Fear and loathing in the media: football journalism is decadent and depraved

By Tony Attwood

This summer’s transfer window resulted in a few Arsenal “fans” calling for Mr Wenger to be replaced, on the basis that only one major signing was made, and Arsenal only won one of their first three games.

The contrary argument that no club has won more games in 2015 than Arsenal in the Premier League, or that we were cup winners two years running, was heard less.

Which has led me to write a few little pieces transfers and why they are seen to be important.  If you are bored with all this, then don’t worry, I am getting close to the end of my thesis, and also I’m going on holiday in October, so there’s not much more to come.  Just a couple more I suspect.

Thus I noted in passing that Under half the clubs have fans satisfied with transfer window – and that the fans of the larger clubs were the most likely to be disappointed.  It is not just an Arsenal thing.

But also noted in another piece that the number of players who were transferred to clubs but then don’t deliver in the way that the clubs and their supporters might wish was much higher than we might imagine.  Only around a quarter hit the ground running and really made a difference straight away.

Subsequently we printed out the list of big cost players who had not delivered, and discussed why – which was not just because they were over rated but because of being targeted by other players, failing to settle in the new country, etc etc.

Others took up the theme, and a few days after our story about flops we saw the headline:  It’s official – Manchester United have wasted more money on transfers than any Premier League side since 2013

Which in turn led me to do a piece which aimed to poke fun at the whole notion that transfers are the most significant part of a club’s activity, and that you can judge anything much after four games: Does the amount a team costs reflect its position in the league?

So why all this excitement about transfers if in reality they don’t meant that much in terms of football success?  Are we, the fans, causing it, because of our fixation with transfers?  And if so why now.  It never used to be like this.

I’ve been writing a series of articles on Arsenal’s pre-seasons on the Arsenal History Society blog, looking at the transfers etc before each season started, and it is clear that we never used to think in this way.  We never used to expect multiple buys every summer.

So, trying to think my way through this whole transfer hysteria, I have started to reach a conclusion.  That the excitement about transfers is being caused by a different factor from the ones we normally think about.

I suspect football has become a battle ground between two sides of the media: broadcast media and the press.  The fight is over something that might seem rather esoteric: how we perceive football.  And one outcome is the endless vision that transfers are everything.

My view is that perception is important; our interpretation of the world is what counts.  Watch coverage of football in the 1950s and what you have are jolly amusing working class people with their funny ways and funny talk, who might, if you gave them a chance be able to say four words to the camera and wave a rattle.  Educated people went horse racing or watched the rugby (usually pronounced “wugga”).  That of course was untrue, but that was how it was painted in the media, so that is what people were led to believe.

Of course the media’s portrayal of those funny folk at football, had nothing to do with reality.   My goodness announced the TV cameras, “there is an old woman at the game too”.  She was probably toothless and they called her “ma”.  Ho ho.

But of course this had nothing to do with the real experience of being at a football match – it was a perception created by the media.

Now this notion that the media creates the perception of events is not new.  Perhaps the most influential and original attempt to suggest that the way the world as painted by the media is not the way the world is came from Hunter S Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which appeared in Rolling Stone in November 1971 with illustrations by the magnificent Ralph Steadman.

“Fear and Loathing” is a great title, because that was how many came to see football in the 1980s.  But while Thompson and Steadman through their various works showed us that events portrayed as the wonderful heartland of the nation were exactly the opposite (as in, for example, The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved which appeared in Scanlan’s Monthly) in England ordinary events that were not decadent and depraved became transformed into horror shows by the media.

As a result by the 1980s the perception of football was of a place where men got very drunk and where battles were fought. Worse some of these men wore sharp suits and travelled by train!  Players fought on the pitch, fans invaded the pitch, fans fought on the pitch, fans fought in the streets, fans fought at the railway stations, fans fought the police, fans fought each other, and…  actually I was there and it wasn’t like this at all.  To say football had an image problem was to put it so mildly the comment was actually turned into a joke as big as the false reality painted by the media itself.

And so what was rarely said was that the perception presented by the media had nothing to do with reality.  The disgusting and disgraceful facilities inside many grounds were never mentioned, the treating of fans as animals to be herded and corralled, the lack of safety concerns and total disdain with which we were treated by those who organised, controlled and wrote about football, was not mentioned.   And yet these were a major cause of difficulties.  If you treat people like animals for long enough they start to behave like animals.  I think we learned that long ago.

