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March 2021

Football debate declines into the new superstitions and myths, which is why we are here.

By Tony Attwood

As you may have noticed we’ve been running a little series on whether, and then why, the media is so critical of Arsenal.  That link takes you to the last in the series, and it has a list of all the other articles in it, at the start.

The discussion encompassed not just the media being more critical of Arsenal than of any other club, but also the issue of made-up news alongside the removal of solid information and facts, and its replacement by everything from opinion to downright untruths.  

In the shockwaves of this move, informed, reasoned analysis based on facts, is reduced to a freak show which is laughed at, because the whole notion of reasoned analysis is not understood.

In such circumstances chit chat and uninformed opinion – indeed opinion based on falsehoods – pushes aside all rational thinking which is based on facts and logical deduction, to make way for what others have called the “new superstitions”.

It’s not just Arsenal of course that suffers, for in this world every attempt at reasoned argument is shouted down by superstitions which are, by definition, without reason, without logic, without evidence.  

Throughout my life some people in the UK believe 13 is an unlucky number, and they might cite a few incidents in which events related to 13 have been unlucky.  But rationality tells us that in other countries different numbers are unlucky.  But 13 is considered lucky in Italy while four is unlucky in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures.  That’s always been there.  But now all evidence is thrown aside and belief becomes the daily function of the brain.

Thus the New Superstitions are everywhere.  In football they are the issues we’ve been arguing against on Untold for years… the notion that

  • A new manager will improve the situation.
  • That anyone can see how to improve a club without having had any experience of running one, sometimes without even going to games.
  • That evidence equates to stating a series of facts, without any reference to what is going on around them.
  • That buying a very expensive centre forward will make everything ok.
  • That journalist commentators who have no experience of running a club at any level can have insights into the way a club is running which those experienced at working in the game don’t have – experiences that can lead to conclusions that can be expressed in a two minute argument on air.
  • That we can tell what is going on in someone’s mind.
  • That transfers are the answer no matter what the question.
  • That criticising a club very strongly is actually going to make it better.

and so on and so on.

All the evidence is there to say that these superstitions are not valid, and yet they grow in strength month by month, and indeed have grown so much that now they swamp any attempt at rational analysis.  So set up a web site that is meant to be a haven of rational debate and we then find we have to spend a fortune trying to ensure the expression of these views are not swamped by irrational often libellous commentaries.

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By way of one simple example of where we have got to, I was driving to my saturday evening dance last night and for reasons which now utterly escape me, I had TalkSport on the radio.  Danny Baker interviewed Stewart Robson, and to be fair, did say at the start that Robson was known to be anti-Wenger.

Baker then gave Robson a chance to put forward his views, asking a few pertinent questions and then letting Robson speak.   Robson talked, as he always does, of the problem was not a case of buying this or that player but was Wenger who was stubborn and obstinate.  No evidence was given to back this up, it was given as fact.  Indeed facts were what was missing throughout – no discussion of how a manager with these negative traits could in fact have taken a club that was as used to finishing mid-table as finishing in the top four, to these 19 years of top four finishes.  No explanation of how, with someone so utterly fixed in his views and clearly so stupid, could year after year outwit anything between 16 and 19 other premier league managers and their clubs.

This was a fundamental point in the debate.  One can understand how any con artist (for that is what effectively Robson was calling Wenger) can get away with it a bit against a few people, but how does he create a system that is so appalling awful (according to Wenger) which year after year produces teams that come way above the majority of the others in the league?

So evidence was there none to explain this, or any other anomaly.  Except at the end he did give one piece of evidence of Wengerian pathetic stupidity and idiocy – the horrific injury level Arsenal suffered in comparison with all other clubs, year after year after year after year because of Wenger’s training methods which he utterly refuses to change.

And there the discussion ended.  Baker was not well-informed enough and had no access to any research (it was Talk Sport after all) to be able to contradict this one piece of evidence.  Yet the contradiction is there, season after season, in both research from the BBC and from the Physioroom and indeed a couple of other sources that appear from time to time.   No matter whether you measure the number of player days lost per season, or the number of players injured week by week, Arsenal come out a little above mid-table.

Of course we’ve been quoting these figures here regularly, and I don’t expect Robson, Baker or Talk Sport researchers to read us, but really, if on a national radio station one is going to make this a major talking point, should there not be just a little research? 

Seemingly not and thus the one piece of evidence Robson gave was a total and absolute lie, and yet the impact of the whole discussion was that he (Robson) was right, and that the evidence was there for all to see.

Now I said earlier that our access to solid information and facts, and to informed, reasoned opinion, is being reduced – and I think that is right, given the difficulty one now has in finding any football related commentary that is based on facts and analysis.

I think we can also say this given the way that information about the topics I noted above never draws on evidence, but is presented as fact, evidence is pushed aside.  It is a fact that a new manager or a new player will help – it is taken as a self-evident truth, no analysis is needed.  Indeed sometimes this reality becomes laughable, as with the fact that the Transfer Index shows us over 80 players who are said to be coming to Arsenal this summer, (many of whom are apparently now on their way) and the fact that around 20 Arsenal players are leaving.  And yet each day we have more “according to reports Arsenal are about to sign…”  

These are the new superstitions that now run football and like superstitions, if they don’t turn out to be true, that’s our fault.  We must have done something wrong in the ritual.  Let’s do it again.

But in the midst of this decline into superstitions is our access to hard solid factual information being deliberately reduced?

I suspect the answer is yes, but not because of any sort of conspiracy.  It is simply a result of the existence of news channels all fighting each other for an audience, using new techniques.  From long established newspapers to the eternally loss making (but seemingly always there) Twitter the model has changed but people often believe that something must be true because it is in the media.

And Twitter is an important example, for the fact is that the way Twitter shows up on your screen depends on who pays how much to Twitter’s owners to get each story out there and trending.  Indeed there is an awful lot of money changing hands (although seemingly not enough to make a profit).  

So knocking Arsenal becomes a trend and a habit – as we have seen in this series, something that dates back to the 19th century and which grew dramatically in the 20th.

Knocking Arsenal isn’t new, it is now just much, much more widespread, and commonplace – so much so that people who do it actually come to believe that what they are saying is obviously right, and so doesn’t need to be justified with evidence, facts, statistics or logical deduction.

I don’t claim that Untold is valiantly standing against this decline into mediaeval thinking and beliefs (although I do think the retreat from a scientific and logical way of looking at the world is appalling and will quite possibly be the ultimate cause of our civilisation’s downfall – although hopefully not during my lifetime).  Rather I just think that given we have a means to point these things out, we should do it, rather than not.

At least, for the few people who were thinking, “Am I the only person who thinks there’s something wrong when Robson is given a platform for propagating his myths about the Arsenal injury crisis without anyone saying, ‘factually this is completely wrong’?” Untold and a few other sites are here.

From today’s anniversary files – how transfers don’t always work out

  • 31 July 2008: Tottenham bought David Bentley from Blackburn for £15m of which £7m went to Arsenal.  He played just 42 games for the club before going on a series of loans to Birmingham, WHU, Rostov, and… Blackburn.  Tottenham later did the same trick with Adebayor.

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20 comments to Football debate declines into the new superstitions and myths, which is why we are here.

  • Chris


    good piece and you drive the point home.
    But reading the previous pieces on the subject, I do feel lost as to why no one at AFC takes the BBC and Mr Robson head-on and demands an official refutal.
    This because the facts are simply wrong. What would AFC do if they started to say that we did not win any trophy for 20 years ? Where is the limit to what you can spit out ?

    I mean were Mr Robson to state wrongly that some personality where this or that, or that the Sun is going to be sold to some russian media group, there’d be an immediate reaction from the person/organisation concerned.

    In the case of AFC we have, as far as I am concerned, nothing. And this part I don’t understand.

    Or is it so that in the UK press, anyone can state anything to no ill-effect ? And I am not talking about some libel, just fact checking.

    Why are they just ignoring it and not hitting back ?

  • colario

    1) There are 19 other teams in the Premier League, this means 19 clubs with fans who want there team to be thought of as better than Arsenal

    2) Arsenal are a London club. Many people who live outside of London with resentment see London as ‘the home of the privileged’.

    3) Until the success of the thirties Arsenal was a middle table at best club so their London base apart nothing to make the club a major target of resentment or be envious of by those outside London.

    4) Football’s power base of the north was ‘stolen’ by Arsenal. They then became the club to beat of if not playing them wanted them to loose.

    5) The club stopped winning league or cup. This caused the growth of the small group critical of Arsenal fans.

    6) The return to winning ways with the defensive play of George Graham and the rise of Manure with Sir Red Nose which stopped any possibility of the North’s power base (won back by Liverpool) returning south to the enemy- Arsenal.

    7) Arsene Wenger. Intelligent, honest, articulate, believer that football is an ‘art’, who refuses to confuse football with Thai kick boxing. Not English.

    And you ask why the media constantly attacks Arsenal and its manager.

    Its the popular thing to do.

    What media person is going to dare to be different from his/her colleagues.

    It fun to laugh at those your are envious of. It helps to bear the pain of knowing how inferior you are.

  • Richard

    Great piece Tony However, I would suggest that the biggest threat does not come from lies or opinions. But the actual real harm comes from half truths where part of the story or article is true but the other isn’t but separating the two isn’t as easy as to refute one you have to deny the other. The example you give could be given because we do suffer injuries and generally more than say those who have won the league in past seasons. So the next step
    Robson and the Dutch physio person who speaks lots on our injury record is that Wengers methods are at fault or he ignores the data analysis supplied to him on players . Now we were seventh in number of injuries we had last season but I think that if you look at the number of minutes lost is taken into account we probably would jump a few places. Of course what is irrefutable is we have injuries each season no look at the type and reason for injury. Now I’m going to link a story telegraph run that uses facts and figures but how they use those facts is the issue for example say Arsenal have 68 injuries in a season is that 68 first team injuries or do they include all the reserve and youth teams too. Here is link

  • Norman14

    Perhaps we are a little guilty of believing the “anti-Arsenal” media, because we are Arsenal supporters. After all, we are ready to point he finger when a bit of Arsenal negativity comes our way, but we certainly don’t go looking for negativity aimed at other clubs. For example, when a bit of negativity comes Tottenham’s way, we laugh at them – we don’t say “wow, the media are sniping at the Spu*s again!” The same applies when negative media strikes Manure, Chelsea of Liverpool. Didn’t we have fun with all the sniping at Manure since Sir Friggenson retired?

    With regards to AFC, I think that they have taken the moral high ground with the media by NOT commenting on the negative press. Imagine the outcry if we were to treat the media like Newcastle do, for example, where they are regularly banned for negativity.

    As for Talk Sport – I can’t believe people actually listen to that! It’s no more informative or informed than Sunday Supplement.

  • para

    I understand that truth is not absolute. It depends on the facts that are known plus the experience of the individual(that is, their upbringing).

    Tell a Muslim or Christian that Allah or Jesus does not exist, then you come up against their upbringing, that what they were taught and by the people around them who think the same way.

    In the same way that many who were brought up in those environments start to think for themselves and release themselves from that mindset, so must those who just follow the newspapers and media start to think for themselves.

    No amount of talking to will change them unless they begin to think for themselves, still, it is necessary that Untold and others continue to provide the information so that when they do start to think for themselves, they are able to get conflicting arguments and discussions to help them to enhance their thought processes.

    Keep up the good work, but remember Untold is not here to “convert”, only the individual can do that themselves.

  • Rich

    ‘I commissioned research from specialists at Cardiff University, who surveyed more than 2,000 UK news stories from the four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. They found two striking things. First, when they tried to trace the origins of their “facts”, they discovered that only 12% of the stories were wholly composed of material researched by reporters. With 8% of the stories, they just couldn’t be sure. The remaining 80%, they found, were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry. Second, when they looked for evidence that these “facts” had been thoroughly checked, they found this was happening in only 12% of the stories.’

    ‘The implication of those two findings is truly alarming. Where once journalists were active gatherers of news, now they have generally become mere passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists. An industry whose primary task is to filter out falsehood has become so vulnerable to manipulation that it is now involved in the mass production of falsehood, distortion and propaganda.’

    From the author of a book I read years ago called Flat Earth News. I’ve forgotten most of it, but it offered great insight into modern journalistic standards.

  • Norman14

    Here’s a perfect example of how negativity is put forward.

    Apparently, Channel Murdoch has an “exclusive” with Jamie Vardy. He is reported to have said “exclusively” to them that it “was easy to reject Arsenal’s approach. He goes on to say that he has unfinished business at Leicester.

    So, there are two negatives here: (1) He rejected Arsenal and (2) He promotes the philosophy of little old Leicester.

    What’s most interesting though, is that he says he “never had talks with Arsenal” so how did he reject them? By saying nothing? That isn’t rejection, it’s ignorance.

    However, the headline is meant to create negativity against Arsenal, but when we read the detail, we see that he didn’t reject us at all because a move was never discussed.

    In the end, it actually stinks of a man wondering if he did the right thing, because Arsenal and our supporters have moved on – from what the player has confirmed was a non event.

    With Kante gone, and Mahrez weighing up his options, Vardy is going to look a right pillock if he is the only “star” to stay at Leicester for their “unfinished business”.

  • Richard

    Chris and the point is that what do we deem success if you look at the synonymous words victory and winning are in there. However, the actual definition of success states it’s the achievement of an aim or goal. Now on that note every year of Wengers reign on the playing front the club has achieved at least two or more of its aims. See any conference out there and club states its aims yearly so not repeating them here. Now there were years of no trophies however these are only part of the aims the club sets itself every year, of course winning things are not the only parameter of success take Bournemouth and Sunderland and Watford as case in point success for them on top of a trophy is to stay in premiere league and finish as high up the table as possible now achieving either of those things means they have achieved success. It is this perception of what success is that Robson and other pundits blogettas use to flog Wenger and Arsenal . Of course you can’t refute number of years without a trophy but when that trophy was lifted the goal posts changed to the premiere league title and when that is eroded it will be the champions league and then it will be the double treble the quadruple etc these people will always change the posts on what they deem success and therefore can never be refuted because they speak in half truths. The argument I give you is that a club can be successful without winning trophies because success is actually an achievement of an aim or goal so for arguments sake let’s take Arsenal having an aim of qualifying for champions league proper every year on top of any possible trophies they may miss out on a trophy but they have still had a success because they have achieved one aim of qualifying for champions league proper. Now you can argue this isn’t enough and that’s a good point of argument. Those same people will also argue we have only finished fourth because other teams have handed it to us, however, I think it’s because other teams fitness doesn’t allow them to go a whole season and Wengers methods get the team to finish stronger than they start.

  • Pat

    There is always this claim of balance in the media. Again Tony’s example from Talk Sport shows that it does not exist.

    Danny Baker freely admitted before his interview that Stewart Robson was anti Arsene Wenger. As Tony says, possibly Danny Baker did not have the information to refute Robson’s claims. In that case, his responsibility was to have somebody on as well who did have that information and would take the opposite point of view. But he didn’t.

    Possibly the situation is even worse. Danny Baker is actually very knowledgeable about football and probably did have plenty of information which could have been put up against Robson’s assertions. But he chose not to. He chose to go along with the anti Arsene media trend. A bit cowardly, if nothing else.

  • colario

    July 31, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Today I turned to the now sky place and heard a promo for this interview said it would be after this ‘….’. It wasn’t after this as in there and then so I switched off.

    I am not surprised to learn from you that Vardy said that he never spoke to Arsenal as I never believed any report that claim Arsenal were interested in the play.

    The hate for Arsenal and in particular Arsene has meant that it doesn’t matter what you say as long as it makes the club and the manager look stupid.

    The techniques of communicating and making and turning a lie into ‘truth’ are the same whether the cause is hate as with Hitler or envy as with Arsenal. When I see these techniques are being used I ignore the claims for I know a lie is being promoted.

    To me on the first moot that Vardy was to be an Arsenal player I knew it was what I think is called here ‘an invisible transfer’ in order to denigrate Arsenal and of course Arsene.

  • westwing

    This articles I have read and maybe have them on kindle and then I share with friends of Arsene. Very clever man Tony but maybe catch more wife worries you will be old soon like Arsene. I tell her she is spud.

  • Andy L

    A small observation is that I think the interviewer was Danny Kelly , who is a self confessed Spuds supporter , and not Danny Baker . Danny Kelly’s wife is an Arsenal season ticket holder and he admits he has lived in that shadow for many years.

  • Andy Mack

    You need to understand that Stewart Robson does actually have experience of football management. He was manager for 3 games at Southend Utd. His record of 1 win and 2 losses shows us all we kneed to know about his knowledge level.
    Unfortunately he wasn’t anything more than an average D1 footballer either…

    If my car radio is ever tuned to Talksprout it’s completely by mistake and is changed immediately. Listening to Talksh1te will reduce your IQ level dramatically!

  • Top Guns

    Instead of moaning about the media criticism of Arsenal wouldn’t it be better to give them no reasons to be critical?

    After all we achieved a very respectable 2nd place last season. If we had bought a couple of players in positions that need strengthening this summer then there would be no reason for anyone to criticise the club.

    The problem is that each summer Arsene Wenger invites criticism due to his approach to the transfer market. If you make the same mistakes each summer then you should expect the same criticism each summer. I do not believe that there is an anti Arsenal bias in the media.

  • omgarsenal

    Top Guns…… are firing blanks mate! What you believe is basically that its all Wenger’s fault, due to poor transfer management and ¨mistakes¨that repeated yearly. Please come back and write an article explaining those mistakes and mismanagement, BUT be sure that you can show proof to back up your daydreams. Otherwise, you will look like the fool you clearly seem to be….and you will continue to criticize something you know NOTHING about!

  • Pat

    Give them no reasons to be critical. If only it were so easy. If the media is intent on being critical of something, it will make up the reasons.

  • Top Guns

    Omgarsenal you sound rather flustered. My dear chap I deal in facts not daydreams. Arsenal are one of the wealthiest clubs in world football with a history to be envied. But what of the future?

    We appear to be settling for being a position of being also rans. Good but not quite good enough. If you were a real Arsenal supporter you would know that is not what this great club is about. In football real success is only achieved if there is an ambition to aim for the top. There is sadly not that ambition at the club anymore.

    Arsene Wenger is a great manager and I did acknowledge that finishing 2nd was a good performance last season. What I am saying is that he is not pushing himself to aim higher, nor is anyone else at the club. You and all Arsenal supporters should be asking yourself why is this?

  • omgarsenal

    TG…….I am not flustered but fedup with know-it-alls like you who make broad generalizations without any research or background information that is reliable:

    1) I am a real Arsenal supporter who knows that great clubs don’t always rise to the top,ie: Chelsea,United,Liverpool etc. every year.Arsenal have done with very little compared to the aforementioned clubs yet managed to slowly climb the standings and make it into the CL every year since 1990, despite many factors (injuries,referees,little transfer money,etc.).My definition of a great club is just that but you seem to think that Arsenal lack ambition….yet they won 3 cups in 3 years and are clearly serious about winning more. Can you prove that winning is no longer an ambition at AFC?

    2) How do you know he is not pushing himself to aim higher? In your world, Chelsea,United,City and Liverpool are not pushing themselves to aim higher either? You should be asking yourself where your false sense of disappointment is coming from rather than telling AFC supporters like me that we are not true fans and telling us how to think and what to ask.

    Anyway, the invite to writer an article is on the table……lets see what you can do on UA!

  • Top Guns

    Omgarsenal – as I was saying I deal only in facts and not broad generalisations.

    1. A real Arsenal supporter would therefore know that we have therefore won 4 cups in 3 seasons (if you really must include the Community Shield- I prefer not to as they are just glorified pre season friendlies)
    I can’t understand your obsession with making it into the CL. Of course before 1990 it didn’t exist so of course we didn’t qualify for it before then….Qualifying for the CL is not the definition of a great club however.
    Since we last won the title Manchester United have won it 5 times, Chelsea 4 times and Manchester City twice. They are our modern day rivals if you want to talk about greatness.

    2. Chelsea, United and City however had slightly disappointing seasons last year and so they have gone out and spent a lot of money and hired new managers. This will work for some and not so for others. However they are doing something about it, we are not. Show me the facts which illustrate where we are aiming to do better than the previous decade?

    I am not anti Arsenal, I am not anti Wenger I am just looking for the club to to use all its resources in order to make the club better.

  • omgarsenal

    TG…..who and what makes you think you are the arbiter of who is a ¨real¨Arsenal supporter or not?

    1) No obsession with the CL but rather admiration for what Wenger has achieved with far fewer financial and other resources while building a new stadium and competing with super-rich clubs. The definition of a great club is not solely how many trophies they’ve won but can also be how well they’ve done under very difficult circumstances, and whether their opponents could or would have done so under the same circumstances. I define greatness rather differently from you, who feels that we’ve underachieved so let us agree to disagree.

    2) Here are a few facts; Ozil, Cech, Xhaka, Bellerin, Sanchez, Ospina, Monreal, El-Neny, etc. Improved medical support and restructuring of the youth academies, the Emirates, maintaining managerial stability and transfer prudence despite the constant whining of pseudo-supporters, negative media assaults and the proven bias of the PGMOL.

    I am certain you have Arsenal at heart but I cannot agree with your pretensions that the Club is lacking ambition. We may never be super high key media darlings like Mourinho’s United and Chelsea but the Club is run with a different philosophy, one you do not agree with….fine…..I reiterate my challenge to you. Write an article for UA outlining what you see and the solution(s) for AFC’s woes and I am sure the UA faithful will be glad to respond. i write regularly and aren’t bothered by the occasional negative criticism, why are you?