Football supporting and football journalism in a spiral of decline

By Tony Attwood

“Football is fickle” is an old phrase.  And an apt one.  It used to be that one season your club could be great, then next rubbish.  Then it was one month to the next, then one week to the next, then one day to the next.

Now the chances are that unless your club is top of the league, your club is rubbish.  It is true of Arsenal as much as Exeter or Accrington.  If we are not top, its not good enough.  Screw the future, I want success and I want it now.

The game now is that of attacking managers, as if they can wave a magic wand and turn everything around, which of course they can’t.  But worse, there is no evidence that changing one manager for another works – and yet that is what these “fans” demands, and what the club owners give them.  Just look at the clubs with their new managers and see how often it works.   Roughly around 5% of new managers deliver the success demanded.

(Actually it is now getting even tougher, since the new rules of the game are that winning the FA Cup is no longer “success”).

Changing managers is now like betting on horse racing.  As everyone who studies gambling technique (rather than the “form”) knows that the one way to win on horse racing is to choose to bet on (for example) the horse with the name that is first in the alphabet among the runners, and place a £1 bet.  If that horse doesn’t win, do the same for the next race with a £2 bet.  If that horse doesn’t win, do the same again next time with a £4 bet.  Eventually the horse with the name which is first in the alphabet will come in and you’ll get all your money back and a profit.  All you have to do is hold your nerve.

So eventually you get a manager who wins stuff.  But that is not the way to guarantee the sort of instant success that so many fans now want – they don’t want to win the next race.  They want to win this race and every race, and then do it again.  And changing managers doesn’t do that.

Which is why attacking managers is not about success for the club – it is about being abusive, vicious and nasty.  It is a form of bear baiting and it is defended in the same way that bear baiting was defended when it was legal.   In 1800 an attempt was made to outlaw that “sport” and our prime minster George Canning said, “the amusement [of bear baiting] inspired courage and produced a nobleness of sentiment and elevation of mind”.

Any day now you’ll hear a journalist say the same about manager baiting.

When the Bill against bear baiting was lost, The Times, that bastion of hatred and made up tales, said that a law which interfered with how a man chooses to spend his leisure time was tyranny.  They were pretty much in favour of wife abuse as an Englishman’s inalienable right too.

So some people defend manager baiting, and now it exists across the country: Paul Lambert, Alan Irvine, Brendan Rodgers, Nigel Pearson, Alan Pardew, Arsène Wenger, Alan Irvine….

The fact is that manager baiting does as much for the manager’s ability to manage as bear baiting did for the bear’s ability to live a natural life and enjoy the woodlands.

And the comparison between bear baiting and manager baiting is correct, because both have their ring where it all takes place.  With the manager it is the “technical area” where they are put on show – and the abuse is hurled.

To show that manager baiting doesn’t actually improve a club’s performance, consider this: if we take Mr Wenger out of the calculations, the average length of time of a manager in a job in the Premier League it is just a trifle over a year – which may be fun for the baiters, but doesn’t do much for stability.

Of course the journalists love this manager-baiting, and stoke it up, pretending always to be “just reporting what is going on” but in fact endlessly encouraging the situation by deciding to make the key news.   After all who decides that a tiny bunch of men at the WBA game holding up a banner is worthy of news, compared with, say, the performance of the ref, or why the PGMO is so secret, or why refs don’t have videos?  The journalists and their editors decide, just as their colleagues in TV studios decide that time wasting is not news but a player trotting back after messing up a shot is news.

So what is going on?

The most obvious explanation of all this is that supporters baiting managers is cheap and easy news.  The “foul-mouthed rant” as the expression beloved of journalists goes, can take up half a page and give you a story before opening time.  Why do your job when an idiot supporter gives you what the editor will accept?

But why do “supporters” (I use the word loosely) get so angry with managers and demand their departure, when all the evidence is that bringing in a new man rarely does any good?

The answer seems to be that people in England are getting more and more angry generally, probably because we have veered to a society in which social mobility has declined rather than (as is the express aim of our government) increased.  The notion that Britain has a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich is not a view that everyone shares, but through most of the current government 18 of the 23 full-time members of the cabinet are millionaires, having between them a capital wealth of about £50 million.  With the destruction of the economy by the banking sector, so famously liberated by M. Thatcher with her “big bang” policy, this combination left most of us finding it hard to better themselves.

In earlier times there might well have been a popular uprising against such a manifestly unfair economic policy as is currently operated, but through careful manipulation of the situation, football, like tweeting and blogs, has become a way for people to be angry both without suffering any consequences, and without actually damaging the politicians, bankers and economists who create the conditions.

This approach is aided by the psychotic position of the journalists – commenting negatively on the “foul-mouthed rant” (which must surely be the journalistic phrase of 2014) while revelling in this endless source of back page news found without effort.

So the more the “supporters” whine and attack, the more unstable the club becomes, and the more the journalists can complain, and so the more the “supporters” are encouraged to whine and attack.

Today the story is the decline and fall of Liverpool and Arsenal.  The reason for each being lower in the league than at this time last year is simple – Arsenal for a catastrophic run of injuries for Liverpool the story is that last season they let Suarez run the show, but were unable, like Arsenal, to persuade new players of the highest quality to come in and take his place.

With Ramsey, Wilshere, Walcott, Koscielny, and Ozil in the team we can stamp our authority on any opposition, without two or three of them we still stand a fair chance.  Without all five we struggle; it isn’t a mystery.  And we don’t have perfect backups in each case, because players of that quality who are absolutely ready to step into the team, won’t come along and be backups.  They expect first team places.

But the press can’t be doing with this sort of story, so they continue the “players as meat” approach in which Arsenal could have any player it wanted, if only Wenger wasn’t so mean with other people’s money, or so lazy.

Alexis Sánchez, Danny ­Welbeck, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy have been solid and sound players developing into the team – and if anything like the full team had been available to allow them to play their way in, we’d have seen even more from them.  As it is we have the Telegraph saying that players like Debuchy have “blown hot and cold and offered little evidence to suggest they can provide the links that have now been missing for the best part of 10 years.”  Perhaps didn’t notice that he was injured.

How does football end the cycle of abuse, departure, appointment, abuse, departure?  How do we end the stoking of the anger of “fans” that fuels this cycle, by the journalists who can’t believe their luck that the story is written for them day by day?

Writing the alternative view of the need for stability and support on blogs like this, while trying to expose the insanity of the PGMO, and the appalling actions of journalists and their mindless allies is just about the only route I can think of – while trying endlessly to point out that the abuse, departure, appointment, abuse cycle is one that just leads to more and more instability.  Maybe there is an alternative, but I just can’t see it.

Untold Index

29 Replies to “Football supporting and football journalism in a spiral of decline”

  1. please keep writing ! as the only sensible blog you mustn’t stop although it must be disheartening being a lone voice in amongst a chorus of vindictive uninformed rubbish I hope your message eventually seeps through and we can begin to restore the behaviour and attitudes that the game we love deserves

  2. Once upon a time we feared the barbarians at the gates. These days, the gatekeepers themselves are the barbarians. The media scrabble around after the holy grail of the lowest common denominator and truth, decency and honour are the scarificial victims as the real stories are bypassed in favour of the headline most likely to generate retweets, ‘likes’ and ‘sharing’.

    The digital age has rendered us all hostage to clicks on the computer and no purse of truth will likely ever be deep enough to pay this particular ransom. No sooner is one myth dispelled when another springs up to replace the last lie or misrepresentation.

    Without genuine reform, football is unlikely to raise itself from the gutter it now finds itself in. Without sensible measures – reform of FIFA, the dismantling of Riley’s own personal fiefdom, the introduction of video technology – eventually sensible people will end up doing other things.

    There is only so much integrity a sport can squander before it goes the way of cycling, wrestling, athletics and gymnastics, all once respected endeavours now labouring under the weight of widespread suspicion, mass distrust and an ever-decaying veneer of credibility.

  3. Sadly for the UK it is not just football that the Media in the UK reports on it is virtually everything else it reports and comments on.

    Truth, honesty and in depth reporting have been abandon for an endless game of vulgarity and triviality.

    It seems to me that everyone in the media is in a competition seeking to be the most trivial and the most vulgar.

    The losers are the British public who have no where else to turn for truth and intelligent reporting.

    The lone voice of truth and integrity in this horrific wilderness is Arsene.

  4. Great post Tony. The present scenario has the finger print of the media all over it. They have a stranglehold on the agenda-setting privilege, and they are abusing it so badly.

    @Julian Philpot. Spot on sir. UA cannot afford to stop, neither can we afford them to. Am sure this good work being done by this website will come good eventually.

  5. Bravo, finally a sane article in an insane hate driven media world we live in where respect and truth are old fashioned values which have no place in modern day so called journalism

  6. I think it is interesting that NO PL managers have left their jobs since the start of the season – so far. A bit of a perfect (lack of) storm – existing managers who are under-achieving have reserves of goodwill to draw on, new managers are doing just enough. No one has been catastrophically bad yet this season.

    Perhaps owners are, collectively, showing some strategic vision for a change?

  7. I think the game of football has long graduated from been a recreational sport to a big business professional and passionate sport. The stake has considerable gone up and keeps going higher up. Consequently, only the very capable can withstand the pressure of the constant elevation in modern day football. An owner of a football club hires a football manager to manage his club and win laurels for him and the club supporters as time goes on. But after a spell of a given time, the manager then appeared not capable to manage the club to a winning path. I am afraid, the club’s owner could call it a day with his manager. The club’s owner and the club supporters a basically two birds with the same feathers but with a slight difference a times. Every football manager knows that he is hired to deliver the goods for the club owner(s) and the club supporters. Any failure to deliver the goods could draw the wrath of the club’s owner and the club supporters. Depending on their passion for success, baiting could set-in to put pressure on the manager or on the club’s owner or both of them by the club supporters who are the main stay of the club.

  8. Thanks for a great write up Walter.

    I feel the level of media is indeed getting lower. There is not a single shred of honesty left. There is nothing to read in the papers that is not to be questioned and verified. For me, news are not facts: they are opinions, at best; and subversive attempts to manipulate the public, probably.

    However, maybe it has always been really low: maybe the age of information just helped us open our eyes. I do not know. What I do know is that perception has changed; and that now the most important thing for a media company is to sell.

    And you sell not by writing that everything is A-OK – you have to write about some crisis; about something sinister and bad and problematic and catashtrophic. Otherwise people will not buy your paper.

    Facts and truth has evacuated themselves for the benefit of speculations, made-up stories and damn lies.

    For us, as football fans, this facet of the media is very obvious. But I think it is safe to say that this sad reality is all around us. Journalism is no longer a watch-dog – it is a parasite.

  9. And of course Merry Xmas to all of you – Tony, Walter, Untolders and Gunners all around the world !!!

  10. Pete,

    Quite right,   but I’m fairly confident that,  after some teams lower down the PL have a torrid 8 days of the festive season, in early to mid-January we may well be reading and hearing the phrase, 

    ” The board thanks Ron Knee (sic) for his hard work and wishes him all the best for the future”

    Re: this article,

    If I have learned anything in life,  it is that ’empty vessels make the most noise’. It was certainly true of me at 18,  as i was hurling abuse from the North Bank when my red-shirted heroes had disappointed me. But it ended at the final whistle and then would continue in a slightly less heated vein during the post match debrief with my pal Vincent,  on the Tube home to Arnos Grove.  Apart from the Monday morning walk-of-shame after a home defeat, that was it until the following week,  when I would be then lionising them again to any who would listen.

    I’ve calmed down a bit since then (and maybe a bit surer of myself too),  and see the continual petulant Internet ravings of the disappointed as a measure of their own inner degree of personal satisfaction.  When one looks at the mee-jah,  where everything is sold by the pound,  one is inescapably reminded that the opportunity to advertise to the rest of the world what we have made of ourselves from  have learned from life,  is now available to anyone within reach of an Internet terminal,  including journalists.   In this sense,  we all now contribute to the tone of public discussion.