Of course, just as not every person at the Kentucky Derby was drunk and fornicating, so not every football experience was utterly appalling, but it was wasn’t that good, and eventually it got bad enough that people took notice.  Hillsborough, the Bradford fire, Liverpool fans attacking their rivals at the European Cup Final… the government pulled the clubs out of Europe (before Uefa banned British clubs) and started to impose all-seater stadia.

In such an atmosphere few organisations wanted to be associated with football, but few noted that two of those three giant tragedies were caused by the people who run football, not the fans.  And although nothing could ever excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans at Heysel Stadium, the fact is that it was a wholly inappropriate place to hold the match.  In a properly built and maintained stadium an outbreak of violence would have been far less likely and could have been easily contained if it happened.   But by then it was all too late.  The media told us that fans behaved badly, the conditions were disgraceful, we were treated like animals, so people behaved badly.

Those most awful events were appalling beyond measure, and because someone up there liked me, thankfully I was at none of them.  My worst experiences were Arsenal games against Tottenham and Man U, and the sub-human facilities at grounds like Luton Town that I wouldn’t have let my cat experience.  We were more likely to get cholera than be beaten up on away games.

So football then was sanitised, and on the plus side, some clubs stopped treating fans like vermin and actually started to realise that the fans deserved better facilities.  Perceptions changed.

And then along came Sky, and with Sky came the notion of presenting a package that was edited and sanitised.  No crowd trouble shown, interviews with fans carefully edited to make everyone happy and chirpy, football officially became a jolly good experience with awfully nice people involved.  The burgers sold outside the ground could still give you botulism but the rest of the experience was ok.

The trouble is, once the media starts changing reality to suit its own agenda, it is hard to go back to the real world.  It was always part of the earlier media deal that the police and the clubs were never ever to blame for creating crowd problems.  After that it was one little step to writing into the broadcast contracts that crowd disturbances would never be shown, or even mentioned.  Even one tubby and slightly inebriated gentleman from Coventry running on the Emirates in a cup match was covered by the camera pointing at players doing nothing while the commentators desperately said, “let’s have another look at that Arsenal goal.”  Slowly the reality of the football ground became removed from what was shown on TV.

Power moved.  When football was just highlights shown at night, the editors and presenters decided if a match was exciting and worth fifteen minutes of viewing time or “trench warfare” as the Everton/Arsenal game in the first Double season was called, and therefore hardly worth a look.

But there is a twist, for with the growing power of live TV and the internet, the press found themselves marginalised, and what the last few years have seen is the press start to evolve their own vision of football.  A vision that is quite different from that of TV.  Now we have two media versions of football – both quite different from anything you will experience if you go to a game.

TV’s manipulation of reality has got totally out of control.  They tell us what the rule book says about incidents (and invariably get it wrong), they have an absolute rule themselves to give referees an easy time, they never to mention the oddities of PGMO, they cut all time wasting scenes and instead show players trotting back to the half way line, or replays of earlier incidents, and they employ people whose sole job it is to decide what is a debating point or not, and they still cut out all crowd reaction that they don’t like.  They openly tell us that “the fans” are mistaken or misguided, they determine what can be talked about.  They define football.

So with the rise of the internet and live TV the newspapers must have felt for a moment they were done for.  But powerful men own newspapers and so over time they evolved a cunning idea.

Because TV just focusses primarily on the live games, the press came up with the notion of creating another reality surrounding football matters; a reality that they could cover all day every day, their key issue that they could play with – and which didn’t cost them a single penny.

They picked on transfers.  “But transfers are important,” some would say, “I want to read about transfers” but I think that is a misconception brought on by the press.  The cohesion of the team, a balanced team, the fact that many purchased players don’t turn out to be nearly as good as the press built them up to be… these issues suggest that buying players is just a minor part of the game.  Look at newspapers from the end of the last century and there is no “transfer gossip”.

Second they removed the concept of the whole season or part of the season.  A team is only as good as its last match.   Arsenal won the FA Cup two seasons running, but lost at home to West Ham?  Arsenal are rubbish because of the performance against WHU.  Thus we need the papers to talk about now, now, now.

Third they evolved a system that allows them to talk about transfers before during and after the transfer window, by making up stories about who is going to be transferred.  Stories which are over 99.9% originated by non-existent people writing in invented foreign newspapers about players who wouldn’t fit in anyway.

So they build up a crisis (such as Arsenal’s inability to score goals last season, because shock horror Arsenal scored two goals fewer than Chelsea).

