By Tony Attwood
So yes, we have written and published 5000 articles on Untold Arsenal since we started this rather eccentric and somewhat different publication back on 14 January 2008.
Our first piece, rather portentously, was called Arsenal witness the end of football and we plodded along writing maybe five articles a week. These days you are more likely to get 20 a week.
But have we done anything? I mean, have we actually changed anything in the world of football.
I’d love to think so – after all ever since I started writing professionally I have held dear to the motto of the late 1960s commentators, “the only reason for writing is to change the world”.
But that is a dream – I don’t sit here thinking that anyone in particular is waiting to hear the latest from Untold. Nor do I sit here thinking that we do influence what journalists say or the authorities do.
Indeed sometimes I get very frustrated, as with our exposure of the reason why Sport England withdrew its funding from the FA for grassroots football, and how the press totally swallowed the FA’s gibberish nonsense of a story that it was all horribly unfair.
Indeed I can’t recall anything much by way of criticism of the FA in 2014 from other sources, which suggests in that sector Untold has no impact. We’ve given the press a mountain of ammunition and they’ve said nothing.
That was a good moment, and it made me think maybe we have opened up the debate on referees a bit just as we opened up the debate on why England do so badly in international tournaments (written four years before the last world cup). It was a piece that was re-run in the Telegraph in August 2013. Several papers have used the statistics since, and I rather like that.
We certainly did introduce phrases like “rotational fouling” and rotational time-wasting” way back in January 2008, phrases which although are not part of everyday speech are now occasionally to be found. I’ve heard them on Sky’s saturday night football show (the least edited for acceptable commentary of all the football programmes) a month or so back and remember Mr Wenger using “rotational fouling” once soon after. (He also once mentioned in a Guardian interview the “organisation that charts referee mistakes”. OK it might have been nice if he had given out the URL, but still…)
Mostly of course it is not about making changes per se, but about opening up the debates. and trying to suggest that there is something beyond what the simplistic phone-in programmes and journalist coverage in the press deal out, that ought to be considered.
And I would argue that this is the success that Walter has had – bringing awareness of the PGMO to the fore and getting recognition, of its existence and its failures into the English national press.
We’ve had far less success getting the media to recognise that football clubs are being used for money laundering, and the way phantom and vapour transfers work, and they’ve been very lackadaisical with FFP (where our predictions were vilified by fans of the accused clubs, but rather remarkably accurate in the end).
Now moving on, earlier this month I commented on how the Telegraph suprised me with a piece about the failure of referees to act in certain situations. This followed a series of articles in that paper which started with its piece on the rise of the robo-refs, which looked like it was cobbled together from a PGMO press release. (The history of our to-and-fro with the paper is here)
But now take a look at this… once more in the rapidly changing Telegraph. I can assure you, you would not have seen anything remotely like this three years ago…
Raheem Sterling and Jonjo Shelvey somehow both escaped without punishment for two apparently obvious red card offences during Liverpool’s crushing 4-1 win over Swansea at Anfield.
Even more remarkably, the two separate incidents both took place in full of Andre Marriner and his officials, and yet they declined to act in either case.
Let me be clear before the aaa jump in (oh and the name for the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal is another Untold creation), I’m not saying Untold caused the Telegraph to change their tune. I do think however it is just possible that we have helped along a changing view in the media of referee decisions.
What we have by and large done is taken the debate away from the pathetic “it all evens out in the end” to a more serious consideration of utterly atrocious refereeing decisions, and how and why they can happen. Just like we’ve helped (along with a few other blogs) to show that blogging can be more than REVEALED: Arsenal make bid for ex-Liverpool star.
But I fully admit our main objective of getting the press to ask “why a referee could get it so wrong” and “why the PGMO continue to put out their impossible-to-believe statistics” and “why do we have so few refs when having more would be an ideal way to reduce the risk of match fixing?” is still a long way from fruition.
However I do see things moving very slowly in the right direction. Especially as the Telegraph went on to quote Jamie Carragher claiming Shelvey was guilty of equally ill-disciplined episodes “two to three times a week” in training during their time together at Liverpool.
Now Carragher is not altogether an untainted witness, having been guilty of the atrocious action in January 2002 when he threw a coin at fans inside Highbury (another incident Untold refuses to forget). As I have noted before, the fan who threw the coin at him was a total moron, and hopefully was banned for life, but Carragher’s response was worse, given that throwing a coin at a crowd is much more likely to cause serious head damage than throwing a coin at a man in a field. He got a three match ban. We remember that shameful episode even if no one else does.
