything related to the subject) and you get at the top a two year old story, with the first line shown as (on my Google search at any rate) “More injuries means Arsenal won’t go as far in cup competitions”.   After that there is a 2013 article – a typical ESPN rant saying “Arsene Wenger at fault for Arsenal injury crisis” and so on.  All old stuff.

So out of nowhere, except for Untold, comes the Daily Telegraph on 27 May, one day after Untold, with

Did injuries cost Arsenal Premier League title?

In this article, which doesn’t mention Untold at all, but uses the source of data that anyone working in this field would use, if not using Untold’s data, it says…

“There are numerous theories, such as the training methods, a style of football that might invite dangerous tackles, an over-reliance on certain players because of the size of the squad, a transfer policy that might favour technically gifted but more fragile players or simply bad luck. The statistics since 2010, however, clearly suggest that Arsenal’s injury record is about more than simply ill fortune.”

Now what is interesting here is that the listing of factors is perfectly reasonable, and anyone reading at speed would think it a complete summary.  But very deliberately it leaves out one specific cause that Walter has highlighted – that referees tend to be less protective of Arsenal players than players from many other clubs, and this encourages players to go in harder – knowing they are far less likely to get booked or sent off.

The question now is, not one of “is the media manipulating the news in order to cut out certain issues, and drive thinking away from particular topics?” but rather “why does the media do this?”

Of course the press manipulate the new.  The Daily Express makes up stories about immigration into the UK in order to exacerbate fear and paranoia among older members of society, in order to encourage these people to vote for Britain to pull out of Europe, just as the Mail ran stories about the Nazi’s in 1938 and 1938 that were sympathetic to the Nazi cause, because the owner was a supporter of their views.  Such things happen.  Wealthy men run newspapers to try to change society.

But this referee story seems much more trivial when compared with the normal sort of bias that we expect from the print media in the UK.  After all, football is not politics.  Reporting an extra reason why Arsenal might get injuries is hardly earth shattering.

I’ll leave the issue of why they do it, for the moment, to move onto one other point, for there is a whole range of issues relating to football that the print media, Sky Sports, Talksport and BT Sprout won’t touch.  They include…

1. The notion that referees might be showing an in-built bias.  Alan Green has for years trumpeted the problem of referee decision making on BBC 5 Live, but he has been careful either to give no explanation or put it down to incompetence.  But the notion of systematic bias due to the emergence of a situation akin to that which held sway in Italy (calciolpoli) is happening in England is never mentioned.  I am not suggesting they should say “the ref is bent” but the occasional article saying “could calciolpoli be rife in England” might be interesting.

2. Issues that then follow on from this (such as the injury issue mentioned above, and the behaviour of PGMOL in deliberately appointing very few referees, and tying referees into a “silence” clause for when they retire).

3. The fight between FA and English Sport.  All that is published are the FA press releases, blaming English Sport for cutting back funding.  There is no investigation into where the FA’s money goes, and how the FA excuse over its non-spending of money on grass roots football is based on a complete falsehood (that it was weather affected).

4. The problems with Rangers FC.   Speaking of putting out press releases, we must remember that during the build up to the utter financial collapse of Rangers, the English media ignored the case, and the Scottish media did nothing but put out the “everything is ok – of course it is – do you think Rangers is likely to be involved in this sort of shady dealing?” press releases of the club.  When Rangers collapsed the papers were full of “well of course we knew but couldn’t say anything for legal reasons.”   Yet there were no legal reasons – because Rangers were bust and had been involved in shady deals, and it was being reported every day on the blogs.

So it was left to a couple of dedicated bloggers to reveal the truth – and make the Scottish and English media look utterly inept and stupid.   That they now carry on as if nothing had happened shows just how self-serving the media is.   The fact Rangers is totally out of money, raised its last short term loan at interest rates more closely associated with Wonga than a loan to a viable business, and can’t even accept season ticket payments by credit card any more, all show it is on the very edge.  Yet the stories in the press speak about “how tough the Scottish Championship will be next year”.

5. England’s position in dealing with Fifa.  Yes the British press cover Fifa corruption, but not the issue of the FA in dealing with this corruption, spending money on bidding for the world cup, and getting two votes while talking up the chance of winning.  So corrupt was the bidding process, that England’s involvement in spending this money, which could have transformed grass roots football in England, is itself a form of at least total ineptness if not corruption.  But not a word is said about this, or the impossibility of the FA ever extracting itself from the debt it has over the building of Wembley – a stadium that was not needed – while not paying to boost grassroots football – something that is desperately needed.