Then they invent players who would have no impact on solving that crisis if it actually existed, which it doesn’t, and on the back of an invented crisis, invented possible transfers, and players who would not solve the crisis anyway, show that the club is badly run.

Hence they invent the notion that instead of purchasing being an occasional issue it should be at the forefront of our minds all the time.  The Rumour Mill was born.

My point here, and in all these articles in this series, is that this is all bollocks, to use the technical phrase.  We are being sold a pup.  Transfers are not nearly as important as the media makes out, in the overall context of football.  Of course we can all cite transfers that have worked, but many many more are best forgotten.  Developing young players, tactics, the team shape, having backups for when injuries occur, dealing with referees, knowing what to expect from the opposition… all these things are much more important than transfers.

But day by day by day by day we are told it is the transfer that is everything.


This evening (Thursday) I am giving a brief chat about the recent work of the AISA Arsenal History Society at the AISA (Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association) AGM.  If you are going, and you feel like it, do say hello.  Whether you agree with my ramblings or not, it is nice to know someone is reading.


Two anniversaries from today’s list

10 September 1930: In the days leading up to this date a clock with a 45 minute face was installed at the Laundry End of Highbury.  No record exists of the exact date, but the Daily Mirror published a picture with the clock on this date.

10 September 1988: Tottenham 2 Arsenal 3.  The “surreal free for all” as all five goals came in 12 minutes in the first half.

39 Replies to “Fear and loathing in the media: football journalism is decadent and depraved”

  1. Admire your persistence though fact would inform us that city and Chelsea have both won the league as a direct result of spending money. Buying the likes of silva, Toure, aguero, company, hazard, costa, Fabregas, willian, matic. Just saying.

  2. An excellent article Tony!

    I believe that the biggest ‘enemy’ for the media, is the internet.

    People are FREE to select what they see and read…they have the option to digest and believe what makes sense to them and not be forced into believing what the media has traditionally used as its own agenda to guide the sheep/public into an agenda!

    Want to watch a match and not listen to the media bla bla?? pick a stream in a foreign commentary, want to read football news, pick a site which expresses your intellect.

    Thank you Untold!!

  3. Is there anyone out there who still believes anything that the media puts out ? As for pre ,mid and post match shows by experts , it no thanks from me . Basically its kick off , 15 minutes of clicking other channels for scores and /or other laughs , before back to viewing the second half.
    Not for me the brilliant analysis of Steve McMohan , Paul Parker, Jemaine Jenas or some other EPL has been washed up on to our shores . Actually, I am missing the unintended humour of Shebby Singh ! That guy WAS funny !

  4. @Fred,
    Can’t argue with that, matey.
    Championships are being won via the shopping list.
    Which is why most long-service followers of our great Club are not too dissatisfied when Arsene’s boys fail to attain top spot but qualify for the CL, year after year.
    Heaven forbid that we should ever become the plaything of a sugar daddy.
    Arsenal FC will make success not buy it.

  5. And speaking of despicable media persons now trending , here is my fake ‘breaking’story.

    English clubs have made it very clear that they did not make any bid to bring in the infamous Hungarian left wing camerawoman who has now become the most hated media person
    ( Yes , even more hated than Piers Morgan and his Rebekah !) , after footage of her ‘getting stuck in’ and ‘putting in the boot ‘ went viral on the internet.
    Although she showed some fancy footwork while kicking , tripping and body checking her ‘opponents ‘, most agree that her past misdeeds would not find favour with club fans .

    ” The camerawoman has been identified by the Hungarian news site 444 as Petra László, an employee of the online N1 network. N1, which is run by the jingoistic/racist/anti-Semitic Jobbik political party, announced in a statement that the woman has been fired.” According to -http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/09/08/hungarian_camerawoman_trips_refugee_video_of_jobbik_n1_channel_s_employee.html

    Watch her as she shows off her considerable skill , poor taste and despicable animal like base behaviour . Its on youtube , facebook and all over Check her out . She is going to be the talk of the civilised world .

  6. An entire sea of water can’t sink a ship unless it gets inside the ship. Similarly, the negativity of the world can’t put you down unless you allow it to get inside you.
    Goi Nasu

  7. And in medical news – German homoeopathy conference ends in mass psychedelic overdose


    “When an ambulance was called to the conference last Friday, paramedics found delegates staggering around, talking incoherently and suffering from hallucinations.”

    Could that be the same thing Moanin’inho , LVG and most of ‘them’ be on too ? And just like the state of their minds , one wonders !