So we’ve campaigned on referees, the secretive PGMO, the way the media set the agenda, the appalling uselessness of the FA, coaching, phantom and vapour transfers, the truth about Arsenal pricing of seats for matches, the desire of the media to trivialise, match fixing – especially with the evolution of Type III match fixing, the way the media has betrayed football fans by presenting its warped image of the games, financial doping, Man City and its disengagement with FFP, and money laundering via football. Not a bad agenda for one little blog run by half a dozen enthusiasts and (thankfully) a range of advertisers. (Incidentally I’d never be so crass as to say “please support our advertisers” but if there genuinely is something you are interested in, and you click on the advert, Untold gets a fraction of a penny towards the costs of running the site. But only if you are really interested in the product).
But here is something else you might not be fully aware of.
We’ve created the anniversary files which now contain getting on for 5000 dates, with more and more of them having links to articles and a short two or three line exposition of the issue. We publish them each day on Untold’s home page, and the full files are on the AISA Arsenal History Society site which we also run (but whose total number of articles is not included in Untold’s 5000). As a result of that work we also got a series in the club programme too.
Of course there are mistakes and missing information in the anniversary files, but each week we alter or add about 100 of the articles and I’m personally really knocked out by that research. There have been other books of Arsenal dates before but nothing quite on this scale. Just have a look at the anniversaries on the home page of Untold – I hope you’ll be impressed.
And we got our reward when Puma launched its new kit with a video that focussed on the book “Making the Arsenal” which I wrote in 2010. To get that recognition was, I admit, something else.
So what else? We’ve kept an eye on Barcelona (who desperately want to be pushed out of the news by the Barcelona loving media) and kept on predicting that they were going to come unstuck over the child trafficking via their boarding school – even when we were constantly attacked for doing so. And Real Madrid with their land exchange with the local council.
And overall we’ve ranged from the desperate (Egypt, Qatar, Fifa) to the silly and the funny.
So what do people say? Well some very nice things, combined with the inevitable, “I used to read you every day but after this article I’m stopping” (we get that a lot), and (of late) being told that because we don’t publish everyone’s comments we are no different from Islamic State, North Korea and one or two other choice regimes.
And still there are people who think that throwing in abuse is a recipe for getting published on Untold. Actually guys it isn’t. But I can see why you might get confused.
Or rather, no I can’t.
And yet there has been more. We’ve really worked on the issue of injuries from doing a week by week analysis of the leading clubs for one season, to taking on the assertions that our injuries are the fault of the training methods or the ground (thanks Walter for your latest analysis on that).
Blacksheep and I had a season of trotting off to watch local non-league football, in support of Untold’s constant campaign to get proper funding for grassroots football and to remove the FA from any involvement.
We’ve tried like mad to explain why Arsenal had to scale back its buying while building the Emirates, and of course we have supported Arsene Wenger.
But perhaps best of all, for me, I had a meeting with Ivan Gazidis and said, “What you really ought to do is put up a load of statues around the Emirates – start with Chapman, and work on from there.” And rather wonderfully for me (because it gave me a feeling that I have done something for Arsenal) he has always acknowledged that it was my idea.
Walter and his team ran the Referee Decisions web site for a year which produced amazing data about how Premier League matches are refereed, and he and I both played in a tournament at the Emirates – which is where the picture on the top of the home page comes from.
So there we are, 5000 articles and lots of fun – at least for us.
I must thank with all my heart everyone who has helped get Untold to Edition 5000. Walter oversees all the referee issues, takes over when I’m away, and is, of course, always working in his third language. Andrew Crawshaw and Don McMahon have expanded our referee coverage and I am so grateful for their regular contributions on refereeing. Plus of course Blacksheep, not just for his articles but also for the chats we have driving from Northants to the game, many of which rambling chats have helped refocus and reconsider what Untold does. Plus of course everyone else who has written for or to Untold.
And all that is before I even consider Billy the dog and Bulldog Drummond. What is it with dogs and Untold?
If you have been, thank you for reading.
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- 2022-23 WSL Arsenal v Spurs – Match Preview – part 1 the head to head record and comments on Spurs summer signings