In the end, occasionally, the “this is how we tell it” approach that spreads through the press in relation to football, does crack a little.  There is some recognition that Fifa, in getting the Brazil government to spend £6.5bn on the World Cup in a country of vast inequalities and failure of public services, is an utter total disgrace and a crime against the population.  But most of the time this is set aside and gets less space than the fact that A Cole is not going.

Indeed it has taken Eric Cantona – who now works as an actor and film maker – to step up and say that the issue of Fifa being stronger and more powerful than any country, is an issue we need to focus on.  It is Cantona who says that Fifa “don’t really care about the sport.”   It gets a mention occasionally, but not often.  As does his really interesting commentary about how Fifa’s demands are changing the whole nature of football in Brazil, for the sake of the Fifa brand.

6.  Man City and FFP.  Of course the press covered the story – but when it went quiet, after the moment when we heard that some clubs had been charged and the other clubs charged had agreed to accept, but Man C had not, there was nothing.   It took Untold and a little later an evening programme on BBC 5 Live, to try and unravel it and most importantly ask why Manchester City had failed to act in concert with the other clubs.

The journalists on the BBC programme and Untold came to slightly different conclusions, as to why Man City had gone so quiet – we suggested that the oil state behind the club were simply not used to anyone calling them into question, while the Gab Marcotti on the BBC said that the club’s owners had paid accountants and lawyers to “fix it” and expected it to happen.  A slightly different take – but not that far apart.  But we were the only ones debating it.

Now the press carries on with its transfer speculation as if this summer were like any other summer, without any notion that anything is different.

So why?

I don’t think this is a conspiracy – at least not in the normal version of a conspiracy.  But I am certain – because I have seen it at first hand – that the media watches each other to see what is the news and what is not – and then they tend to go along the same line.  Opinions differ as to the take on the story, but the story is agreed.  Only rarely, as with the Guardian taking its stand on the Edward Snowden case, does a paper step out of line.

And I am also sure that by and large football supporters are treated by the media as a whole with utter contempt in terms of a view of the intelligence of the average supporter.  Think back to the way BT Sport handled the Emirates Cup last season, making fun of the “point per goal” system, saying it was all far too complex to understand.

Of course treating the reader as an idiot doesn’t explain everything – like why the print media won’t contemplate that there is something wrong with referees or PGMOL.  For that you have to look deeper, and maybe that is better to be left for another day.

But for today, let’s just recall one of the most overt bits of self-censorship you are ever likely to see in a newspaper.  The Daily Telegraph’s list of why Arsenal get more injuries than anyone else.  Wheeled out a day after Untold’s article, with no new evidence, no new story, and one very important explanation missed out.

I find that rather interesting.  I hope you do too.

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29 Replies to “Gotcha: How a newspaper will change football news to suit the agenda”

  1. That the media look to each other to decide what is news is not…..well…news. But in football it just seems that the agenda is agreed beforehand.

    I have now seen the FA Cup final with two different set of commentators (and halftime studio pundits) and it was entirely unanimous that in all the 4 penalty decisions that should have gone Arsenal’s way, the referee was actually correct. I can understand one dissenter going against the rules of the game on one, maybe 2 occasions. For all of them to do it for all the decisions, is quite clearly an agenda.

    I get that penalty decisions can be controversial. But according to the media, both live and reporting later, there was no controversy there at all. Which is just incredible and makes me wonder why anyone should listen to them about anything anymore. They just abuse the access they get. Thankfully, they don’t have monopoly over mass media anymore with blogs (such as this) sprouting up and exploring issues of real importance.

  2. Nice going Tony , don’t be surprised if the site comes under cyber attack .

  3. What about the recent story that daily mail ran (I think) that Aaron Ransey had to go under the knife for an operation now. He came out and made them look like the lying arse holes they are by saying ‘not true, I am on holidays n can’t wait for pre-season’.
    As one blogger said, ‘it was his best finish of the season
    The man is quickly becoming my favourite player if last 8 years so far!’….

  4. Shard,

    To be fair, ITV commentators (Townsend in particular) called the first foul on Santi in the box a definite penalty. They also called the others using the term “I’ve seen them given week in week out in the league”. That was in real time of course.

    In their highlights later in the evening, they totally blacked out the incidents and instead droned on about what Arsenal should be targeting next season. And there is where I agree with you about the agenda. There seem to be a unanimous pact among the English media about officiating: whatever the referee does is always right! Although, they will break this pact the moment their beloved teams are short changed or on those very rare occasions when Arsenal gets the advantage of a wrong call. Then we would never hear the end of it.

  5. I agree with Brickfields @ 9.24
    Another top top Arsenal blog, ArsenalVision have had to close their comments section and even the Arseblogger his had problems with what are simply and best described as AAA trolls in the comments sections. Mean Lean from ArsenalVision writes up some mean match reviews, always enjoyable.

