The Rise of the Catastrophist – finally explained
If you came today to most Arsenal blogs for the first time, you would be excused from believing that doom and gloom is everywhere. In the last couple of days there has been talk of “mass protests” at the Emirates Cup games, defection of half the squad, serious attempts to discredit the manager, and a debate as to who is going to be our new captain.
Just as I write this, one correspondent has written to Untold saying that Cesc has said lots of times that he wants to leave – without citing where and when this has been said. Another begins by saying, “I don’t know if this is true…” and then spend his whole email saying that the club is in disaster mode because it (whatever the current negative story is) is true.
So how did this happen? How could such widespread intellectual incoherence affect so many Arsenal fans all at once?
I’ve been trying to understand this issue of the Rise of the Catastophist for well over a year now – since a group of doom and gloom merchants decided to target Untold Arsenal for the first time. What I have found is a bizarre series of events, one which I would not blame you if you didn’t believe it.
The fact is that I have held back from making it public for some time, because a) I doubted that it would be believed, and b) because I feared the catastrophists would be annoyed at being exposed for what they are, and might try another attack on this site.
But the hysteria has reached such a pitch that after a few discussions with Arsenal friends, I have decided to set out the tale.
It is long – twice as long as the normal Untold post, so apologies before I begin.
This is the story of how a tiny group of disturbed (and probably unemployed) people who have managed to influence the mass media, and get themselves a little bunch of depressed disciples who now make a lot of noise. Between them (the oddballs, the media and the depressives) they give the impression that they are the majority, and that they have some sort of argument that deserves debate. They are in fact a tiny minority and the argument, whichever way you look at it, deteriorates into a set of bland statements which fail to take into account the economic, political and corrupt reality of football today.
Before I begin I am going to deal with the current debate: Cesc. I have no inside knowledge if he will go this summer or not. What I know is that this hysteria has gone on every transfer window since we signed him, and he hasn’t gone. But I also know that Anelka, Henry and Vieira all went, and that Wenger has a habit of letting players go when they are ready to go.
I also know that each of those three has failed to live up to expectations upon departure, and although Anelka came good in the end, it took him nine years to rekindle his Arsenal form.
But in many ways that is not the point at all. The point is that in the broader scheme of things, the departure of Cesc doesn’t mean much. If he goes, we can buy someone else; he’s not the only player in town, and if you look at our results over the last two seasons when he has not been there, we have not done that bad.
However what the Catastrophists and merchants of doom have done is somehow talked Cesc going into a big deal, so that if he does go, they can define this as the end of Wenger. They ignore the fact that Wenger might see Cesc as now too injury prone, and a bad risk, so 40 million Euros now would not be a bad move given that player X (who we have probably never heard of) is on the horizon.
And that’s what this is about. Defining the agenda. Much of my story is about how a little bunch of nutters have succeeded in doing just this – defining the agenda.
The first attack
I first started to become aware of something odd happening in the world of Arsenal blogging when I found a group of people taking comments from this site and posting them elsewhere.
I started to ban these people, and suggested to other sites that they do the same. But they wouldn’t – which struck me as odd.
So I investigated further and found something rather bizarre. Although each poster seemed to have a different email address it became clear that they were all using one of three computers to post the messages. It took me a few days to tumble that the fifty or so apparent posters who were taking messages from one site and posting them on another, were actually just three people all writing under different names!
Obviously I blocked the relevant addresses – but then other people started to pop up, and this time they really got going, with a continual stream of anti-Wenger and anti-Arsenal propaganda. They were fighting back.
They also got more sophisticated – avoiding the cut and paste and instead commenting on each other’s posts building up the picture of doom and gloom. If you read Untold you won’t have seen too many of these, because they and I were playing a cat and mouse game, of me trying to spot and block them before they got too far.
So they talk to themselves. One made a negative point, and five minutes later the same person with a different email address and screen name would come on saying, “Good point, what’s more…”
It took me a while to trace this back – and this time I found another four computers, generating emails in no less than 85 different email addresses! In other words the entire Anti-Wenger postings came from a handful of people.
But it didn’t stop there. Suddenly someone popped up on one of the leading sites linked to a broadcaster, using my name. Now I must say that I am not so self-centred as to think no one else in the world is called “Tony Attwood” – but it is one of the more unusual names, it has variant spellings, and some people with my first name called themselves “Antony” or “Anthony”.
Then (and this is where it gets freaky) someone else started criticising “Tony Attwood” (were they attacking me, or the other “Tony Attwood?).
I got a bit pissed off at this point, and wrote to the site in question. They refused to act so I wrote a reply trying to do a bit of taking the high moral ground. My piece appeared, and some people replied quite positively. That seemed to be that.
Next thing I knew, although the original post was still there, my reply vanished. I went back to the web site owners, protesting, and they said, “oh technical problems, sorry”.
The technique of the catastrophists
The catastrophists changed computers and started again with emails saying “I don’t know if this report is true or not but…” and then continue to accept that the report (of something they defined as a disaster at Arsenal) is true, and then call for Wenger’s head.
A variation on this involves making up a Wenger quote, quoting it (obviously without a source since it is made up) and then laughing at how anyone could be so stupid as to say this.
The media join in
Of course this was gold dust to any journalist looking for a simple story that could be replicated without work. Today has been a perfect example. Most of the broadcast media, and most media websites are running the Cesc to leave story, but when you look closely they are all using the same unattributed sources for Cesc’s statements.
You can also see this in the way BBC Radio 5 debate players leaving. Last week one journo on the site said, “Arshavin’s obviously going – he says so every week.”
In fact he doesn’t – the media says so every week. The media repeats itself, but this gives the half a dozen or so catastrophists who run the show the chance to find stories to run with. In other words the media creates the story, brews up a storm, and the player thinks, “this is ludicrous,” and so says, “look, I don’t need this media stuff, I think I’d like to leave.”
In other words the action runs:
- Catastrophists make up a story
- Media pick up and repeat as if fact
- Player eventually has enough and leaves
Put like that it is a total miracle that Arshavin and Cesc have survived this long.
Indeed reading the doom and gloom catastrophist blogs you could be excused for thinking that Arsenal is Leeds, Doncaster or Chester in their darkest moments, combined.
Why should Arsenal get this level of attack, I wonder. I am not sure but my father told me that it was much the same in the 1930s when we had the world-beating team.
Maybe today it is because Arsenal has developed something unique, which others cannot stand. The extraordinary new approach to play, the world-wide scouting project that has delivered top players cheaply for years, the youth project which has just resulted in two Academy League trophies and one Youth Cup in two years, the profits, the doubles, the unbeaten season, the 49, the ten years where Tottenham cannot beat us, the reduction of Tottenham to a laughing stock that has to issue DVDs just because they manage to draw…
If I had to pick one of those I would say it was the profit. The media is very reluctant to look seriously at the £3bn that the EPL owes, just as the financial media didn’t want to touch the total disaster awaiting the west through its dependence on dubious mortgages. Look at the papers today and they are full of Liverpool and Man U buying millions of pounds worth of players while they blame Portsmouth’s demise on a bunch of funny foreigners. They absolutely cannot grasp that football finance is as bent as Fifa.
Comparing the blogs to the ground.
There can be little doubt of the affection felt for Wenger by the majority of people who attend matches at the Ems. In the ground on the final match of the season, he got huge cheers and chants. Indeed the same affection can be felt in every game. Wenger isn’t booed, he isn’t ignored, he is cheered and cheered, and his name is chanted with pride and passion. One might ask, how many times do you need to hear, “There’s only one Arsene Wenger” to understand what it means.
Now this gives another insight. Not only is this group of commentators a tiny number of people knocking out emails under hundreds of different email addresses, they have no following in the ground. And yet it can feel as if they are the dominant force.