    Reasoned opinion,  especially when controversial,  is always welcome in the debating chamber.   The mewling and puking of discontented infants is better confined to the nursery.  I’ll stop banging on now,  like the old fart that I seem to have become. 

    Tony & Walter,

    Thank you for maintaining a perfect pitch,  level and true,  amidst the quaking mire of football blogdom.

  11. We should be able to expect much more from our media than the drivel they presently spew out – is accurate and unbiased reporting too much for the media – apparently so.

    For those who enjoy science fiction – I always consider the newspaper editor as depicted in the “Spiderman” movies as being much closer to reality than many realize.

    But more worrying than the sensationalism created for marketing purposes is the continued anti Arsenal bias – all designed to undermine what is arguably the best and most stable club in the league. This is where incompetence runs shoulder to shoulder with something sinister and unsavory – and somewhere in the cloudy machinations we note the continued incompetence of the PGMO being covered up – and all by a media who, when it suits them, will ruin an individual to sell papers/get hits etc.

  12. i think Debuchey was disappointing while he was injured, and Ozil is clearly ‘nicking a living’in rehab, Walcot too – a most unreliable occupant of an injury room berth. I think we need players that know how to perform with only one or two of their limbs intact – perhaps instead of Shad we should have recruited Steve Austin?*

    * there’s one for those of a certain age

  13. some football fans just want change for the sake of it, and when it comes to Wenger, the UK media share the agenda, and are very happy to oblige.
    There is a vocal minority who will not rest until Wenger has gone, and will happily do anything they can to destablise the club, players and fanbase as they believe this will speed up their end game.
    Not a thought given as to whether things will actually improve the day Wenger departs, just change for change sake. Charlton fans went through a similar thing with Alan Curbishly a while back, having got bored with mid table in the Premiership. Their changes worked out well didnt they!

  14. I completely agree Mandy, in fact the one thing the media seem not to want to change is us buying and reading their verbal diarrhea

  15. The same plundits that heckle AW for ignoring their agent friends (a manager who is constantly paying half the inflated petro-club rates for players) are the same plundits who’ve been doing their best to ignore the destruction of the club once known as Glasgow Rangers, a club that no longer exists. In spite of the blogs run by football fans for years and years up there. They even carried appeals for the former Rangers fans’ money for Servco on the BBC over this past summer without explaining to fans the current situation up there, that the money had already been spent on debt peonage. Given what is currently happening, it is incredible to think that the BBC were happy to mislead football fans in that manner. This is a clear and direct contrast to the media attacks on AFC for not consistently giving in the demands of agents in the game. To be clear they can be seen to be consistently promoting debt peonage, which is maybe their opinion or even philosophy but it certainly is not a belief shared by all footballs fans, or most.

    Many of these plundits appear to like agents more then they like the football. I don’t think they bother to think about the plebs (fans).

  16. Great article Tony.

    Mandy, you have said it perfectly too.

    I have been dismayed for some time about the lazy journalism we see today and the fact they seem to spend too much time with each other in the bar. Rarely do I read a report that reflects the game I have watched. Sometimes football is forgotten, as the match is more like something out of Hello magazine.

    The journos are no different from today’s modern fan. They are experts in football management, tactics and hindsight – and they never let an opportunity pass to criticise a manager they don’t like. There is an assumption that when a team does badly it is the Managers fault and therefore he should be sacked and another recruited. There is no attempt for rational reasoning, it is just cheer-leading and rabble rousing. I don’t wish to insult anyone but this is aimed at a certain demographic.

    Yesterday, SKY are true to form and as pundits we have Rednapp and Bellamy, two ex Liverpool players. Sandwiched between them was Alan ‘wet’ Smith (sorry but he is). Doing the commentary was Liverpool fan and coach at Wycombe Martin ‘lets bore everyone to tears’ Tyler. (Watching the hi-lights on BBC MOTD made me realise just how biased and cliche ridden Martin Tyler is).

