How the use of downright lies and misinformation has spread from football into the world beyond

By Tony Attwood

Recent studies in psychology and sociology have put forward the idea that when people feel they’ve lost something, then they are willing to take any sort of risk in order to get it back.  Even if it never existed in the first place.

This is the simple explanation as to why the notion exists among some people who classify themselves as Arsenal supporters that getting rid of Wenger and having someone else, is a good idea.

What these people feel they have lost is a magical past – a past of Cup and League doubles, and a past of the Unbeaten Season.  A past in which George Graham swept all before him, and never put a foot wrong.  A past in which Bertie Mee rescued Arsenal from oblivion, and then knew exactly when his time had past and it was time to move on.

Except… actually the past wasn’t quite like that.  Bertie Mee had early successes in the Fairs Cup (an early day version of the Europa in which Man U now play, and has often been the playground of Tottenham in recent years) and then won the Double, but then stayed on taking Arsenal into the world of near relegation.  If you want to read the whole story in detail it is published in the Arsenal in the 70s series on the Arsenal History Society website.  George Graham left the club in mid-table when he was removed from bung taking.

So yes, there were various golden ages, and indeed going back before the 70s there was the golden age of Chapman, Shaw, Allison and Whittaker (that one is traced in the Arsenal in the 30s series).

The problem is that it is always that it is hard to know what it is best to do.  But that problem is now worse because we now live in the era of post-truth, the period when make-up stories have become not just the equal of reality but actually bigger than reality.

We’ve watched the evolution of post-truth on Untold across the last few years.  Not only has the number of stories presented without any evidence increased beyond anything ever seen before, but it has become clear that huge numbers of correspondents have no real notion what the classic meaning of “evidence” is.

When challenged they cite “the evidence of my own eyes” – evidence that also presumably tells them that the sun moves round the earth, that electricity doesn’t exist, and that the people who appear on the TV screen are actually inside the TV (since one’s eyes don’t actually reveal the signal being sent from the satellite…)

This non-evidence post-truth world is dangerous.   This week the campaign manager of President Elect Trump denied that candidate Trump ever called for a registry of Muslims in the US, even though this statement is directly contradicted on camera.

But still people will ignore this, because fake news now gets more attention than real news.  People have stopped asking, “is this real” and looking for real evidence.  So one person can put up a story that says that climate change is not a real event, and that over 30,000 scientists agree with this, and it gets a huge audience.  The story is untrue, because the people claimed as being scientists are not scientists at all, in that they mostly don’t exist.  And those that do don’t work in universities or scientific institutes or research centres.  But the story is believed and is reposted across the internet.

Earlier this year Untold ran the Transfer Index which recorded over 100 transfers of players that were supposed to be coming to Arsenal, and over 20 players who were about to leave Arsenal.  Only around 2% of the stories were correct.  Worse, the actual transfers that did happen by and large slipped by without being noticed until a few days before they happened.

Yet if you were to look on sources such as Goonernews and NewsNow, you would find the most read stories all the time were these fake stories.

Let me make that quite clear – the fake stories reported by the Index through the summer were much more widely read than stories about real events.  And many of these stories actually claimed that the “deal was done” rather than “there is a rumour that…”

Now unfortunately no one other than Untold seems to have much of an interest in exposing both the mainstream media and the bloggettas for their endless comments that range from the misleading to the downright lies.   Which is truly unfortunate, when we look at where things have got to in other fields.

For example, recently cited what it vaguely called “FBI sources” saying that Hillary Clinton will most certainly be indicted in 2017 for crimes related to her email scandal.

The story (which was quite untrue) got 140,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.  But the story actually originated in Macedonia where such sites as, and hundreds of others exist all published by a bunch of young guys.  All the stories are aggressively pro-Trump content aimed at conservatives and Trump supporters in the US.

The whole thing was done as a click bait operation, publishing deliberately false stories to get readers in and encourage them to click on the adverts.  The point being that although the amount of money earned in the US or UK for such clicks is very tiny, that money paid in dollars to someone in Macedonia is actually worth quite a bit.

Of course Facebook and others could do something about it.   A story in the Washington Post reported how a group of postgrads set up a viable truth rating algorithm in an afternoon; Facebook has been saying it is too difficult, then saying it is looking into it, and is now saying it is introducing such a program.

But the fact is, the President Elect of the US has discovered that making things up can work, just as campaigners for leaving the EU in the UK who propagated the notion that the National Health Service would be £350m a week better off by voting to leave the EU, discovered the same.

It is as if the worst elements of football reporting have been taken as examples of how to run political campaigns.

But maybe, just maybe, now that the situation has reached such an extreme level in that stories can be made up and then ignored once they have had their effect, an awareness of all this will cause the backlash we have been missing.

