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At last, a new view as to why the media insist on ignoring the key issues in football day after day after day

By Tony Attwood

The article Can possible reasons for unsupported opinions be understood, explained and contribute anything to Untold Arsenal? gained considerable praise on Untold, and quite rightly so in my view, because it opened up an issue that has long puzzled quite a few people who are kind enough to spend time on Untold.  And that certainly includes me.

Walter has already taken this matter further in his most recent article Does Arsenal still need Klopp or Pochettino to make the final breakthrough? and I would like to continue the debate one step further if you will give me a moment of your time.

Indeed I think it is fair to say I have not been thinking of much else since I read AKH’s piece, to the extent I hardly noticed who I was dancing with at the regular Friday Night Bop (which in turn raised a few comments).  But that’s a different matter.

I think we now have three issues…

1:  What is it that is so odd about football reporting in the UK?

Untold has, over the past eight years, reported regularly on a number of things that go on in football which seem to be very odd.   And having pointed them out, we’ve tried to find explanations.

The most obvious of course is the activity of the PGMO and we’ve approached this from two sides.

On the one hand, when we ask non-PL referees to take a look at what they see when a PGMO ref is given free rein on a pitch, we find reports of refereeing that is often inept in the extreme, and sometimes seemingly very biased.   On the other hand we see an entire structure, organisation and behaviour of PGMO that is very different from that of any other European referee organisation, and the way it operates and things it does again gives rise to concern.

So we are not saying referees are bent, or PGMO is corrupt, but asking the first fundamental question – why is PGMO as it is, and making the point that if that question is never answered then severe doubts about the honesty of the refereeing system in the PL will continue in the light of what we see on the pitch.

We have also raised questions about numerous other matters (and please don’t turn away – I’m not going to give details of each one – but let me just give a few selected headers).

There is the non-reporting of financial issues relating to the FA and Fifa, except when they could hardly be ignored as the authorities moved in and arrested Fifa people.

There is the eternal insistence that transfers are important and constant ignoring the fact that 99.9% of the transfer stories in the media are wrong – and that is even before considering the impact those transfers that do happen, have on a club.

There is the fact that most managerial appointments fail to bring about improvement, and more bring a downward turn than a rise to the top.

There is the fact that radio and the press, plus virtually all the blogs ignore the argument that TV is manipulating football.   The media hasn’t always been like this, and I’ve mentioned the reports I found while writing the Arsenal in the 70s series,  in which journalists did openly criticise the way TV stations were misleadingly editing matches.

Then there is the wholesale refusal of all aspects of the media to examine issues within football with evidence and logical deduction and the insistence (as Walter pointed out) that the last match is the defining moment.  Indeed, as he said Liverpool! is the defining example of this.  Before the Europa Cup Final we were at the take-off point to the next great Liverpool! era.  After the defeat the manager was a serial loser, and Liverpool! became Liverpool?

We can also go back to the slow and uncertain way in which all the media handled the FFP fine given to Man City; the notion of headless chickens comes to mind.  While Untold relentlessly published article after article on the topic BBC Radio 5, Sky, BBC TV and all the papers were continuing their theme of either ignoring the matter totally, or saying that the EC would rule FFP anti-competitive (we knew they wouldn’t since they had already ruled the reverse.)

A similar sort of nonsense surrounds the issue of why England does so poorly at football, given the interest in the game in this country.  Over and over again we have one answer: too many foreigners playing in England.  It was Untold (well actually me, working through a weekend in 2010 when nothing else grabbed my attention) analysing all the figures that came up with the very clear correlations.  Success on the pitch relates to the number of players per coach with a licence.   The Telegraph reprinted the argument a couple of years later without acknowledgement, but even despite that, no one considers the point.   The utterly untenable notion that it is the number of foreigners is endlessly repeated.

I could go on, and if you read Untold regularly you’ll know I have no difficulty in going on and on, but I will stop at that point to ask the all important question: why is this happening.

2:  Why is football reporting so seriously compromised – the standard view

In most of what I have written on Untold over the last eight and a half years I have primarily argued that the media does not pick up on any of the key points outlined above because the media has a vested interest.

Broadcasters are the big powerhouse, and Sky and BT paid over £5,000,000,000 for the rights to football for three years starting this August.  Clearly they want to protect that investment, and criticism of the very essence of football, and the removal of the notion that something is not right in football is a strong motivation to kill the debate.