  8. Fred: my point is that at least one of those clubs will fail to win the League this season after all their spending, and maybe both. Certainly both of them failed to win the FA Cup last season, and the season before come to that.

    Buying players can help, as obviously Ozil and Alexis has done. But making it the sum total of all football issues by running fake “gossip” columns every day and suggesting that transfer is everything, is a total abrogation of their responsibility.

  9. Football is catching-up with other team sports – it is getting more and more tactical(at least on the continent and in parts of Middle America). The importance of individual player skills will to a certain extent diminish (except the individual skill to understand and to be able to implement tactical concepts). The media does not like this development as they have correctly concluded that large parts of the fan base will no like it either. The transfer window is also a welcomed way to cover the summer break. They will hold the story alive that high value deals will decide the season. Clubs teams that do not follow will come under attack.

  10. @Tony Attwood
    September 10, 2015 at 9:36 am

    We can perhaps add that neither of those two big spenders won the CL…or went much further then we did!

  11. Then again you could buy ‘world class’ strikers who costs clubs millions in transfer fees and still be not able to get into their EPL or Euro squads .
    And occasionally like in the case of Ade , probably not even into their FA and League Cup squads as well !
    This thought ought to get those Spuds fans on here pronto to defend him ! All hell is going to break free !!!

  12. Great article. Many, but not all articles written about transfers….and Arsenal/Wenger are poorly researched at best, agenda driven, or spiteful at worst.
    I personally dont care if we fail to sign another top player in the next 5 years, as it will mean the academy is doing its job…of course that will not happen, but just saying.
    Can draw increasing parallels between English football and F1. F1 is rich, but some say it has become too predictable, others say it is entering a slow decline if they dont change things, despite the best efforts of the media.
    Must be so tiresome, for a driven man like Wenger, who works every hour for his team and club to even have to be in the same room as these idiot hacks

  13. OT.

    Me and my ManUtd supporting had a small argument on the FA cup victories. He was dead sure that we share 11 cups each. Even after I laid out the facts for him…

    Then I checked the FA cup website. History section: http://www.thefa.com/thefacup/more/finals (scroll down to check clubs achievements.)

    When will they ever update this!!..
    Even ManUtd website is more graceful in accepting the fact that we have won more FA cups than them.

  14. @ARSENAL 13
    September 10, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Thats because the FA tends to live in their own world 🙂

  15. @Mandy

    “Must be so tiresome, for a driven man like Wenger, who works every hour for his team and club to even have to be in the same room as these idiot hacks”

    True words!!!

  16. Is it fair upon the English language to refer to these hacks as journalists?

    Is “shill” the more accurate and representative word in this instance?

  17. We predicted that Giggs would be announced as Utd’s next manager this summer over on positively arsenal.

    And apparently LVG has just come out and said he doesn’t expect to challenge for the title this season, are these comments true? After spending £250M! Very funny if so. And announced Giggsy as his heir.

    What odds will SkyBet offer me on Riley be stepping down after Gigssy and his Neville-Neville coaching team win the title in their first season?

  18. @Finsbury
    September 10, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    “What odds will SkyBet offer me on Riley be stepping down after Gigssy and his Neville-Neville coaching team win the title in their first season?”

    No brainer!!

    But we will be accused of conspiracy theorists for suggesting so 🙂

  19. The Bouldy screensaver is pretty damn funny too!

    Gord described how to embed the link, but i think i just need to make a new signing to help me understand how this all works:


  20. I watched Wenger on Arsenal Player in his pre Stoke press conference. Most of the hacks wanted to get some feed back on transfers. I am surprised that none of the Arsenal press people do not advise him. He fends these idiots off with grace & humility. I would have asked them if their jobs were safe because there were many new, more intelligent, football hacks looking for work. He had to answer many stupid similar questions – what a gentleman.

  21. @Menace
    September 10, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    Wenger is certainly a gentleman and a patient one at that. The thing is that these HACKS feed on the frenzy of moaners from the SPECIAL selection of our ‘own fans’ and that is the most disturbing – because WE as a UNIT could put an end to HACKS!

  22. One point that you make is that the media define football. You are so right. It is the masses that have little or no real understanding of the overall ‘soup’ that football is being stirred into that are directed to ‘hate’ or ‘love’ chosen clubs, coaches, teams or players.

