By Tony Attwood
The Observer, which is in the same newspaper group as the Guardian, publishes a weekly column, Said and Done which makes fun of Fifa, football managers, players and the ladies who hang around with players by running sequences of events – what they said and what they did.
A typical piece from this week reads
27 Jan: Barcelona float the prospect of removing Qatar as sponsors due to reputational brand damage from “social and political issues”. 5 Feb: Qatar float the prospect of a new more lucrative deal. Barça vice-president Javier Faus: “We have zero, zero, zero problems with Qatar.”
• Trailing the details of the possible new deal – Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker: “Qatar Airways and Barcelona share the same values. It’s possible our name will be added to Camp Nou.” Al Baker says the earlier “political remarks” from Barça’s Josep Maria Bartomeu should be ignored. “Don’t get carried away by comments from people who may say things they don’t really mean.”
Of course what they never publish are any of the stories from the media in which they screw up totally, getting predictions of transfers horribly wrong, mixing actual news with wild fantasy, and publishing press releases from the FA as news without actually thinking about them or checking facts, and above all, always failing to ask the question “why?”
However what they do occasionally use are the trick of the “single negative”. This is an approach that is widely used by trolls and simplistic commentators, and it involves giving a single example of an issue, and then generalising outwards.
So, for example, Untold publishes numerous examples of time wasting which is not punished by referees and cut from TV coverage, and an individual, hiding behind a nom-de-plume writes in to say, “so Leicester were time wasting but when Ospina went down without being touched and lay there, he wasn’t time wasting! You are as biased as you claim the refs are.” Not the actual text sent in, but words to that effect. No wider analysis, no examination of what happened – just an accusation.
In the article we were pointing to multiple examples of what seemed to be time wasting, the writer pointed to one, but claimed one example negated the multiple examples we’d cited. We get such commentaries all the time.
Now some of the Guardian and Observer writers most certainly know what we are saying in terms of ref bias, and they know Untold’s connection with Belgium. So it is interesting that the Guardian has published a story about an allegation of referee bias in Belgium without an author’s name being given, and then said, oh no, it wasn’t bias at all. Wrong man, wrong organisation. Ho ho, silly football fans who claim bias.
The implication is that all ref bias stories can be equally easily dismissed. Just little football fans getting worked up.
What makes this story particularly interesting is that a story like this would never normally make the Guardian. Like all UK papers it covers little in regard to European football beyond Spain, and when it does it focuses on Germany and very occasional mentions of Italy. France only gets mentioned in terms of PSG, Monaco and transfers, and as for the rest, nothing.
So, using the football journalist’s absolute no-go question (why?) we can ask, why did this story trivial non-story suddenly turn up?
The opening of the story says, “The Belgium Football Association has been forced to dismiss speculation that the referee who officiated in last weekend’s Jupiler League match between KV Kortrijk and Club Bruges is a member of a Kortrijk supporters’ group.”
Note “forced to”. It suggests a big movement. Forced by whom?
The story is that Frederik Geldhof was the ref in the first defeat of Club Bruges in 31 with a “controversial” penalty and there were allegations of bias. (Why “contraversial”? We are not told.)
Then a “fan” (unnamed just like the writer of the article) “noticed” a “Facebook user named Frederik Geldhof was a member of a group called “Red Side Kortrijk”.”
The Belgian FA issued a statement that said, Red Side Kortrijk “is a social project of the city of Kortrijk. Frederik Geldhof is also not a member.” It was a different person with the same name.
This is in fact a non-story from a country that the Guardian in football terms ignores, and yet the paper is running it. Why?
As a person who is rather interested in disinformation, I would argue that the inclusion of this non-story is there to cover the fact that the Guardian, in keeping with other newspapers in England, will not cover any story that hints of the corruption of football except perhaps in relation to Italy. Even the flagrant abuse of Fifa rules by Barcelona and their subsequent farcical appeals only got occasional mentions. It was exactly the same throughout the UK when evidence upon evidence piled up that something was seriously wrong with the finances of Rangers FC in Glasgow, and the press would not print a word about it, instead taking the press releases of the club which ignored the issue. We still see the same with the FA and its battle for finance with Sport England. Nonsensical press releases are published, but no analysis or questioning.
When the Rangers story finally broke the media bleated that they were unable to cover the story before “for legal reasons”. In fact the regime at the old Rangers club (which went into liquidation with the new club being relegated to the fourth division) told the media that any mention of the scandal would result in that outlet being banned from all Rangers press conferences and matches. So they gave in.
Is PGMO or the Premier League issuing warnings to the media in England that their licences to cover games will be withdrawn if they follow up any match fixing stories? Possibly. We can’t prove match fixing is going on, but there is a mountain of evidence that suggests something very screwy is happening, and yet the media don’t want to know. Funny that.
What would be interesting would be to know who suggested that the Guardian run this Belgian non-story. It has all the hallmarks of the highly secretive Professional Game Match Officials, who through this season appear to have been slipping stories to the media following commentaries about match fixing here and on other sites.
And “other sites” is certainly relevant now. One of our regular correspondents from Switzerland pointed out this article to me this week. It deals with match fixing from the gambling point of view – Type I match fixing in our nomenclature – in which the result of a single match, or events in a single match, are manipulated primarily for gambling purposes.
It is an extraordinary piece of evidence. I am certainly not qualified to comment on its accuracy, but it is well worth considering.
But to return to my main theme. PGMO has remained secretive and silent until this year. Even if Untold had done nothing else this season, getting them to respond a number of times in what appears to be a rather ham-fisted manner (the sudden article on video referees in response to Walter’s blank page under the heading of what the Premier League is doing in relation to video refs was one of the most amusing) has been rather jolly and amusing.
We’re about to come up to our 5000th article and I’ll write up a little piece about some of the other debates I think Untold has contributed to, by way of celebration of our survival. But for now, thanks to the Guardian for today’s piece. Most amusing. Most thought provoking. More please.
Anniversary of the Day:
13 February 1892: First ever recorded incident of a club song being sung at a football match. “Ta ra ra Boom de ay The Arsenal’s won today”
- What every football club (and most certainly Arsenal) is aiming for.
- The apparent decline of Tottenham and the question of care for players elsewhere
- Positive injury news for Arsenal ahead Monday’s game with Sheffield United
- Arsenal’s finances stay secure but we can expect more price rises for fans
- How a 14th monk described Arsenal’s failure to buy Moisés Caicedo and Mykhailo Mudryk