By Tony Attwood
A short while ago the press were full of praise for the Liverpool crowd – or at least the members of the crowd who got up and left the ground on the 77th minute, in protest against the proposed rise in the price of entrance to games.
Much was made of the notion that “football is nothing without the fans,” and as all the media bought into this, pressure was brought to bear on Liverpool FC which quickly changed its decision on pricing.
There seemed, for a moment at least, to be a connection between the media (who never pay to go into a game) and the supporters (who do). Buying expensive players is good, raising ticket prices is bad.
And yet, when it comes to games at Arsenal, this media-supporter consensus stops dead. The fans make it clear what they have seen, and what they think, and yet the media utterly, completely and totally fail even to mention that the fans have a view.
I’m not suggesting that the media should slavishly follow the fans’ view (although they did in the Liverpool ticket cost case) but rather they should at least recognise that we are there and have a viewpoint. They might argue against it – but to ignore it is the ultimate insult.
And yet, when it comes to Barcelona, they genuflect so far they are almost underground.
Barcelona of course have it all. Lots and lots of money, pouring in from a rich sponsor. Big support – the average attendance is 77,632. The forwards – Suarez might score with his teeth, as the stadium song goes, but those three forwards are superb. The children – Fifa may have turned against Barcelona for a year but the club got lots of children illegally for years on end, and caused uncalculated harm to the children they subsequently abandoned, who were left homeless and without protection, and further questions about their methodology are still arising (although don’t expect to read it in the press).
They have the simple league, in which only three clubs can ever win, and mostly it is won by just one of two. They have the TV deal – which even with recent reforms means most of the TV money goes to the big two. The tax deal – through which virtually every club has to have its finances controlled through being a PLC – except Barcelona and a couple of others. They have the players who are attracted by promises of paying no tax, and even if they are caught, they have the promise that their fans will love them even more for “taking on the state”, and the media will not once denounce their disgusting greed and criminality.
They really do have it all. They have the media, the money, the three team league. So why do they need the referee as well?
Once again at what is (for European nights), the quaintly renamed the Arsenal Stadium (the phrase “Emirates Stadium” not being allowed to be said) the dominant factor for those of us there, was the referee. His decision-making was widely criticised by the crowd, and he and his fellows were very loudly booed off the pitch at the end of each half, and booed back onto the pitch for the second half.
Of course the media ignored it completely – I haven’t read all the morning reports in England, but the ones I have read once again make no mention of the ref. Not a word.
Now I am not saying that all the media got it utterly wrong, and the majority of the crowd in the stadium got it right. I am asking what on earth is going on when one can get one vision of a match in the ground, and a totally different vision if one reads or listens to the media – with the media never once mentioning and explaining this oddity.
At the very least, given the fact that the ref was the dominant factor from the point of view of the crowd, why not mention that fact and explain why so many people in the ground were completely deluded?
After all, if the Liverpool crowd are worth commenting on when they protest about money, why not the Arsenal crowd when they protest about the referee?
“Ah, well,” says Media Being, “Arsenal always complain about the ref.”
“Ah well,” replies me, “Liverpudlians always complain about prices.”
The refusal of the media to acknowledge the upswell of opinion in the Arsenal crowd that there is something seriously wrong with refereeing, is interesting. It shows a clear pro-Liverpool anti-Arsenal bias. It shows a feeling that the media can define reality, and everyone else will go along with it. It shows an arrogance that leaves a very nasty taste.
And let me stress again, the issue is not whether those of us who feel that refereeing is in a state of crisis are right. It is about reporting reality – and the reality is that refereeing is now the issue for a significant number of people who go to Arsenal, just as money is a significant issue for some Liverpool fans.
Indeed the mere fact that the point needs to be made is very odd. For it is not as if the notion of corruption in sport is unknown. One might consider athletics. One might mention tennis. One might even mention rowing and horse racing. And one might note that Fifa, the organisation at the top of football, is somewhat awash with corruption. Corruption is everywhere in sport. In fact if there were none in football refereeing that would be a big story.
So what exactly is going on?
Barcelona FC appears to be a mixture of corruption and illegality on the one hand, and the exploitation of government bias and a compliant media on the other hand. Indeed the silence of the media on the subject is now as worrying than the extremely odd behaviour of referees, such as the ref I witnessed last night.
I think of all this today, because today, 24 February, is the anniversary of the death in 1825 of one of the most harmful censors of reality of them all: Thomas Bowdler. Under the guise of being an “editor” he re-wrote Shakespeare, the Old Testament of the Bible, and Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, to take out the bits he thought inappropriate, and in so doing radically changed the understanding of such works for huge numbers of people. As a result of him several generations lost the beauty of Shakespeare, and our greatest writer’s reputation fell to that of an also-ran, as it was hard to find the text of and impossible to see on stage, the original Shakespearean works.
Eventually of course he was discredited – and that is exactly what we need to do with the modern Bowdlerizers in the media. We are losing football to the editors and journalists who manipulate the vision of what is going on. And if, as I strongly suspect, there is corruption, it is flourishing in this atmosphere of the media’s making.
Two famous debuts
- 24 February 1951: Jack Kelsey debut against Chelsea and he let in five. But he returned and eventually became one of the all-time favourites at the club.
- 24 February 1962: George Armstrong played his first Arsenal game, v Blackpool. He went on to play exactly 500 league games for Arsenal before moving to Leicester.
The Untold Books
The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon. Details of this and our previous and forthcoming titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.
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