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March 2021

Football journalism has become a walled wonderland inherently incompatible with reality

By Tony Attwood

Imagine that you go out of your front door tomorrow morning and find armed police and the military patrolling the streets where previously there was no such activity.   Carefully you drive to work, noting the army digging bunkers and erecting barricades, patrols at every junction.  You slow down to look for a moment and find three assault rifles pointing at you as you are told in no uncertain terms to keep moving.

The first thing you think is: there must have been a terror attack.  So you turn on the radio, but all you get is the normal programming.  The news (in England at least) is about the aftermath of the election in the US and Brexit in the UK plus what is happening in Syria.  You buy a newspaper.  Nothing there about it.   At work you check each newspaper’s web site.  Nothing.  On social media people are talking but on the established news channels – nothing.

You might be excused from wondering why the media is actually not reporting what seems to you to be the biggest issue of the day and I suspect you might be shocked.

But now supposing this sort of thing happened each and every day.  Supposing it was commonplace.  You would, I suspect, get used to it, because by and large we get used to most things.   The first time I saw six ambulances each carrying seriously ill or injured patients, queuing outside my local hospital waiting for admission, I was shocked to think that the people inside were not getting urgent treatment because the hospital had no places free to admit them.  Now if I see it, I just shake my head.  It is how the system has collapsed in England.  We get used to it.

The problems with reporting football is not a military takeover, and is certainly not as important as having not enough hospital beds and not enough doctors for the ill and injured.  But there is a parallel.  The reality those of us who go to matches at the Emirates regularly see is not reflected at all, not one bit, by the media.

At the last home match for Arsenal, the central issue for a huge number of Arsenal fans present (certainly those who made a noise, and those of a more older nature who sit around me in the upper tier and communicate in gentler tones), was the behaviour of the referee.  It dominated discussion with my season-ticket holding neighbours during the game, and at half time, and as the match ended.  And it dominated discussions with my friends who sit elsewhere in the ground, in the train on the way back to the Midlands.

Yet on Match of the Day there was not a single mention of this issue.  Nor was there in the Observer’s report.

In the Telegraph’s rolling account of the game on Saturday afternoon there is one mention of the ref: “The referee has a wee chat with Grant about taking forever over his goal kicks. Will that change anything? Probably not.”

And that is it.

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So why has this happened?  How come that the world we observe from being at the match is not remotely the same world as is reported via all the mainstream media.

There are two possible reasons.

One is that the media outlets have been told that to keep the rights to show football on TV or have a seat in the press box, they have to follow the party line.  This has been made clear when it comes to crowd trouble or pitch invasions (absolutely no showing thereof, and no reference to it can be made).  Maybe it extends further.

The other is that the media editors believe that if they report what they perceive to be certain “negative aspects” of football their audience goes down.  This might be because they feel readers don’t like any notion that the game is fixed or that referees are incompetent.  Or it might be because to start giving us this story of either an incompetent or bent referees now, will call into question what they have been reporting for the last ten years.  They need to keep their audience, and they need to avoid looking foolish, so they censor.

We first discussed this in relation to the way that time wasting by goal keepers is covered up by TV with rather pointless footage of a player trotting back to the halfway line.  But now a new model has been brought into reporting: if the media ignores it, then people will believe it is not happening, even if they see it with their own eyes.  Besides, as Facebook has shown, fake news gets a much bigger coverage than real news.

In short what we have is a situation in which media reporting of football has become what Frederic Filloux called (when speaking of Facebook) a “walled wonderland … inherently incompatible with news”.

Facebook have done nothing about fake news reporting because the fake news has brought them ever greater audience figures.  The football reporting media does nothing about the invented reporting of football in which referee incompetence or corruption has no part because that is what they have been doing for the past 30 years and they are afraid of stepping out of line.

Facebook is currently working on the idea that fake news generally can be spotted by readers, but this is clearly a long way from the truth.    We tend to believe what we see on TV as real and when what we see is influenced by the pundits who push our thinking in one direction via clever editing, and the commentators in the ground who set the tone for the pundits to follow through, we’re done for.

When people who are used to digital media are given the task of sorting out the fake news from everything else the researchers who undertake the work describe the results as “dismaying”, “bleak” and “a threat to democracy”.   And yet in terms of football the situation is far far worse, although to be fair the threat that arises from delivering fake reporting (such as the reports that utterly ignored the role of the referee in the Stoke game, and the crowd’s reaction to him) is far less important than the threat to democracy of fake news generally.