Other media outlets which show highlights also have paid money and don’t want to lose their audience.  The press pay far less, but given the sway over public opinion that TV has, they really do think ten times before saying anything that undermines the credibility of every aspect of football and sets them outside the norms of the debate.

I have also argued that by pushing the debate into trivial matters (such as the transfer window deadline) they have maintained their grip on the definition of what counts as important, and indeed what counts as reality.

3: Why is football reporting so seriously compromised – the new view

When I read AKH’s article Can possible reasons for unsupported opinions be understood, explained and contribute anything to Untold Arsenal? I suddenly had a light-bulb moment.  Maybe editorial decisions are not based primarily on a desire to stop any debate on the issue that things might not be right in football.

Maybe instead most people working in the media are stuck in one of the two phases of concrete thinking and reasoning that AKH describes so clearly.   We might even say that a handful are in the later stage while the majority are stuck in the early stage.  (See AKH’s article for clear definitions of these stages)

But, it could be argued, this is odd because although all media outlets have their political agenda, when they move outside of that some of the media (certainly not all but some) try to reflect reality.  If there is a terrible plane crash they don’t immediately say all planes are unsafe.  If there is a terror attack by a person who professes to follow a certain religion, they don’t immediately call for the rounding up of everyone who professes to follow this religion.   (OK this argument breaks down in the current debate about the UK in the EU, but I think that is a special case, and I don’t want to divert myself onto that at the moment).

Indeed we do owe a lot to journalists and newspapers.  OK, often they are handed the stories on a plate by the whistle blowers such as with the Panama Papers or the MP expenses scandals, but several of them have followed up police, sex and political corruption and made sure the issue is in the public domain.

So if you are bright, honest and with a moral compass, and you want to be a journalist you become an investigative journalist.  If you have no moral compass and become an investigative journalist you get sucked into “three in a bed sex romp” journalism.  Very few of those who are left do investigative journalism in football.

Indeed the fact that Untold, with virtually no resources can relentlessly pursue everything from the PGMO issue to the question of why England does badly on the international stage, not only speaks volumes for the dedication of people who kindly take the time to write for Untold, but speaks also of the paucity of the infinitely better resourced mass media.

True, there was the handful of journalists who collected data on Fifa, but seeing corruption there was hardly quantum mechanics.  A blind man in a dark room with the door locked could see that Fifa was corrupt from tip to toe.  Indeed the amazing thing with Fifa was how all the papers failed to follow the story through to consider how corrupt the FA must be to openly throw public money at Fifa in a desperate insane bid to bring even more corruption into England by holding the world cup here.

3: Conclusion: why is Untold out here on its own, while the mainstream media goes its own way?

So now we have three explanations as to why Untold is on its own.

3.1  The media has a vested interest in not questioning the game, because that could lose it viewing figures, and having just spent £5 billion, that is the last thing media execs want.

3.2  Most sports journalists are concrete thinkers of restricted intellectual maturity, who cannot engage in abstract thought.   So they emphasise the current situation, rather than the broader picture.  Today is all there is, context is nothing.

3.3  A combination of the two points above.

AKH, I am so indebted to you for your analysis.  I do think you are onto something here.


19 comments to At last, a new view as to why the media insist on ignoring the key issues in football day after day after day

  • Tony
    points 3.1 to 3.3 cover it

    Joe Public aint too bright and that includes football fans who just want the simple life
    How many papers do the broadsheets sell compared to the “Red Tops” ?
    Keep it simple soppy, this not only applies to journalism like yours but the entertainment industry as a whole

    But, for the sake of my sanity and I would think most of your readers, please keep up the investigative work
    You won`t get anywhere, even though what you illustrate is correct
    You are fighting City Hall and an inept Joe Public fan base.
    The money behind City Hall will beat you every time

    As always, thanks !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Money , greed , corruption , power , the closed little boys club and the perpetuation of ignorance , keeps it merrily chugging on .And round and round .
    To see it very differently and it all in a different perspective – GET OFF NOW !

  • Terry, often I feel like you, that we won’t get anywhere.

    But…. there are just occasional chinks of light. I grant you they are from 40 watt bulbs against the glare of the torchlights as the mob marches through the town, but even so, that tiny chink of light is still worth it.

    Occassionally, just occasionally, the mighty are brought low.

  • para

    What Terry White says about the money behind “city hall” i have found is so true.

