By Tony Attwood
Well, I have tried, I have really tried, to explain what I mean by evidence. And I have failed.
Yet I still think my point is simple: there are opinions and there are facts. Opinions are interesting, although if one hears the same opinion over and over, that is a bit dull. Facts are more interesting, but much harder to get to the bottom of.
Let’s take the issue of Arsenal never seeming to know when a player is coming back from injury. It’s a week, two weeks, a month, a setback. OK this might happen once or twice, but all the time??? That looks like incompetence to the nth degree.
But to be sure it is incompetence you need some information. First, how many days lost to injury do Arsenal players in total suffer in a season compared to other clubs? Second, how many times do other clubs face a situation in which “two to three weeks” turns into “the rest of the season.”
When we look, Arsenal are above midtable in terms of days lost to injuries (figures from the BBC), but the number of times in which a player is due back and then has a setback… I don’t know. I see it happening in the statements of both Arsenal and of other clubs, so I think it is probably equal. But if you want to make the point that the Arsenal medical staff are useless you have to do what people who write for Untold do – go searching for genuinely comparative data to show Arsenal are worse than everyone else.
Even then it is possible to get it wrong by misreading figures – but if you do you can be quite sure lots and lots of people will tell you. Over and over and over again. “You got it wrong” outweighs “thanks for putting those figures together” about 100 to one in correspondence on this site.
Which is why lots of people don’t do research. It takes lots of time, and then if your calculator is on the blink or the cat sits on your keyboard, errors can occur and then you get abuse. (Actually you also get abuse when you are right, so you have to live with that – people hate details that question their beliefs).
I continue to argue, just as scientists do, that when absolute proof is not there, we can still make judgements based on what we know, how we might judge the actions of others, and what happens in the end.
So I am very, very suspicious about PGMO because of the unique way it runs itself and its utter secrecy etc etc. And I keep looking for data that might suggest that linked to this is something very very odd happening in terms of Premier League results. (And indeed I think have just received that, but I’m going to take my time on this one. The maths is rather complicated.)
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Suspicion determines what one researches. I don’t research the notion that the sound of cuckoos in trees causes the sun to rise earlier each spring, but I do hope that if two men with skinny legs but huge broad chests, keep their cloaks wrapped around them very tightly, keep their heads down, looking neither left nor right, while walking through an international airport or railway station without checking departure boards, the security forces might think, “That don’t look right,” and ask them to lie face down on the ground while they clear the area. Suspicion is good for security, and for investigating the world around us.
From suspicion one might make predictions. And then try and see if they come to pass.
To refine one’s suspicions all one does is ask “why?” rather a lot. Just as we did about Portsmouth during its demise at the hands of crooks, and about Barcelona’s child trafficking (when none of the press would touch it), about QPR finances, about Liverpool’s tales about Suarez’ contract which turned out to be total lies (just as we said), about West Ham’s state aid for their stadium, about the seeming misuse of public funds by the FA who then had money removed from it by Sport England, about players using illegal substances and Fifa/Uefa doing nothing about the clubs involved, about the way money was used by Peter Ridsdale (remember him?) within Cardiff City FC, about the money spent by the FA on bidding for a World Cup that was fixed, about the corruption and violence in Greek football and Fifa’s insane response, about why the FA charges so much for its coaching courses (and the effect this has on the well-being of the England squad) and more recently about Tottenham’s profit making on transfers and their deals with Real Madrid who have their own child trafficking and of course endlessly about the structure and activities of the PGMO – to name but a few.
(Actually I want to throw in one more point here – when we first started on the Barcelona story Untold was the only place that called it child trafficking and others sneered at us. But we stuck with that term because I really do believe the fate of children who didn’t make it at Barcelona deserved the use of that label against the club. Now I see others are using that phrase too. It’s a tiny point, but for me, words influence how we think – it’s important. I’m glad we helped change thinking on this one).
So we come to Leicester. When they were in the Championship and marching towards promotion I wrote about half a dozen articles questioning their finances. No one took much notice except a few Leicester fans who just said I was wrong. So fairly normal procedure.