But they always fall over in the same place: the anti-Wenger bloggers give no evidence only statements. One wrote on this site recently, something along the lines of, “Almuni, Denilson, Diaby should be sold. I rest my case.” There is in a statement like that no case, because there is no argument.
Football is an astonishingly complex business involving finding the best players, persuading them to come to Arsenal, balancing the books, keeping the players happy even when not playing, keeping the wages under control, knowing to sell when necessary, and all the times taking on clubs who are willing to run themselves into debt, and clubs who have access to far more money than Arsenal has. All the while we survive – which is a miracle. Additionally we have the most wonderful stadium. Additionally we are always in the Champions League. Additionally we have a stunning youth team. Additionally we can challenge for the league title with our reserve team.
And so they complain, and complain and complain.
There is also no answer to the “Wenger as Chapman” debate. Chapman is rightly revered at our club as the man who used the foundation laid by Sir Henry Norris to build a modern successful club. But he had five years in which the club won nothing, and had an infinitely worse league record than Wenger. Would the dozen catastrophists bloggers andd their 500 email addresses have kicked Chapman out as well had they had the technology in the 1920s. Probably.
So why to the catastrophists and the doom and gloom people do all this?
Firstly they have real power. There are only a handful of them, and yet they now have control over many of the Arsenal blogs on the internet. They nearly took over this one, and it took me quite a few hours to track down the IP addresses of the computers they were using and prove to my own satisfaction that they were just a little bunch of people writing under multiple addresses.
Second, because they hate Arsenal. That is quite a sweeping statement but I think now that it is true. The doom and gloom brigade hate Arsenal, which is why they want to destroy the club through their resourceless attacks. And let’s be clear – attacking the players and the manager in this way could lead to a decline in the club’s fortunes if it is allowed to go unchecked.
Third because these people are relentless. They work through the day all day. If they have jobs, they have jobs where they can spend time sending out negative emails to web sites all the time. They are in fact obsessive neurotics.
Fourth because they feed on the press, and the press feed on them. It makes life easy as a journalist. Want a sensational story? Easy, read the blogs and run what they say.
Fifth, it is a damn site easier to be a negative blogger than a positive blogger. As a negative blogger I could say, get rid of Walcott, he’s useless. Bring in a good winger. Just like I might have said for two seasons, “get rid of Flamini, he’s useless.” Had we done we would have missed the one (and only) good season of his career. In saying, get rid of Walcott I might say, bring in X, ignoring whether he would play for us, how much he wants, if he is for sale, how we deal with the 50% tax plus 10% national insurance, plus 20% VAT (after the budget) plus the closure by the Revenue of the Virgin Island tax loophole regarding image rights.
That’s why being a catastrophist is so good. It is so utterly simple.
So what are we to do?
As every game at the Ems shows, there is huge support for Wenger and the team. The doom and gloom approach with its catastrophist members is run by a tiny group of people with a personality disorder, and they are very good at getting their message across on the blogs, and they are supported by the media and their fellow-travellers who don’t have tickets.
And maybe, just maybe, that’s the key. These catastrophists resent the fact that they don’t have tickets.
Of course there are some season ticket holders who dislike Wenger. And there are many non-ticket holders who love him. I am talking in general terms. Exceptions are always there.
I’m not sure if we should do anything, other than pity these depressive neurotics. They are not really Arsenal supporters, because to support Arsenal means to support Arsenal, not hack away at them and encourage your top players to leave. Their obsessional delusional behaviour is something they are stuck with and for that we can be sorry for them. It’s not nice.
Really guys, I am sorry you are so depressed. I quite enjoyed last season.
The Untold Index to Everything Positive and Nice (except Fifa and its bent world cup)
Woolwich Arsenal – now there is a club on the brink of disaster
The Book – not as useful as the Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy, but still, quite good for a read during the summer break.
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