    Having researched this sort of thing in relation to the wider world i do realise that it is the money behind everything that causes the agendas of those with the money to have full control over everything else.

    They have a system of coercing Heads of Departments, after all they could not coerce everyone and in the case of media, it is the Heads of media that decide the policy for their masters. Anyone below that either has to follow or lose their income.

    Because the whole system is set up like this, anyone who disagrees will be “listed” and cannot get a job in any other media outlet either.

  • colario

    It would be interesting to compare three mid table games refereed by Mr Clattenburg and his three games affecting final results this season.

    These being Chelsea v Spurs. The result meant that Leicester had won the Premier League. This cup final between Crystal Palace and Man Utd and the to be played European Cup Final between Real Madrid and Athletic Madrid.

    By making this comparison we would see if there was a consistency in the standard of refereeing being that is the same in all matches or an irregular standard of refereeing.

    In the first of these games the media’s darling of the season won the league and in the second game the normal service in the way Man U games were refereed when Mr Ferguson was manager was resumed.

    What standard of refereeing will be provided for the third game?

    Mr Clattenburg did have a reputation for refereeing to a higher standard than his colleagues. This he clearly wasn’t able to maintain in the two games I have referred to.

  • nicky

    It’s not money but the love of it that is the culprit.
    And the “listing” to which you refer is a stark reminder of the rise of the pre-war Nazi Party in Germany.
    We have been warned, because that is how it all begins.

  • Jambug

    Tony Attwood

    It’s because of all the issues you tackle as mentioned in your article, that I, and many thousands of others, love this site so much.

    I don’t agree with everything you say, as you will of noticed elsewhere, but 99% of the time you are expressing views I am totally in agreement with, or casting light upon issues that are of concern to me.

    One of the things you mention is the Media:

    “There is the fact that radio and the press, plus virtually all the blogs ignore the argument that TV is manipulating football”.

    This, as you may of noticed, is my hobby horse. I detest the media with a passion, and have been saying how they manipulate football, or more specifically referees, for years.

    Media mantras on Arsenal.


    I believe it is the Medias persistent peddling of this misnomer that the lays the fertile ground for the referees to allow us to be kicked of the park without fear of reprisals. The players will not be carded and in turn the Referees will not be chastised.

    But then on the other hand, when it suits:


    Heaven forbid we should dare to kick back.

    The sad truth of the matter is though, and going by what I hear in the mess room on a daily basis, very very few people give a shit. They all just read the red tops, listen to talk sport and, although they say ‘I know it’s rubbish’ they repeat, almost verbatim, everything they say as if it where fact.

    Regarding Arsenal, all the clichés come out:

    No spine

    No Leader

    Need 4 players

    No tactics

    Have got the money, always have.

    Bad coaching = bad injuries.

    Blah blah blah.

    If something is repeated enough it becomes fact, no matter how untrue it is.

    And all of the above, and more, is repeated on a daily basis and as such has become ‘fact’

    The alternative truth, the truth that is peddled by the media is all the average fan ever sees, and like it or not, it is that truth that he believes.

    All that being said, even more reason to keep fighting the good fight as they say.

    Untold Arsenal, a beacon of light in what is becoming a darker and darker footballing tunnel.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Leon

    And there’s some interesting stuff going in in Austria right now.

  • finsbury

    With the coverage in the funny papers of the FA Challenge Cup winning manager this morning could this article have had any better timing?

    Character assassination efforts against an individual who doesn’t respect them by the hack dwarves, against an manager with far greater respect in the game, “sex masochism” notwithstanding (better then sexist mysogeny that ends up in the courts?) who won a trophy/bauble yesterday and instead all in favour of the specialist in signing players from special agents. It’s almost as if their narratives (and commissions?) are more important to the hack dwarves then the footy on the pitch…

    … With this busted flush (please refer to Gazprom, KDB, etc.) now being installed within the confines of Old Toilet are the Utd owners

    A) ‘avin a larf?
    B) ‘avin tea and biscuits with Clatter’s overbearing boss? Please refer to the football yesterday. And other records.

  • finsbury

    And as if on que Aunty Bleeb shits out another blurb, pardo my French, this time from Uber Plundit Phil Neville.

    He talks about “standards”, and “success”being important at Utd. Of expectations.