  6. In the 2-1 victory over Liverpool there were two penalty shouts, one for Arsenal, one for Liverpool. Even if we ignored Arsenal’s call Suarez’s constant diving in that game probably explained Webb’s reluctance on that particular call. But that’s not how it was covered.
    And that is how media works. Which is why the TV networks were important in Calciopoli.

  7. All of the press are a munch of amoral bastards, why would you expect anything other than self serving bullshit designed to flog papers and make them money. They are not here to provide a public information service, their only aims are revenue generation and self promotion. These are after all the people that will hack the phones of murdered children and not report on the activities of paedophiles like Saville if they deem it to be in their own interests.

    On a slightly less ranty point I would really like someone to review all premier league games, award refs one point for a correct decision, subtract two points for a wrong decision and then put the findings into a league table. I think this would help to prevent the sort of in built bias you’re talking about, because refs that keep doing it would find themselves down at the bottom of the table and would come under increasing pressure and scrutiny.

    And don’t even get me started on the level of corruption necessary to see a world cup awarded to Qatar….

  8. Elkieno, we have that incident covered of course 😉 But a lot of articles coming out for the moment. and the fa cup final review almost ready now….

  9. Well well check this out, another news site copies off the data –

    I think that it is quite clear that this has been the main reason for us not winning the title.

    Now, let’s move on to refs allowing other teams to kick the shit out of our players and/or other reasons (since bad luck has been ruled out).

    Re the media and it’s agenda – I think anyone, on any subject, and I mean ANY subject, should try to make up their own mind. Nothing is as it seems. There is always an angle. Sometimes it’s clear agenda (meat is bad for you but ACTUALLY you shouldn’t kill animals) – sometimes it’s the understanding that not-so-sensational news will not sell; sometimes you can’t write that the whole league is corrupt because jeezus there’s just SO MUCH MONEY here and look what happened to Serie A…

    And it becomes much easier today, with the endless stream of information, to differentiate between reliable information and false one. And even when you try to rely only on hard evidence – pictures are being photo-shopped, videos are being edited, false statements are given.

  10. Mike T

    Did you think any of our penalty shouts where good shouts?

    If they where against Chelsea would you of been screaming for them?

  11. Bootoomee

    I said that very thing on here about Townsend and ITV. The actual ‘real time’ commentary was pretty good.

    He more or less said he would of given all 4.

    He also didn’t make too much of the corner that wasn’t that we scored from, reasoning it was a very difficult call. In fact it took him and the commentator 4 replays I think it was before finally seeing the last touch was ours.

    But I don’t know if that’s worse. It certainly shows a willingness to ‘bury it’ despite the importance and in accuracy of the Referees decisions.

    I mean, can you imagine if those calls had been the other way round ?

    Doesn’t bear thinking about.

  12. @Jambug

    Although it shouldn’t make a jot of difference all would probably have been given a free kicks outside the box

    The Giroud v Huddlestone coming together looked an obvious one but like a lot of these type of incidents Giroud probably exaggerated his movement and that one factor probably put a doubt in the refs mind.

    One thing I will say in the defence of the ref is that he is viewing the incident at ground level, TV viewers and indeed the pundits see from an elevated position.
    I don’t know if you saw the master class on SKY a week or two ago where Collina talked about and demonstrated the worth of the two extra assistants.

    Would I be shouting for them if had been Chelsea? Yep without doubt!

  13. Mike T

    Thanks for that.

    I have to confess that I was being slightly devious, because I thought you would agree they where good shouts, hard not to really, but my real questions are:

    1) How could they not even be discussed in the post match analysis, as on ITV ? (who incidentally called them all as Pens in real time).


    2) All 4 be dismissed out of hand, as they where by BT Sport, ESPN, The SUN, TalkShite, and just about every other media outlet?

    3)Do you concede that that is a degree of bias you would not see levelled against any other side?

    I contest

  14. @Jambug

    They didn’t want you to win. Just like they didn’t want Man City to win last year. The story isn’t Arsenal or the big club winning, All the media outlets try to sell it as David v Goliath.
    They don’t sell their product on the likes of Arsenal winning a cup they pray for the underdog.

    They haven’t singled out Arsenal, they don’t give a fig about you winning they wanted Hull to win. It was the story which in turn opened them up to a load of other bye lines such as Hull Owner proves be called Tigers is right. Or something along those lines.

    We all focus on the injustice of the commentators in relation to our own teams. In truth commentators and journalists are all pretty naff.

    I don’t know if you have or do watch The Sunday Supplement. I love watching it the journalists are pathetic their opinions are shallow and their grasp of current events are either censored or they fail to grasp the fact that the clubs treat them like pariahs and only feed them snippets because they are contractually obliged.