But there is another side to this story that makes it even more worrying: the broader issues that are not tackled.

Before the raids on the Fifa offices in Switzerland, there were a few books around about Fifa’s corruption, but they were carefully kept separate from the fact that England plays in and even bids on occasion for Fifa events and pays vast sums into Fifa each year.

Meanwhile the Football Association in England is so appallingly awful and disjointed that now some of its previous chief executives have come out and said it is hopeless and beyond reform.  And yet all we get is a series of secretaries of state suggesting that they might one day cut the tax payers money given to the FA – which they never do.

PGMO, which controls refereeing in the Premier League, is run on a model not used in any other large footballing country – the model that was in place in Italy when it had its corruption scandal, and yet no media outlet investigates or considers why we need a highly secretive body running refereeing, and why they have adopted this model.

Football in England, we have just discovered, for years been mired in the deepest, most appalling scandal relating to the abuse of children, and yet has conspired to hide the problem, even paying those abused not to speak about it.  And where were our investigative reporters through all these years?

The Qatar World Cup is a nonsense in terms of playing football, and an abomination in terms of the government of the country and the way it treats the people who are preparing for the world cup, and yet football sleep walks into it, at a moment when concerted action could lead to real change.

And so on and so on.  We are being fed a wonderland picture of football by TV, radio, newspapers and social media which has precious little to do with reality on or off the pitch, and there is no sign that this is changing.

Tales from Untold 

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

The video ref in action: a practical example of video refereeing in the Club World Cup

It’s not the defeat that counts, it’s what happens next

Everton – Arsenal : 2-1 time to start a new run

Everton v Arsenal: the teams, the psychology, and Wenger copying Chapman

Everton v Arsenal: a case study of changing managers

Everton v Arsenal Tuesday 13 December 2016. The Match Officials


Over half the important decisions made by Premier League referees are wrong.



25 comments to Football journalism has become a walled wonderland inherently incompatible with reality

  • Zedsaunt

    The bubble of football has had to find a way of dealing with Heysel, the Bradford Fire, Hillsborough, sums of money way beyond the comprehension and life experience of fans. Now it has to deal with the scourge of child abuse.

    Obviously, the bubble of football always keeps out those not involved in playing football. You are here to know your place before the hierarchy. You bow, you give your money, you die for it The bubble continues as a bubble.

    It will have difficulty dealing with child abuse because this puts together, in conflict, the drive to protect children – can I trust these people with my kids? – and the very essence of football – trust this hierarchy because we are the most dependable men in your community, we play football for a living.

    Has it ever happened before that the very basis of the game – your kid goes to play in a football team – is being challenged, every parent having to ask the question – can I trust these people?

  • John L

    Equally, there has been no media mention of Clattenburg’s performance at Goodison Park.

  • Robert

    Good article in the Guardian:


    “As someone who has never played the game of football to the highest level, I wonder if I dare even giggle at Gary Neville? The hierarchies of English football and the various industries that surround it – including Her Majesty’s sports press – frequently remind me of some failing post-war minor British public school, where bumptious members of the Remove are always being slapped down by the bigger boys, for reasons as bygone as the empire. Pointless rules, desiccated conventions, rigid systems of deference – what is any of it for, except propping up the establishment for the same reason establishments always demand propping up?

    “That this sledgehammer should have been deployed to put a lid on Karius – whose only crime was to reflect defensively on a horrid season that we’ve all been able to watch – serves as a reminder that even the titchiest challenge to established ways of doing things is regarded as a threat in football. It must be, or why would Neville and Carragher give a toss about it?

    “The more we see them at work, the more it should be clear that many of football’s established hierarchies and omertas are bullshit or worse. Either they are enemies to progress, as in the case of the FA, five of whose former chief or senior executives this week called for the outside imposition of reform. Or they are hierarchies which can be co-opted into infinitely darker schemes, as the emerging scale and dynamics of child sexual abuse in the game is showing.”

  • Stevo

    One thing for sure is that the last two matches that Man. Utd have played, the commentator has told us that had Utd not conceded late goals against Arsenal, Stoke and a couple of others, that they would be challenging for a top four position. I never realised that they were so unlucky.(not)

  • Intending no pun, let me make this thought I had been harbouring for long clear at this point.