    Many Arsenal fans are within that group. There are those who follow Arsenal because ‘Giroud is cute’ or ‘Alexis is amazing’ without any care about the financial state of the club. They are ripe for the media to ‘pick’ & change their focus to ‘fake nastyness’ of the coach who didn’t buy any ‘outfield players’. There are so many ways that this is pushed – from bad photographs to fake quotes.

    There are many of us on Untold that are becoming disenchanted with the plastic world that football is being dragged into by the media.

  23. Tony – thanks for a thought-provoking article which is what I look for.

    Fred – Chelsea and MC won the League some time after buying entire squads. Not just one transfer, or even one window. For a half billion odd each.

    Must confess that if a 3rd club went down the sugar daddy route then I would probably start questioning whether active football support was worth the candle. But would still rather than drift away than see Arsenal go the same way.

    It is quite enjoyable fighting the odds! Imagine how fantastic we will feel if/when we do win the League again? Enormously more fulfilling than Chelsea/MC supporters must be finding it.

  24. Football today is presented according to an agreed agenda.

    The TV companies that show the games have their agenda as to what is shown. They show what they want the viewer to believe happened and not show whatever they want the viewer to believe didn’t happen.

    They have been doing this for years and not just football. The news on TV is highly selected to use the word in the article a ‘perception’ of what happened is shown.

    Once TV became a means of presenting instant news to the masses the press were playing ‘catch up’ with TV news.

    The one thing the newspapers could do better than TV was to report more than TV could if they wanted to and to publish back ground articles. This they still do from time to time.

    The press was losing ground on the claim ‘First with the news.’ to TV and to a lesser extent radio but it didn’t have to fight for its life.

    Then came the internet. Instant news, instant pictures written or taken by any armature across the world.

    The press response has been to fight back by creating a new type of sensation a new type of news. This has given birth to the ‘rubbish’ that is offered as ‘news’.

    Another change is how much the reader is prepared to give time to reading the one article. That time is very little.

    The first internet generation has learnt to read quickly short amounts of information. ‘The long read’ is rapidly becoming history.

    So it is the internet editions of the papers have short reports that only touch the surface of what actually happened and the reporting meets the agenda of the newspaper. What actually happened is not their prime concern.

  25. The media is terribe, ffotball journalism is at an all time low. This is because of the competition for ‘clicks’. You have a plethora of bloggers and wannabees writing articles, which are published by the Daily Mail and the Metro. The fact that the DM courts the writer of LeGrove should surprise nobody because it also produces output from other Wenger and Arsenal critics like Neil Ashton and Adrian Durham.

    The striker ‘anger’ is very humerous. Talk about a non story.

    According to the pre-transfer window speculation, Manchester United, Manchester City & Arsenal were desperate for a striker. Three big clubs with money to spend. But ask yourself which one of these ended up signing this world class striker?

    Answer: None.

    Question: Why

    I think the answer is pretty obvious to anyone other than a sports journalist or some expert on the PlayStation.

    In fact, Manchester United were so desperate after wasting £100m on Di Maria and Falcao, that they spend £38m on an inexperieinced youngster.Now just imagine if Wenger had done that….!

    All you need to know about our media and the click baiters.

  26. My apologies for the mistyping. Terrible and football journalism – two errors that sit perfectly.

  27. Proudkev

    You and this article are bang on!

    The ‘modern media’ are worth zero because they invest zero into their operations!

    All they do is get ‘fiction writers’ to come up with 500 + words – worth nothing – same as what they invested!

  28. “having backups for when injuries occur”…..good point.

    With Welbeck out for the long-term future, a serious injury to Giroud will be a major problem. (IMHO, Theo is a goal-scoring winger who would/does have limited effectiveness against teams that sit back). This is why supporters are frustrated with AFC inactivity in the transfer window.

  29. What a WIN!!!

    How we shut the critics up by getting both our ‘non-strikers’ hit the back of the net!!!

    And whilst the darling MEDIA harp on about whatever…I see the chances created as a BIG positive – the chances, sooner or later WILL get converted as we saw yesterday!!

    What happened to Chel$kie and Scouzers?? maybe they need to spend??

    Onwards and UPWARDS 🙂 🙂


  30. @Mick
    Re. possible forwards, not sure TBH. Maybe if I were a professional scout, I’d have a better answer. I’m not sure that Benzema was the answer though. For what its worth, I like both TW and OG – my point is that long-term injury to either or both is going to leave us short up front. Theo in particular is not too reliable on that front. In addition, he tends to struggle against teams that set up in a very defensive way. He’s good at catching teams on the break (e.g. goal against Stoke).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *