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February 2021

How to be a top journalist without leaving the pub

By Tony Attwood

Imagine the scene.  The football journalist has an article to write.  The editor has set the deadline.  The deadline has almost approached, appeared, past by and gone.  No article.

In time honoured fashion the journo goes to the pub, has a few with other journos facing the same problem, and looks aghast at the laptop.   There is no article.

And so, the final, last desperate resort of the journalist is reached.  Do a list article.

Now lists as part of articles are not all bad – some can be quite interesting in fact, but most of them quickly reveal to the reader very quickly what they really are – a way of filling up some space in a printed publication or a way of ensuring that there are always ten new articles a day on the football pages on the internet edition.

So recently we’ve had “How did Arsenal end up with these players?” (which in fact is a list of players who are probably going to leave Arsenal at the end of the season) and endless lists (usually without the fun of the Hardly Anyone pieces) of players Arsenal are going to buy.  Or not.

And that’s before we get to the ten dirtiest players on the planet, the ten things you need to know about the next game, and on and on.

When I was studying psychologist back in the Dark Ages, we were introduced to the theory that obsessive compulsive list makers (eg most contemporary journalists) write lists in order to try and create an illusion of all-knowingness and control in what might appear to the naive and less educated reader as a chaotic world.  I am a journalist, I am cleverer than you, I can tell you what the world means, and here is my list to prove it.  That sort of thing.

Of course some lists are really interesting and generally this is not just for the lists themselves, but because of where they take us afterwards.  They stimulate debate and insight.  The Finnish architect Eero Saarinen wrote a list (which has survived) of the things he found most attractive in his wife. Top of the list was the fact she was very clever.   That’s quite a thought.

The designer Harry Bertoia left us a list in which he rated himself, giving himself an “excellent” rating for health, neatness and accuracy, but low scores for quickness of thought and courage.  Again interesting because in both cases we can read more about the individual and reflect upon the work he left us.

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(Mind you after the exchanges over the past few days with one particular reader of Untold I’m tempted to score myself at minus 5 on a rating of 1 to 10 for the ability to explain myself.)

Making lists can be obsessive of course, but for many journalists, as I suggested above it can just be an act of desperation.  How about, “Ten things you didn’t know about the toilet facilities for away fans at White Hart Lane.”  Well, maybe not, but you know what I mean.  (Well, no, it’s obvious that at least one avid reader doesn’t know what I mean, but with this many readers I was never going to be coherent to everyone.)

The trouble with the list is that it breaks everything down into individual units, and forgets how the units work together – a typical problem with football journalists who almost universally don’t seem to be able to explain teams in terms of their team-ness and instead focus on the uselessness of individuals, and the need to buy others – without reference to how they would fit in.

So who is in the “Arsenal must buy” list, once the beer stains have been removed?   Here’s one just published…

1: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (34 years old and free).

Why?  “Would offer Arsenal a genuinely world class striker for the first time since Thierry Henry left the club.”  At 34.  Hmmm.

2: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), age: 26, £45m.

A playmaker.  So why do we need him as well as Santi Caz and Mesut Oz? Oh look, its a list, so we don’t get to know.

3: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Borussia Dortmund)   Age: 26   £60m

32 goals in 36 matches for Dortmund this season and so that would make sure that Giroud, Theo and Awobi all get shunted aside.   Oooops, he said he wants to play for Real Mad.

4:  Victor Wanyama (Southampton).  Age: 24.   £25m

“The Gunners’ lack of options in central midfield was brutally exposed when he (Coquelin) went down with an injury. Wanyama alongside Coquelin would give the Gunners a powerful midfield platform on which to build.”  Clearly the writer has not been looking at Coquelin alongside Elneny.  They’ve only played a couple of games together, but the potential looks extraordinary.

And this is the big problem with the list, because as soon as an interesting point like that is raised we can’t debate it because we are immediately onto.

5: Alvaro Morata (Juventus).  Age: 23.   £40m

“He only has 10 goals this season but the potential to be a truly brilliant lone striker is there for all to see.”   And how are we to see it?  I’d like to know, but the journalist doesn’t have to think because it is a LIST that he/she/it is writing (and we must not forget that Google now has robots writing lists).   Onwards ever onwards…

6: John Stones (Everton)  Age: 21.   £40m

Can you imagine how long it would take for Stones to be put on a list of the 10 worst buys of all times if he came to Arsenal and didn’t immediately shine?

7:   Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich).  Age: 23    £35m.

Eight appearances and one goal in the league this season.

You get the idea now; publish a list of must buys for Arsenal, and then when they buy one of them, publish a list of Arsenal’s biggest mistakes.  Two list articles in one day without a single drop of hard work anywhere to be seen.

A list of people who “ought to leave”, “must leave if Wenger is to retain any shred of cred” etc etc etc has just been published.

  1. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
  2. Kieran Gibbs
  3. Mikel Arteta
  4. Mathieu Flamini
  5. Tomas Rosicky
  6. Yaya Sanogo
  7. Mathieu Debuchy

Of course some of them are obvious, because the contract is coming to an end, but once again we see the secondary idea for the list builder working under the guise of being a journalist.  He can create a list of what a manager must do, and then do a second piece because he didn’t do it and has just lost a match all because of his stubbornness.   The one-thought-at-a-time supporters (the OTATS) (I just made that up) then latch on to this not as a journalist having a drink and making up rubbish in place of serious articles, but as proof that the manager should go.

(My new  150,000 word treatise “From List to Gibberish; football journalism in England in the 21st century” should appear next year).

Anyway, it is Good Friday in the UK, a public holiday, so times are tough for the “writers” and we have one more facing us – the 20 dirtiest players – and here’s the thing.  Not one of these players is “that kind of player”.

Actually, as the Fair Play list shows, Arsenal are always near the top, so we don’t figure, but I am sure someone will write an “Arsenal need to toughen up” piece in response.

Here they are

Player Disciplinary points Discip. pts per game
Marouane Fellaini 371 2.94
Gareth Barry 367 2.32
Cheick Tioté 341 3.24
Charlie Adam 304 2.30
Jack Colback 303 1.88
Craig Gardner 303 2.13
Lee Cattermole 302 2.77
Morgan Schneiderlin 289 2.44
James McCarthy 282 1.83
Ramires 276 2.12

Anyway, the list goes on, and what is noticeable is that although there are 20 players in the list not all teams from the PL are included – Arsenal for example are simply not there at all.  But some teams manage to be in the list twice.  Teams like Stoke, Man C, WBA, Sunderland, Chelsea, Everton, Man U and Newcastle.

So there we are, another day another list.

There is on the internet, a site that lists the ten most popular lists of all time.  Some of them are fairly repulsive, and even for the broadminded Untold reader I have to draw the line somewhere, but they include a list of recordings of evil spirits, the top 15 manipulated photographs, the top 15 most amazing coincidences, 10 greatest unsolved mysteries, 10 most evil women in history… well you get the idea.

But do remember, writing lists and then trying to suggest they mean something is not an alternative to having a real life.  And I mean, if you seriously are going to look up the “Top 10 Amazing Facts About Dreams”, then let me suggest that you go and find a modern jive club near you, take a course of six lessons, and transform your life into something which involves interactions with other people, plus a bit of physical exertion.

But who am I to tell you what to do, dear reader?

Happy interlull.



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Today in history…

25 March 1949: “Shakespeare – the nearest thing in incarnation to the eye of God.”  Laurence Olivier

And the Insult of the Day – 

For journalists and other list makers.

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5 comments to How to be a top journalist without leaving the pub

  • Saadman

    I found this hillarious. Well written tony. Absolutely spot on. These journalists are just a bunch of junkies/drunkards who can transform their emotions into words. But unfortunately they are also the ones that are of the most influential in shaping how people view the world around them. Sad but true.

  • Pat

    Enjoyed the dirtiest players list, Tony. Maybe you could give us the full twenty just to give us some more fun. With clubs attached just to make it even more enjoyable. Sorry – a bit cheeky – enjoy your day off instead!

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Does one have to have some form of qualification ( or the very least , a brain !)to be a certified as a journalist or just become one if he gets enough tweets and clicks ?
    Do the have an annual award at the pub ? You know, to be acknowledged for their achievements as well as exemplary contributions towards journalistic integrity and truth?

    Bet that ought to get a few good laughs and very few dry eyes !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    A man was lying on his deathbed, waiting for his for his final moment to come. He was totally calm, especially seeing as there was a priest there to give him his last rites and prepare him for his journey into the next life.

    Wanting to ensure that the entire process was complete, the priest commanded the man: “Denounce the devil! You must let him know that you are opposed to his evil ways and shows him that you think very, very little of it.”

    Unmoved by the priest’s vigor, the man simply lay on his bed, stared into space and said nothing.

    The priest repeated: “Denounce the devil now! You can’t have long left and need to show him whose side you’re on.”

    Once again, the man didn’t react. It was as if the priest hadn’t said anything at all.

    The priest, now puzzled by the man’s complete nonchalance toward what he was saying, asked: “Why do you refuse denounce the devil and his evil?”

    The dying man replied: “To be honest, after the life I’ve led, I’m not really sure where I’m going to be headed. With that in mind, I don’t think I ought to be aggravating anybody, should I?”

  • upp

    Tony I’m not sure anyone gives a damn about the subject matter of this article.