Unfortunately the press, as so often, took it as a non-story and wouldn’t use their much greater resources to do some digging. But David Conn in the Guardian has recently come to the subject. It’s taken two years, but these things take time.
His headline is Leicester City and the strange finances behind their rise to the Premier League pinnacle.
My articles a couple of years back suggested that Leicester had most flagrantly broken Championship FFP rules. They were never investigated because the Premier League refuses to co-operate on FFP with the Football League, and since the Premier League very publicly produced its own FFP rules and then utterly failed to implement them, they have been silent.
According to David Conn the Football League is still investigating the club’s 2013-14 promotion season amid strong concerns from other clubs Leicester may have broken FFP rules (the club spent over £5m more on salaries than it got in income).
Then without any new sponsorships arriving sponsorship income for Leicester immediately went up over 300%.
That might seem a trifle curious but it is nothing compared with what David Conn found when he went looking for the company that trebled the sponsorship income of the club. “It was set up on a Sheffield trading estate by the son and daughter of Sir Dave Richards, a former Premier League chairman,” says Mr Conn.
“The firm has no website nor telephone number. At the registered address – 6 Shepcote Office Village, there is no Trestellar presence or sign.”
This is the home of what Leicester City call the “exciting international marketing and licensing partnership.” Leicester won’t discuss the arrangements – or they wouldn’t with the Guardian, and no other newspaper seems to have the balls to ask any questions. You don’t point a finger at Leicester at the moment – that’s the rule in the media.
Trestellar seems to be run by the son of Sir Dave Richards who resigned as chair of Sheffield Wednesday as they faced relegation and huge debts. Then his company went into administrative receivership (meaning a creditor wanted their money back). He then became Premier League chairman. The Guardian puts his opening salary as £176,667 per annum.
Now the amount Leicester City have got in sponsorship is completely out of context for what clubs without a worldwide fan base can get – even when they look likely to win the league (which they didn’t of course when the deals were struck).
Several chairmen of Championship clubs have, according to the Guardian, raised serious concerns about the whole Leicester financial model and Damian Collins, the Conservative MP on the House of Commons culture, media and sport committee, has said: “Leicester should answer the questions publicly, to explain this arrangement, which looks unusual to say the least, to reassure people it was not an attempt to evade the FFP rules.”
Of course there might be nothing wrong, and it might be that for reasons that are beyond the likes of me, everything is fine, but then one wonders why there isn’t more openness about it all. Being secretive doesn’t mean you have something to hide of course, but being secretive with seemingly convoluted arrangements in place historically generally means something is wrong.
Certainly until this point, spending vast amounts of money on a club to get it into the Premier League has seemed to be a mugs game, because the club invariably comes back down with loads of debts. QPR is a case in point, although with them incompetence by the Football League in the way they drew up their rules meant that the initial punishment for their overspending was greatly reduced.
But now Bournemouth, and much more effectively, Leicester have worked out a way of keeping going in the PL after spending vast amounts in the Championship, which starts to raise questions, for as long as these clubs stay in the top division there is no mechanism to investigate what they are up to financially.
This in turn raises the question of why the Premier League, as well as supporting PGMO with its unique approach to refereeing and its hyper-secrecy, also supported keeping out of financial fair play after promising to act upon it, and also refuses to co-operate with the Football League when a team seemingly buys its way out of the League with money donated by … well we never quite know.
These are of course speculations – I never claim them to be otherwise, and of course Leicester, just as QPR before them, could have good answers. Also they could have made everything transparent. But they choose not to, which is their right.
But with that silence also comes the likes of the Guardian (on occasion) Untold (on lots of occasions) asking questions.
We don’t have the resources to do investigative reporting, which ought to be the province of the mainstream media, but we do have brains enough to ask the questions that no one else seems to want to ask. And, rather pleasingly, most of the time we seem to be on the right track.
So all we can do is ask the questions. And be very wary of people who assert that we are wrong or tell us to keep our noses out of it.
- A selected annivesary from beyond football and a nice picture of the stadium and a train.
- Today’s Arsenal anniversaries and the Insult of the Day
- A list of the most recent posts from Untold and the Arsenal History Society
- Details of all the the books Untold Arsenal has published