    Look, Arsenal have always been accused of being unable to win ugly or get results when playing poorly. Not true of course but when we do get results in those circumstances it will be because we have been ‘lucky’. Should Man Utd or Chelsea play poor and grab a point, the narrative is different.

    Yesterday we did not play well. Certainly not by our own standards. It is only fair to give Liverpool credit for the way they performed with the ball, even though they didn’t really occupy Sczesney. So to stay in the game and almost nick a very good three points, is a very good achievement. Nobody goes to Anfield and gets an easy ride, especially when the Liverpool players have been under fire.

    Some things are predictable. Certain people had tried to claim Liverpool were hopeless and an easy three points were on offer. This was either total naivety or an attempt to load the dice so Arsenal (and Wenger) could not win. I have no doubt whatsoever that certain people rubbed their hands with glee when Liverpool equalised in the 97th minute. Not all of those would have been Liverpool and Spurs fans though; nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more.

    The anti-Arsenal and anti-Wenger narrative contains some clear rules, please add any I have missed:

    1. Arsenal are not allowed to get points when they don’t play well. If they do it is because they were lucky.
    2. The Manager is only responsible when we drop points. When we win them it id due to the players or the other team playing poorly or with injuries.
    3. Our own injuries are not bad luck, they are all the Managers fault. They must not be used as excuses.
    4. The fact Chelsea and Man City have a net spent greater than £300 million since we built the stadium is irrelevant.
    5. Winning the FA Cup does not count as we only beat Hull
    6. Winning the Community Shield does not count because Man City were not interested in winning
    7. Arsenal winning 13 points in the CL is irrelevant as we only finished second. Man City getting 8 points should be praised endlessly.
    8. Arsenal trying to fight financially doped clubs does not mean we are the good guys. The good guys are Man City, despite being fined for cheating and fiddling the Frank Lampard transfer (shh, this must not be mentioned).

    I am starting to really give in. I feel sorry for Wenger because he does not deserve the disrespect afforded to him. And neither do we fans. Arsenal is such a great, great club that has achieved so much in the last 15 odd years, without any handouts or preferential treatment. We should be appreciated and praise for our achievements, not ridiculed and abused at every opportunity. That should be saved for teams that have never won the Premier League, despite claiming to be big clubs.

  17. I’m glad some comments covered the influence football agents have with the media. They play a big role in which club gets which players. AW is a honest and principle man and he does not mingle with these parasites. If our fans does not see that, then I would not be surprise if some of them sell off their mum for a buck just because scums say so. A great violation of self freedom and expression.

  18. But dont you think one of the top 5 paid managers in the world and the highest paid CEO on the planet should be accountable for their actions and the way they are performing.Im sure if i was under performing at work the last thing i would get is a pay rise.Football is a results business and at the moment some of the results are unsatisfactory to put it mildly!!

  19. But Nick, surely the point of Tony’s article is that by most modern measurements everyone is underperforming? Only one team can win the league and if that (and the CL) are the only trophies that count then 99.9% of clubs are doomed to fail. AW has helped Arsenal remain the top four despite the financial pressures of a new ground and, pound for pound, we finish pretty much where we ought to considering our relative transfer spend. Times are changing but as we get more spending power so do City, United and Chelsea.

    It is December and we are 6th. If we remain 6th (or lower) at the end of the season it will be deemed a failure by Wenger, the board, the team and probably most of us. But if we were (unlikely) to win the CL I suspect it might not be seen thus. However, finish in the top four and that will still be seen as failure by some unless we add a pot or two to that.So while we might be ‘underperforming’ at this stage (and from one perspective) the club is boyant financially, has a good squad, great youth set up and training facilities, sound economic future and growing international business interests. Frankly I just want us to win every game but exactly how are you measuring Arsenal PC PLC in terms of success? On several levels we are remarkably successful and Arsene is doing a great job. Or do you only judge yourself on one aspect of your job?

  20. I can’t blame the ref yesterday. He got things wrong but our performance was so bad it seems churlish to cast the blame elsewhere.

    Our midfield was awful apart from Santi. Poor Ox had a nightmare. His first touch was disasterous, he over dribbled and his passing was inaccurate. I’ve no words for Flamini’s performance. Also we are so short in defence we have a pup being played into the ground and our right back playing his 2nd ever game at CB, though he did do well.

    We desperately need to get some players back fit. We were or full first choice midfield absent yesterday plus Rosicky. We need a couple of players in January but paramount is getting our boys back fit. Physio Room suggests all bar Jack will be back by January the 1st. Some will be back by Boxing Day, some for the 28th and Mesut onNew Years Day

    Problem is will they be match fit? I can see us going on a good run when everyone is back but we have West Ham and Southampton away in the next 10 days. I can’t see us winning if we have to play yesterday’s team. My worry is that we will be too many points behind them both and man u by the time we’re back to strength

    One ray of light for me is looking forward to seeing Mesut play, rested and keen, linking up with our fully fit pacy forward line. How we have missed his ball retention and Kos’ strength and pace at the back.

  21. Samora. That article is flawed. It compares days lost to injury but fails to mention that Eduardo and Ranseys leg breaks from ‘Knocks’ (assaults) are included. In the article it also mentions the injuries to Giroud and Wilshere, both were ‘Knocks’ and Wilshere an assault (late tackle).

    It infuriates me when the media and certain factions try to use the numbers without applying any common sense or weighting. Debuchy was another injury which had nothing whatsoever to do with the club and Walcott was injured for England. I believe it was Mark Twain who said: There are stats and damn lies.

    Perhaps they could do a table of days lost to injury for our players resulting from late tackles and knocks. That would be interesting.

  22. Tunnygriff. I agree, we were way below our best but we still almost stole a victory. Heads did not go down and the team came away from Anfield with a good point. People seem to be missing the point here. Going to Anfield is never easy, so that was a very good result. We will play really well and lose games, that’s football. We lost heavily last year so I have no idea why a small section of fans seem unhappy. Those idiots who try to pretend that was going to be an easy three points, know nothing about football. They have their motives for faking outrage, a win wouldn’t have changed that.

  23. I’ve always felt that Arsenal were and will continue to be punished for not playing the money game that sadly football seems to be devolving into. Conversely this is one of the reasons I love the club.

  24. @ proudkev

    You’ve covered everything mate in your first comment, well said. And a fantastic article Tony, thanks.

    You did, however, miss a couple of rules.

    9. If Man U, Chelsea or virtually anybody else scores in the last minute, it’s their ‘never-say-die’ attitude that should be praised. Or in our case really lucky.

    10. Posession counts for nothing (which has it’s merits) when Arsenal dominnate a game but (as Lawrenson said on Five Live this morning), Liverpool deserved something from the game because they dominated posession (you know, a bit like we did against Man U at home).

    The media are, and always will be, crap because 95% of them have no interest in truth. As for the general public……….well just take a look at the most popular programmes on TV and make your own judgement. Sadly, all anyone seems to be into now is their own ego and instant success and riches. Being associated with glory is becoming far more important than supporting a club through thick and thin for an increasing section of fans (I can’t bring myself to call them supporters for obvious reasons!)

    We weren’t great yesterday, I admit. Having said that , with all the injuries we have we are creating more goal scoring opportunities per game than any team in the EPL other than Man City; only Chelsea have more shots on target per game than us; and we’re limiting the opposition to less shots on goal than any team other than Southampton. What went wrong yesterday was our passing which was a dismal 71% while on avaerage we’re as good if not better than anyone having averaged over 85% before yesterday. I wonder who’s going to blame AW for the players not passing the ball as well as they ususally do………..

  25. I thought no wenger knows something is going on like when he was at Monaco. Do you think he will spill the beans only when he retires? Or is he hoping that it will come to light already? And he plods along the riteous route?

  26. Another great article which touches on wider issues. I also enjoyed reading some of the great comments.

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