    Having been colonised by the British, we were taught in school in English Language and many other ways of the English way of life. I held our colonial masters in very high esteem, believing if we hadn’t rushed for and got so-called independence that we would have been far better developed with our oil money. I believed the British were far more honest and trustworthy in dealing with public funds and development. Many Frederick Forsyth’s novels aided in my belief that the English nay British has always been a perfect gentleman.

    But it took till 1996, when new technology started streaming the English Premier League to our living homes in Nigeria, for me to have a very worrisome rethink. Then we had our own Celestine babayaro in Chelsea and Nwankwo Kanu in Arsenal. Like me, Kanu is the reason why most football fans in Nigeria became Arsenal fans.

    From what I see from officiating Arsenal matches in comparison to Manchester United matches it dawned on me that the English could not be truly honest in many endeavours. I saw real bias and dishonesty in perpetual motion. Ever since I’ve been witnessing biases in refereeing Arsenal matches, FA decisions against Arsene Wenger and Arsenal, the press gang-up to write off and rubbish everything Arsenal and I shiver.

    They may be perpetrating all these ills against Arsenal but the whole world is taking note, asking questions and amassing a thick dossier for future references.

    Tony I hope this comment does not rear up ill-feelings. I’m only being very frank.

  • Zuruvi

    Tony, there’s no real problem in having the World Cup in Qatar if the World Cup can be held in the USA, UK, France, etc.
    Qatar did not invade no country. Qatar does not keep chained prisoners without trial on an island.
    Qatar does not colonise other countries and treat their people as 2nd class citizens.

    I think we should leave politics out of football.
    Let Qatar hold their World Cup.

    I remember the British media and FA bad-mouthing South Africa when Africa wanted to host the World Cup.

    The British media seems to think the World Cup should only be hosted by the West.

    We as British citizens should worry more about the incompetence and bias within the FA. In my view FIFA is less corrupt than the FA and British referees. We witness the bias and corruption in the refereeing nearly every weekend. League titles are decided based on crooked decisions by the referees. At least at FIFA tournaments the games are decided not by biased refereeing. FIFA has been corrupt in awarding the World Cups to countries but they have not corrupted the actual game itself as is happening in England (because of referees and the FA).

    The FA made a lot of noise about FIFA corruption. But we all know that the FA used its “development aid” as well as offers to play England in friendlies as a bribe to get World Cup votes. In one year, the FA bought expensive designer handbags and offered them to the FIFA officials as a bribe to get World Cup votes. The handbag bribe didn’t work. FIFA officials were getting bigger bribes from other nations.

    If we are to take politics into account in the awarding of World Cups, then only a few countries have clean hands in that they don’t mistreat their women, they don’t cut off the heads or heads of adulterers, they don’t invade other countries, they don’t practice institutional racism, they don’t keep prisoners for decades without trial, they don’t facilitate rendition. Maybe countries like Lesotho, Switzerland, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Sweden or Mauritius and Denmark could be the only ones that should hold the World Cup.

    I don’t see any problem in Qatar or Russia holding the World Cup. I may not approve of their politics but I think football and politics shouldn’t mix.

  • Thumbs up Zuruvi. Excellent comment.

  • Ben

    But lots of the builders have died building the stadiums in Qatar.

  • Leon

    …and they’re being sued for human rights abuses they discriminate against women & homosexuals, and you think this is worthy place to hold a world cup?

  • The issues of human right abuses should be left to the United Nations to deal with. As long as a country is not under UN sanctions or ban or at war, FIFA has no business mingling with her international or local politics. Once the environment is suitable for movement and football why not?

  • Leon

    I’m not going to get involved any further in this discussion: you would most definitely not like my opinion.

  • Tai, Zu, I ti my hat, you are correct, the human rights violations of non western countries are inconsequential when we consider neo-colonialism as a whole.

    Yet to suggest the UN (see Rwanda as example), should be responsible alone is idealistic folly in my eyes. I had a gf who’s father worked for UN, was a racist and often returned with tales of the exact same corruption, a UN official who can tell you where the next conflict zone will appear is without merit, if he abides these things in knowledge of them.

    My issue with Qatar WC is how obviously it was bought, its why Manchester Airport are able to circumvent FFP so easily, the politics is already in play, it’s a matter of international relations, they knew what they were buying when they took on the club, it’s why Manchester sold 25% share through insider trding, knowing what was coming early, as did I. You lower the value of the club and sell shares to friends, take that money and wait for Brexit referendum, then you re invest it through overvalued assets with an improved exchange rate.

    I agree with Arsene, football is global, it is one arena that transcends borders and unifies the planet.for 11 months you couldn’t care less about football, but for 1 it’s there and you take note, you pool at work, you trot down to the public house with your unengaged spouse, you ogle the men in shorts and think of the home you left for the sake of an improved pay packet.

    Politics and football can never be apart, the money will not allow it.

    It is sad, but for a renaissance people suffer, so Ched Evans was equitted, I was first supporting the player, rape in a hotle room, what persona does not remain in a lounge area, late at night, it is no justification or dismissal, it is what we all think and fail to say, self censorship.

    I think Of Johnson, he got head from a girl almost 15, I got friends who should be sat next to him. Who wants 2 signed shirts, who wasn’t observing, what girl doesn’t boast of her exploits with a man she is enamoured.

    It takes an atrocity in the west to bring about the queries of a failing system.

    A british caucasian woman, cooks, cleans, lies back to think of england, collects the kids and maybe has a part time job, yet it is not possession, by means of monetary advancement, yet only Islamic and Jewish and Chinese and any ethnic majority that has issue with female oppression. But then the men, who succumb to emotional, mental abuse (women cannot usually physically hurt you, without an extreme) which is determined as of a far greater impact than physical abuse.

    I only aim to illustrate the capacity of football in the fight for our global society.

    Recently i have come to understand at some great depth, the cancerous nature of mental illness as representation of evil. What person wants to tarnish the image of a righteous man, to break the hearts of millions, to undo the 90+ mins of labour of 11-14 men? What person accepts the trappings of victories unearned, without supposing to acknowledge he will maintain his 3 poins and might face a later lambasting not undeserved if he accepts that maybe his accomplishments are undeserved.

    All for paper which is now less than the promissory note it implies, it is 010, it is nothing if oceans should engulf land, and droughts meanwhile waste harvest of those who cannot afford to waste a single grain.

    I bleed this club, because, it bleeds for a just cause!

    Just trying to bridge gaps, write Shariah Law into the ECHR, combine all Human Rights legislation, forward as one. A premise of Arrivals 2016.

    I found these recently and endorse it entirely:

    Best among men is the subdued one who endures abuse.

    Good is virtue until life’s end, good is faith that is steadfast, good is the acquisition of wisdom, and good is the avoidance of evil.

    These are from the Qu’ran, I am of no religion, but I have faith.

    We play football, we do not cheat, we endure and we win.

    Our number is too few, but 1 man shall slew 10 and 100 men a 1,000.

    He was wise, we can spend, we will win, the right way!

    There is something about the Spherical nature of the ball and the natural understanding of it’s manipulation that is special.

    The referee who so loved the game, he became it’s custodian. Then the man who hated it for he could never excel, yet he could not leave it, he would rather see it tarnished and broken by his hand.

    it’s just humanity at the end of the day. Which means that each of us can fight the corruption, we do so even now. The few must make their voices heard, for this is always how change comes. The guy who had the dude with the shopping bag at Tianamon Sq on his last FB profile page, and is again deleting another.

    You need only appear to conform, to best undermine a status quo, how you interpret that conformity without losing yourself to it, is another thing.

  • You’re great Dwain and this is talking seriously.

  • Norman14


    Unfortunately, governments, especially thos democratically elected, only bother about the population during elections.

    We shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a World Cup, until we stop supporting atrocities in Yemen and Palestine.

    We can’t claim any moral high ground, and as such, we are not in a position to critisize others who are basically doing the same as we are.

    So in a way, ALL media is not really the WHOLE truth – but propaganda.

  • Leon

    This blog has been hi-jacked.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Do people lie ? Yes .
    Will they cheat to get ahead ? Yes .
    Will they circle the wagons when they perceive threats ? Yes .
    Will they slander and attempt to bring down their opponents ? Yes .
    Are governments run by crooks ? Yes .
    Will the guilty and their sycophants deny wrongdoing ? Yes .
    Do the abhor the righteous and the whistle blowers ? Oh , yes !
    Will I be bothered or even care if they fail or fall ? Not an iota !

    Thank you , Tony for this article and you guys for your frank opinions .

  • Top Guns

    Tony – just as the media has an agenda to discuss certain issues and leave others unreported so you can argue that this site does too.

    There seems to be an over emphasis on the performance of the referee whenever Arsenal lose. Now this WAS reported following the defeat at Goodison Park. However maybe not in the context of what you would like for this site.

    The Everton manager in his post match press conference alluded to the fact that he has now beaten a Wenger managed Arsenal team for 3 matches in a row now, and each time Mr Wenger (and no doubt this site) have blamed the referee. Now how many times has Koan got to beat Wenger before it is acknowledged that actually Koan is a very good manager also?

  • Top Guns

    Sorry for the predictive text Mr Koeman

  • Rich

    Top Guns

    We’ll see if Everton can perform anything like that when other top sides visit Goodison. Or if, in fact, referees are much stricter with tackles from behind, pushes,etc and this prevents them from playing as they did against us.

    Any fair minded person taking a minute to read Wenger’s post match comments would see that while he gave his opinion on the ref, the bulk of his talk was about the aspects of the game within our control.

    Journalists know this but still play their game of running with glee to Koeman to say something like ‘Wenger blamed the ref’. Koeman is intelligent enough to know the journalists game, but relishes the chance to play it,too.

    Mocking Wenger, pushing hard the idea that Wenger is ungracious and always blames the ref; crucially, implicitly ridiculing any suggestion his teams do ramp up the aggression a lot against us (and the only good reason can be because he is wise enough to know his team can get away with more. Otherwise, what a fucking idiot not to play like that every game).

    Have a bet on an Everton sending off next time out if the players aren’t smart enough to know they have to dial it down. Wanyama twice in recent times, Pienaar and Arnautovic this year didn’t make the adjustment.

  • Norman14

    Fat Ronnie has also been known to blame the referee, I think he did it a week after he slagged of Wenger last season.

    Running from one Manager to the other one and then stirring the pot is not journalism – it’s click bait hack sensationalism.

  • omgarsenal

    How anyone on this site can pretend that INTERNATIONAL football should turn a blind eye to chilc abuse,worker abuse, corruption,racism,dishonesty from officials, the laissez-faire attitude FIFA adopts as a matter of course, etc. is shameful! Change for the better and positive change ,not only in sports like Football but in society in general, will only come WHEN we are united in our condemnation of such abuses and corruption, regardless of where it is found.

    Let me reiterate, Football is NOT permitted to ignore worldwide civil and social abuse just because its governance ignores abuse in Football. We are all stakeholders in the Game and we MUST begin a movement to hold these stuffed suits at the FA, the PIGMOB, the FIFA and EUFA and at all levels of the Game, to account for their abuses and corruption.

    What we need right now are efficient and effective mechanisms to hold these people accountable. They won’t come from the government, the authorities, the owners and managers, the players but ONLY from the common man and supporters of the Game! thinking otherwise is simply putting your collective heads in the sand and like the FA, pretending that all is well down there.

  • Zuruvi

    OMG, charity begins at home. So should fairness. Let’s change the FA and biased referees here in England before we attack FIFA.

  • Zuruvi

    Gays and lesbians are not free to play their football or even be club officials in England. They are persecuted by the haters.

    Children have for long been abused in England but the clubs and FA seemed to condone or turn a blind eye for too long.

    Before we start pontificating and pointing a finger to FIFA and to Qatar, let us sort out our own mess first.

    The refereeing of football in England is an example of corruption in British football.
    The treatment of gays within football is an example of unfairness and intolerance in British football.

    The lack of opportunity for black and ethnic minorities to get management jobs in the Premiership is another evil that needs to be addressed before we try to sort out FIFA problems.

  • Zuruvi

    Let us succeed in effecting change in the FA first. Let us succeed in getting fairness in the way games are refereed.
    Let us make football in England accessible to all (including gays and lesbians).

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I cannot tell a lie –

    A monkey and a baboon were seated next to each other during a service in church. The pastor said, ” Turn to your neighbor and say they are beautiful and adorably created by God.”
    The monkey looks at the baboon for a moment , then laughs out loud and tells the pastor , ” Tell him yourself, I don’t want to lie in church !