  15. Metro is doing their part to hold up their responsibility for being a “news” organization. (Now just sit still and read this article while they whack you with a frozen mackerel.)

    Fans of all teams (except Arsenal) are allowed to vote for their signing of the season. Arsenal fans were not voting for most of the duration of the survey, and then at the very end, managed to push Ozil to 49% to win.

    Look whorenalist. The survey is set up to count votes. If Ozil got the most counts when the voting was closed, he wins. It doesn’t matter if all the votes came in the last 2 minutes of voting or not. It is just like the league, being on top for most of the season, doesn’t make you the winner at the end.

  16. Another very thought provoking article Tony.

    Can you get intellectual property rights on Untold content to prevent this abuse and theft of Untold orginal material?

  17. Sav, I think the answer is that he (and participants in Untold Arsenal) already have Copyright to some extent (seldom is a comment made with a rider about copying). The problem is proving that the article was copied. Big media company with deep pockets versus Tony. I don’t think it likely a successful prosecution could happen.

  18. @Mike T

    I am very dubious of their methodology.

    Arsenal topped their list of days lost to injury with 1716 days lost, compared to Man City with 929 days, yet the score they gave each team is Arsenal 35, Man City 34.

    Yet they offer no detail that I could find as to how they came to those conclusions and which Arsenal players they obviously must have deemed non-key players.

    Numbers here without the mysterious interpretation so you can judge yourself (they have all the other teams if you are interested):

  19. I cannot see Wenger signing Etoo on a free even if he comes without wages!!!

  20. Mike T

    I concede you have a point about David and Goliath but come off it there’s more to this than that.

    Are you really trying to suggest that had it been Manchester United or Liverpool instead of us, that non of them would of been given?

    Are you honestly trying to say that if by some miracle they wasn’t given their wouldn’t of been uproar in the media?

    Sorry Mike, but you are kidding yourself if you think that.

  21. @Jambug

    We will never know however I doubt that had either Liverool , Man Utd gone on to win in the same circumstances (like you did) that more would have been made of it

    There really wasn’t any mileage in TV or the newspapers making an issue of denied penalties for you. It wouldn’t change the result, you don’t extra prize money and they wouldn’t be able to peddle the story about how close the underdog came.

  22. Mike T

    But that’s the point Mike, they DID make a point of it, only the point they made was they WASN’T penalties.

    Perhaps I’d be more inclined to go along with you if, like ITV, they just ignored them, but they didn’t,

    They made a SPECIFIC effort to prove they where NOT penalties.

    That to me is bias, plain and simple.

  23. @jambug

    Cant comment on what the pundits as we watched the game in Malta without commentary as they had A Madrid & Barcelona on the main screen.Although I thought I read that Townsend said they were penalties.

    Irony is Mourino implied in one of his post match press conferences that there is indeed a bias in the make up of pundits. Which of course is made up by way of a majority of both ex Man utd & Liverpool players

  24. Mike T

    To be fair, and I’ve already said this on here, during the match ITV where fair.

    Townsend called all 4 as either definite or ‘I’ve seen ’em given’ and he never made a fuss about our ‘non’ corner that lead to our equalizing either.

    Where as BTSport accused Santi of ‘going down too easily’ with the push. And the defender got the ball 1st on his other shout. Warnock was apoplectic about our corner. Big teams get all the decisions and all that.

    Ref revue in the Sunday SUN said ref got all 4 pen decisions right.

    So THEY DID MAKE SOMETHING OF THEM, it’s just that despite the glaringly bleeding obvious that we all saw they was at pains to PROVE it was in fact ARSENAL that got the ONE dodgy decision there was.

  25. Mike T

    Don’t think I’ve entirely convinced you but I appreciate your comments. 🙂

  26. The funny thing is that in Spain no one has any problem in admitting that the big two use their own media for their own purposes. Marca is a newspaper for Madrid fans!

    This is is understood. Propaganda is not a ethereal concept, it is a craft.

    e.g. di Maria speaking exclusively to Marca, who are then copied by other ‘news’ sites:
    ‘Speaking to Marca, the Argentine – who is expected to play a starring role for his country in the upcoming FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil – said: “It hurts when you’re always doing your best for your club and then you hear that you might be going to Tottenham.’

    Similarly in Britain all newscorp orifices were previously seen to be supporting Slur Alex’s team. Politics and football, they do still mix. Always have, always will. It’s why Abu Dhabi bought a football team in Manchester, England.

    Arsenal need to buy up a newspaper (again!)?

  27. Why should there be more talk on FFP its a dead issue now no longer news nothing new to say and are you suggesting the media are showing a pro city bias thats just laughable

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