    Which all begs the question: why did the Utd hierarchy flog off a title winning group of coaches in favour of unproven unqualified airbags like, well, like Phil Neville. How is this unrespected former player ridiculed whenever he played at the top level qualified to be in the media so much? Fair question, no?

  • para

    Nicky, yes the love of money is right.

    Concerning Nazis in Germany, this is one of the examples where the use of money created one holocaust to mask another holocaust. Hitler and the NAZIS were financed by those with lots of money, and we still have to deal with their(the money people’s) descendants today.

  • Zuruvi

    Friends, we remember a few months back when the media was attacking the Arsenal for not making a certain Patrick Viera the Arsenal Manager in place of our Prof.
    Obviously to promote his own candidacy our former captain proudly declared that he learned the most about football management and strategy from none other than Jose Mourinho whilst at Inter Milan. (And the relatively little he learnt from Arsene Wenger was to give players the freedom to play). The media loved this and Patrick Viera became their big friend. We the true Gunners continued to love and respect our former captain for the many years of joy he gave us at Highbury and the Ems as he commanded the midfield. We also fondly remember Patrick as a good captain and an Invincible.
    But … Let’s see how Mourinho’s protégé has fared as a manager.

    The Mourinho’s protégés (Patrick Lampard and Patrick Viera) are doing wonders in New York.
    Patrick Viera utilizing the managerial skills that he admired and copied from Mourinho.

  • WalterBroeckx

    by Gord

    I thought at first, someone was paying to recover Mike Riley’s

    What makes more sense, is that China (who wants to become a world power
    in football) is going to use The FA, Premier League and PGMO as
    templates to control football over all of China. There will be no
    referees from places where people protest the government (Hong Kong).
    The central committee will decide which teams are promoted and
    relegated every year, they will control which teams win the league
    every year, they will control local rivalries.

  • goonersince72

    Excellent piece, Tony. Re your three conclusions: Correct, Correct, and Correct. Also to jambug, haven’t seen you lately, glad to have your contribution.

  • Jambug

    Thanks goonersince72, it’s nice to be back.

    I just couldn’t bare the whingers anymore.

    Given the events of the final day I thought now was as safe a time as there’s ever likely to be, save perhaps immediately after winning the CL, PL and FA Cup. Even then I’m sure there’d be certain contributors, whom shall remain nameless, who would find something to moan about.

    I could well be ducking out again as soon as the ‘Spend the f***ing money’ brigade emerge from there holes, which knowing them, could be any time now !!!

  • Al

    “The sad truth of the matter is though, and going by what I hear in the mess room on a daily basis, very very few people give a shit. They all just read the red tops, listen to talk sport and, although they say ‘I know it’s rubbish’ they repeat, almost verbatim, everything they say as if it where fact.”

    Spot on. The majority just don’t get it. They just swallow everything in the media without question.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Terry White, you intrigue me. You pop up …quite rarely, but always with excellent succinct insight, sometimes, as with this case, supporting a superb lead article. Get the feeling you know a thing or two.
    Would like to hear more from you……

  • thierryhenry22

    Everyone’s on top form today, from Tony to the commenters. Love it, keep it up

  • Zedsaunt

    What does get missed – football exists in a halfway house between the football culture established in the 1950s and 1960s where investigative journalism was integral to the mainstream media in print and TV, and the reality of 2016 where vast amounts of money flow into the presentation of football as the global game, transcending all other sports, transcending almost all other branches of entertainment.

    In 2016 reality there are next to no mainstream media outlets available for investigation into football, beyond the FBI or criminal proceedings. The amount of space/TV time/funding, given to any mainstream ”investigative journalism” has been in decline in the UK since the mid-1980s. The installation of the EPL and the emergence of SKY hastened this decline.

    There are though in 2016 – Untold is a great example – innumerable internet outlets for investigation which, however, do not get beyond the internet audience of the specific outlet and which are always subject – and thus can be avoided, dismissed or ignored – to the clamour of the online presence of other competing outlets

    Consequently, to get a fan to start examining the actual, practical consequences of how the PGMOB affect football in the EPL requires serious argument, and attention to the detail of the argument.

    To get a mainstream journalist to see beyond the ‘last game,’ the ‘next manager,’ the ‘ missing player,’ might well require the emergence of a parellel universe which – the bottom line – also pays the salary.

    There is then – the deepest of the deep wells – the unknown, unfathomable, consequences of the global betting market.