What I hope is that ultimately people do start demanding evidence, and stop thinking that making something up and publishing it as truth, is an ok way to take the debate forward.

Of course much of the storyline in football is trivial.   But in football the stories that Arsenal get more injuries than anyone else, that big money transfers generally make clubs improve, that changing managers is generally a good idea, or even that doing badly in November is an Arsenal trait which leads to the club not winning the league, are as fanciful as the notion that Trump never said he would force Muslims to be registered (like Jews in Nazi Germany) or that leaving the EU would mean another £350m a week for the NHS in the UK.

In the end evidence is all that we have, and I think we need to continue to check each and every thing that newspapers say about football.  I know some people have got fed up because I have gone on and on and on and on about the Guardian story that Arsenal had only two players who got into double figures last season, but it was a wholly misleading statement, and it is symptomatic of what is happening in football reporting.

And, it seems, that the “who cares about the truth” approach which has dominated football reporting for years has now been taken up in terms of the way the world is reported.

Indeed it almost seems that the Republicans in American and the Leave campaign in the UK, looked at the way football is reported in the UK, without any reference to reality, and thought, “hey, what a clever idea”.

Of course some of the things that Trump and the Leave Campaign each said may well have been true.  That’s not the point.  The point is that as soon as a politician or a journalist lets one utterly untruthful or misleading notion enter the commentary, the problem starts.  The next thing you know, we are in the world of post-truth.

Now somehow we have to try and climb out of the pit and find a way back.

Tales from Untold 

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

Arsenal in November. Exactly how bad are we year after year? You might be surprised.

Man United – Arsenal : 1-1 Our beach saves the day

Man U v Arsenal – the teams, the pizza, the telepathy, the result

José Mourinho vs Arsène Wenger. As far as the media is concerned the teams are irrelevant

Wenger v “M”. Tactical naivety, blaming the medics,

Manchester United v Arsenal 19/11/2016 – The Match Officials

Previews: A (Possibly) Thrilling End to a Great Year

It’s November so it must be injury crisis time (and ticket price analysis time)


From the Arsenal History Society  

The books

“Making the Arsenal” and “Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed history” are available both via Kindle and in paperback.  For the Kindle editions please go straight to the Kindle shop, for paperback editions and more information about the books please click here.



26 Replies to “How the use of downright lies and misinformation has spread from football into the world beyond”

  1. 2016 and the era of post truth is such a terrible thing. I long for the pre 2016 world where politicians were always 100% honest and you could rely on the integrity of the media. I blame nasty Mr Trump and those damn Brexiteers, Mrs Clinton would never tell a lie and us Remoaners, I mean Remainers would never seek to mislead people. Afterall, just look at how all our predictions of instant job losses and financial armageddon have come true. I blame the Russians personally.

  2. It’s one thing lies and misinformation being used in a football context it’s another thing completely when the most powerful man in the free world is elected on blatant misinformation, lies and untruths in a manner which is akin to a reality tv show.

    It is truly scary how many people chose to believe or are duped by this. The world is becoming a scary place

  3. Tony

    I think that right now people have been drowning in too much informations. The media don’t care if the information they publish is true, they only care about drawing attention, clicks, hits and visits. Take the whole Hector Bellerin construction for example. The youngster has told himself that he doesn’t want to leave Arsenal for Barcelona but he has been connected with a move to Barcelona ever since his emergence in 2014-15.

    Back to too much informations part…

    People usually read only the headline. All foot-notes, disclaimers and sub-titles are wasted on an average internet user.

    My friend has wrote an article about how Edin Dzeko got six games of suspension for pulling down Papastathopoulos’ shorts last week, with a few notes that it is a satirical article. Hell, one of the invented characters in the article is named John Shite-Speaker! My friend received dozens of comments that he is a moron and that kind of article shouldn’t be published.

  4. Post Truth, unfortunately, is a product of modern technology. In the past, media and the powers that controlled populations could either say what they wanted or nothing at all, because there was no way for the Averages in the Street had any evidence to suggest otherwise.

    Also, has anybody noticed how the media start something really big..(in the guise of the yellow background !breaker” on Sky for example), then simply run away from it? Here’s an example:

    Sky Sources: “FIFA to start proceeding against England and Scotland FA’s for wearing poppy emblems”

    Wonder how may English and Scottish football fans exclaimed “Tell FIFA to F Off before visiting the Sky Sports web site to see what else was being said? Surprise, Surprise – that was the end of it. The story simply disappeared.

    Of course, news is prioritised to suit the purposes of those paying the most.

    So, by starting the story that Buckingham Palace is to get 380 million quid to pay for urgent upgrades, quickly get’s peoples’ backs up because surely, they can afford that themselves. Actually folks, the money is over TEN years and a large sum of it will come from The Windsors own pocket. Controversy started – story disappears.

    Finally, that Wilson pillock from The Telegraph said on Sky this morning that “Arsene Wenger is responsible for Alexis Sanchez’ injury problems. He said pretty much the same about Jack’s problems.

    Maybe time for us Gooners to “bulk” blacklist the Telegraph?

  5. Because the internet isn’t regulated, unfortunately, many people make the mistake of trusting it and treating the news they read on the internet the same way they have always treated traditional news outlets; believe everything without question.

    The mainstream media are also realising people don’t care much about the truth, profits are now more important than the truth, so they join in in propagation of fake news. Put an outrageous headline out there and wait for the clicks to come in. Tomorrow put another one out and repeat the same thing. Noone cares as there are no checks or consequences for publishing fake stories/news. The biggest losers are the idiots who get all worked up over their favourite club not signing this or that player as reported by this or that website.

  6. There is no doubt that disinformation has been used to further the ambitions of the dishonest for a very long time – for such a long time that I don’t think anyone has taken the idea from the football pundits – disreputable as they are.

    Further, I don’t think the use of disinformation in recent events has been confined to only one side or the other, either in the US elections or the Brexit campaign. Sometimes, as in the US, we have the attempt to disguise the reason for defeat on anything other than the real reason. I could write a lot more on this, but I don’t want to waste Untold time writing on political matters – football is much more important!

  7. OT.
    I’ve just finished watching ‘Boro vs Chelsea a moment ago. And Costa won all the 3 points at stake for the Blues with his single goal in the match to send them to the top of the table.

    The point am trying to make is, if it were us, will Arsenal have won to go top? 3 times this season we had the chances to go top if we won our games but we never did. All we managed to do is to draw the games.

    Now I ask, what has been making us to be playing these draw games when we should be winning them to go top and stay there? Injury to Cazorla?, playing Gunners out of their strongest playing positions in the team, or the lack of another big strong striker in our striker-line with a consistent goal scoring ability e.g. Diego Costa and a powerful big midfielder like Yaya Toure?

    It will take sometimes before we play a big game again. But before then we’ll play against some lower teams of, Bournemouth, WBA and West Hammers. These clubs can be difficult to beat if the very right starts and bench are not made for these PL matches by Le Prof. And to also play his starts in the position they know to play best from.

    No team has the exclusive right to a continuous winning of matches. But can continue to win if the team plays to continuing winning. We are still within the touching distance to Chelsea the new leaders. But a time can come when they and the 2 other clubs behind them could have problem with their results. Therefore, what we can do now is to wait in ambush to pounce on them when they have problem with their results and seize control of the PL to go top and stay there. In this wise, Olivier Giroud alongside Sanchez, the only big & power striker and tiger forward player we have should be starting our games as from our home Ucl game against PSG.

  8. So far this season, ManU have played Burnley, Leicester, ManCity, Southampton, Stoke and us at home.

    The moaning one, likes to play defensive. Burnley and Stoke could be expected to play park the bus against “big” teams, they got 0-0 and 1-1 ties. Southampton might be more willing to play football (than park the bus), and got beat 2-0. Leicester (the former champions) got beat 4-1. Only ManC came there, and got a win: 1-2. So, not a high scoring affair.

    And you say that Arsenal played REALLY BAD on Saturday?

    Arsenal did not play as good as they could have. They were hardly REALLY BAD.

    But, if you normally support spuds or state-aid united and just come here to troll, what can one expect?

  9. Now I love 90% actually more like 99% of what is written on here, but I can’t get excited by you telling me that politicians lie, am looking forward to tomorrow’s piece on water being wet, ice being cold, and me (being part Irish so 30% ginger) getting burnt in the sun… sorry but want to add ?

  10. @Samuel, i know what you are trying to say about the whole going top thing, but being that i think that one of the matches was against Spurs (which if had got the pen could have won), and another away at OT (against a park the bus lose at no cost manager), then you might be being a tad harsh… Let’s just let the media crown City champions in September, and Chelsea champions in November, whilst we concentrate on going/being top at the end of May…

  11. @Samuel, thats not forgetting that Costa shouldn’t have even been on the pitch to score half the goals that have got Chelsea where they are so far this season…

  12. Local to Berkshire article, about why reputation should be part of the knowledge a referee brings to a game, with the example of Huth complaining that he is being hard done by now.

    Once upon a time when I was taking referee training (in redneck Canada), I believe it was said that one should not take reputation into account in officiating a game.

    I think that by and large, referees are reasonably intelligent people. They are supposed to be professionals, and as professionals they should be able to take all the knowledge useful to them in a game, to the game.

    A referee should not give a player a yellow for persistent infringement on his/her first foul of the game, because he/she has a history of doing that kind of foul. Persistent means within that particular game.

    But, the fact that most referees allow a significant amount of grabbing, pushing and pulling in the box on corner kicks, should not give carte blanche to players to do this in the game they are playing.

    If a player is known to smack opposition in the head with an elbow or to step on an instep with their cleat; the referee should be allowed to issue a straight red instead of a yellow, because the infringer is known to have intent.

  13. Gord….the Laws no longer permit the use of presumed intent in order to apply a punishment or sanction. It is now judged solely on the outcome, accidental or intended.
    The Laws also specifically exclude so-called ¨reputation¨being used to judge a player’s behaviour and guilt. All referees are supposed to start a game presuming innocence until proven guilty with respect to players’ performances. That said, I don’t know of any referee or assistant who is perfectly impartial and doesn’t allow doubts about a player with a bad reputation to creep into their decision-making. Afterall we are all human!

  14. I’m just surprised that no one has noticed that the ‘original’ Arsene Wenger was abducted by aliens in 2005 and taken away to their planet to coach their football team , and was replaced by a look alike clone .

    This clone while initially inferior to the original , has evolved gradually over the last 10 years or so, and now may even be considered superior to the 1.0 .

    The easiest way of knowing that he is not human is by the very fact that most older men who have achieved much in life ,don’t take no shit from anybody , especially stupid pundits and reporters .

    Strangely this AW 2.0 , seems too mellow , too benign and not all flustered by all the crap that comes his way . Not to mention , being able to easily zip up that great coat of his !

    Remember , you read this breaking story here on UA . And we don’t lie, nor distort the truth . Well , at least not 99% of the time !

  15. I asked my friend before the last two games:
    Would he take a draw at spuds if that guaranteed a win at OT?
    Yes, was the answer.

    After the draw, i thought, yes, we are going to win, instead it looked like we put on the hand brake again, nearly lost but “rescued” a point in the last minute.

    To me we could really have scored at anytime if we really really really wanted to, hence no shots on goal until the last minute. Arsenal are just too nice to other teams, but that’s Arsenal.

    “evidence that also presumably tells them that the sun moves round the earth”
    Aha, but the “flat earthers” will tell you this and “prove” it convincingly too. 🙂

  16. Am sure that over the next few years , we shall be having a good laugh at the goings on in America . Lets start at the lowest rung ….

    Three hillbillies were sitting on the porch. The first hillbilly said “My wife is so dumb, yesterday she drug home a brand new washer and dryer, and we ain’t even got electricity!”

    The second hillbilly said “My wife is stupider than yers, yesterday she brings home a new dishwasher, and we ain’t even got runnin water!”

    The third hillbilly said “My wife is even stupider! Yesterday I was in the kitchen and I saw her purse on the table. Everything was spilled out of it and there was a bunch of rubbers layin there… and she ain’t even got a dick!”

    YEE HAW !!!

  17. I was thinking of reputation as demonstrated intent, not presumed. To not be able to use it, severely handicaps a referee’s job in protecting players on the pitch. A player could decide (or be forced to decide) that in every game, they would break the leg of an opposing player as their first tackle of the game. And this activity would stand a significant chance of not being issued a single card in the PGMO officiated EPL.

  18. I’m still elated by that towering header from the mighty G, still elated by the absolute intent shown by the Ox and the G – the game demanded an equaliser, they delivered. It was precise and exact.

    Did Arsenal play bad – or ‘Really bad’ – it was Saturday, early kick-off, first game after the international break. They refused to drop their heads, refused to go more than one goal behind, kept themselves in it.

    As for post-truth – post-truth is a wonderful phrase – what does it mean? Lies are the condition after truth?

    Where Tony has hit it on the nail again – the football fan wants to believe anything. The readiness to believe, the eagerness to believe – in contrast to the post-1945 attitude, ”What is this bullshit? Who is lying to me?” – has to exist before the lie gets told.

    The Pope backs Trump was one story. That appeared on social media. It was instantly believed. That was a pure football story.

    ‘Messi backs Trump.’ The footballer explained yesterday that the President-elect showed what could be done when you are smart with your taxes.

  19. Bjtgooner
    Do tell us more of your political insights, I’m sure they are as groundbreaking as they are even handed.

    You have already mentioned before the uncontrolled Clinton greed. Surely such an astute political observer like yourself can share some of your wisdom on Trumps philanthropy and selflessness with the rest of us.

    False equivalence – two words for you to consider.

    While all politicians tell half truths and lies, some just lie more than others.
    While I’m not the biggest fan of Clintons, Hilary was clocked at 27% percent on the truth-o- meter . Meaning, she told a lie, a half truth or not quite the truth 27 % on average during her campaign speaches.

    Trump on the other hand was clocked at 73% percent.

    Bernie Sanders – the paragon of honesty , told a lie or not quite a truth a 28% at a time.

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