By Tony Attwood
There is quite a difference between football journalism and (for example) political or financial journalism, for football journalism rarely asks “why?” And even less rarely does it do any sort of analysis of the “why”?
There is little questioning of why something happened, why something else is an issue, and if another issue actually even happened or is important.
One part of the reason for this is that whereas most of us are only governed by the laws of the land concerning libel and slander, football is also governed by its own rules about what managers and others can say and do.
The fact that such rules exist is a fact of life, but they don’t apply to journalists, who have the same freedom as in any other area. But football journalists don’t question issues in football. They don’t look at contradictions.
And as a result the daily story of football is so mis-told that it becomes utterly misleading, and ultimately a fiction.
Indeed the situation is worse than that, for once a few people have published their bland reality and simplistic notions of what football is about, ignoring issues that don’t fit, no one can step out of line without bringing the whole house of cards tumbling down. And no one wants to destroy their own job.
No one can stand up and say, “hang on guys, I know we don’t normally question the behaviour of the FA, but really…” Or “I know that we ignore the possibility that referees might be biased or bought or grossly incompetent, but to make sense of this story we need to ask why this is going on.”
Now by chance, my work on the Arsenal History Site this week caused me to go back to the very first article published on Untold. It was published on 14 JAnuary 2008 – getting on for seven years ago – under the headline Arsenal witness the end of football
The opening paragraph is written below. The link above takes you to the whole article
“Arsenal were poor against Birmingham City FC on 12 January, we can’t get away from that, but what made matters much worse was the appearance once again of the blight that is sweeping the game – time wasting when the ball is out of play.”
So seven or so years on and we get to a game involving endless time wasting, which as the article shows, was totally uncontrolled by a ref who seemed utterly out of his depth. Now I haven’t seen the TV recordings of this weekend’s game, but I suspect much of the time wasting will be edited out. So for the rest of the world who were not there, there was no or little time wasting. I say that based on previous matches I have seen either on Match of the Day or the Sky TV extended programming that takes place on a saturday evening. It won’t be shown.
Indeed we’ve discussed it before here. When the ball goes out of play the camera follows the last man to touch it (usually doing something as amazingly exciting as walking back with his head down) before running replays. If the keeper wastes more and more and more time the replays continue. For a strange reason the newspaper reports then follow the TV lead by not mentioning time wasting.
This is certainly the case in today’s Observer newspaper – no mention of time wasting – although quite a few mentions of it turn up in the commentaries from those who were there.
But if you were not there, please don’t think that this was just ordinary time wasting – this was TW (for short) on an industrial scale. Players falling down right left and centre, head injuries of untouched players from which players miraculously recovered, the keeper wasting time at goalkicks from the first minute, the holding of the ball by the keeper for ten or fifteen seconds without being carded even with the ref looking at him….
But then it got really weird. Drew and I got back to the car at Archway at 6pm, and turned the radio on just in time to hear a discussion about the Arsenal game. The studio host asked the correspondent at the game if there was any booing at the end, and the correspondent said “no.”
This was (to use the technical term) utter bollocks. The boos rang around the ground, as they had done during the match. But whereas they were aimed at the Hull players during the match they were aimed at the ref at the final whistle. (We had also witnessed the most rousing chorus of “You don’t know what you’re doing” I have ever heard in my life – and I’ve heard it a lot of times).
But the BBC correspondent had not noticed! Or was by that time down the pub.
No, actually he probably did notice, but what he was doing was following the absolute rule that we’ve considered before; that time wasting is not news and so didn’t happen.
So as we drove back to the motorway I sent the programme a text saying that the correspondent was utterly wrong; there was booing. Of course they didn’t read it out. Correspondents on the radio cannot be wrong.
Finally, a caller to 606 came onto the show and said that he was amazed that no one was commenting on the timewasting. “Is it just me who sees it?” he asked. “Yes” said one of the show hosts, “it must be, since no one else has ever mentioned it.”
So we’ve come in a complete circle. First the fact is that lesser teams are using every trick in the book to waste time, with referees are colluding with them in not punishing the feigning of injury (which I judge by the ability of the injured player to get back up), and the holding of the ball by keepers, or the time the passes between the ball going out of play and being kicked back in, by the keeper.
Second, there is the collusion media which never mentions it. Through this it has become a big part of the game, and is related to referee incompetence or corruption,
In relation to this the discussion of the time wasting is non-existent, or restricted and curtailed, on the basis that if it is not mentioned by the media it hasn’t happened – because if it had happened it would have been mentioned in the media.
The reality is that what you see on the screen is not what actually happens in the ground. What you read in the press and hear on the radio is not what happens in the ground.
But why? Why don’t the media mention it, and why is time wasting so rarely dealt with by the ref? I have seen a few refs give yellow cards to keepers for their time wasting, but always it is done around the 85th minute, when it will have a minimum impact.
Are the refs biased or just incompetent? Are the media protecting the image of the sport they are presenting, or are they all following the TV screen?
How come that an issue that was written about here seven years ago, on this blog, and has been mentioned many time since, can never once make the news in the mass media?
I don’t think there’s any sort of mass conspiracy between journalists. Rather it is simply lazy journalism. And I do think this is important, because the football many people see is the football that is shown on TV. The newspaper journalists are not writing about the football we see at the ground, but rather the football people see on TV.
But this laziness of journalism goes much further.
Lazy journalists never ask why PGMOL is a closed rather than an open organisations.
Lazy journalists never ask why we have so few Premier League refs – which leads to a biased ref having far more impact on a specific team than he would with more refs on board.
Lazy journalists never ask why despite getting 99% of transfer speculation wrong, the press continue to present the “rumours” as anything more than tales made up in the pub after hours.
Lazy journalists never ask how it is possible for clubs to become owned and/or by chancers, incompetents, money launderers, criminals, thieves and nut cases in such a way that decent clubs can be run into the ground. Rangers, Blackburn, Portsmouth…
Lazy journalists never ask how come certain tackles go unpunished.
Lazy journalists never ask if a story is actually correct. They see the price of tickets story and don’t think, are these stats really meaningful or are they being manipulated to show certain clubs in the worst case?
Lazy journalists never ask why England – a country that is fanatical about football, does so badly in the world cup and European competition each time.
Lazy journalists never once asked if the FA’s explanation of why it hadn’t spent the money from Sports England on what it should have spent it on, by the due, was actually viable.
Lazy journalists never link FFP, salaries and the price of going to matches – and yet they are all obviously at the centre of football.
Lazy journalists never asked by Man City failed to settle their FFP case (as everyone other club had done) until much later than the other clubs.
Lazy journalists never once raised the issue of the video experiments in the Netherlands – at least until Untold ran its story, and then suddenly the Telegraph rushed out a press release from PGMOL.
Lazy journalists never ask why their publications collude with TV in the make-believe world of removing all time wasting from their reports. It is part of the game, it influences the result, and it is ignored.
There are of course many more issues – but this is enough to be going on with. There are fundamental issues in football that the media won’t touch – until they aboslutely have to – and even then they’ll drag their feet as far as they can.
What is going on?
- Over half of the 92 league clubs have gone into administration this century. What next?
- Does spending on transfers automatically bring success? Arsenal compared to the rest.
- Manchester City v Arsenal: the team and the FA Cup
- Has Arsenal now caught up with Manchester City?
- Manchester City v Arsenal: the referee and the FA Cup