How football laid down the rules for the post-truth world

By Tony Attwood

During the last couple of days a friend of mine has received messages on her Facebook page telling her that

  • Mrs Trump has filed divorce papers against President Elect Mr Trump
  • Facebook is starting to charge everyone who has fewer than 10 friends, from midnight
  • Stephen Fry has died
  • The queen hasn’t been ill but was accidentally shot by one of her security guards

Such ravings show the world at large catching up with football journalists and bloggettas who for several years now have daily been making up stories about football transfers, bust ups between players and managers, while supporters get so angry they send Twitter into meltdown (as evidenced by five comments).

In such a world, the real issues of the day are often ignored.  On the world front, climate change, the fact that all IT systems can be hacked, total and absolute surveillance of the population of the UK under the Investigatory Powers Act, the end of the era of free trade… these and many other rather important stories are ignored.

It is the same in football, and it was indeed incredibly easy for us to produce a list of 20 things that are seriously wrong with the game from child sex abuse onwards in a recent article.

What was not expected however was the torrent of abuse that was received in response to that article (which we didn’t publish).  It seems an attempt to report the hard news really does upset some people.

And perhaps the anger came because despite there being so much real stuff to talk about in football, for years journalists and bloggers have spent their time primarily making up trivia.  And of course there is nothing wrong with fiction, so long as it is indicated as fiction.   For example, the author of our summaries of transfer nonsense is named Sir Hardly Anyone.  I think that is a bit of a clue.

But making up stories and passing them off as true has been the staple diet of football writers for years.  And now it seems the rest of journalism, and indeed lots of people on Facebook and Twitter have seen football journalism not as a dire warning of what happens when newspapers allow their writers to make stuff up as they go along, but as a blueprint for the future.  Let’s all make things up and pretend they are real.

However last year something else happened, as the general perception of what would happen got totally out of kilter with what actually did happen.

In August 2015 the odds on Leicester winning the league were 5000 to 1.   In December 2015 in the UK 23% of the population thought a vote to leave the EU was likely in the next year, while 8% thought it likely that Cameron (the Prime Minister of the day although you may be forgiven for having forgotten him) would resign in 2016, and 7% thought that Mr Trump would become President of the USA.

I don’t think anyone did a survey of whether people thought terror outrages in Nice, Brussels and Orlando would happen, but probably they were not expected either.

This is an interesting contradiction.  Journalists now are given total freedom to write anything they like and display it as the truth, and yet still they can’t guess what is going to happen.   So although media owners and politicians looked at the new model of making up the news as a cheap way of making money, and thus started to adopt it, they still couldn’t get any predictions right.

In short, reasoned debate based around facts and evidence which had long been hard to find in football reporting, has now been abandoned in all other forms of reporting in most newspapers.

The only question left is this: are we now entering the new age of darkness?  Football in England has, courtesy of its regular courting of the disgraceful Fifa and Uefa by the inept FA, and by the media’s long term refusal to challenge the appallingly secretive PGMO, has been living in the dark for years now while being avidly supported by journalists who know an easy life when they see it.

Indeed contrary to Bob Dylan’s claim that “It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there” we’ve been bungling around in the pitch black for so long we don’t even realise it any more.

What is interesting for me is that the more I write about this (be it by commentating on how bad being negative is, by noting how previously good journalists have become corrupted by the desire to knock through misleading lines or by pointing out how many things are wrong with football), the more I get very long tirades sent to me (sadly mostly from non-existent email addresses) telling me that I should not be expressing these views.

This is interesting I feel, because anyone who wants to ignore Untold can readily do so.  Those who want an alternative approach to football are spoilt for choice.  But still these people are telling me, day after day, that I should NOT be expressing these views.   One of the fundamentals of a democratic society – freedom of speech – is itself being cited as something to be removed.

There is no doubt that the notion so beloved by some correspondents to this site, that all one needs is the evidence of one’s own eyes has spread to the mainstream.  When the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP said, last June, that “Britain has had enough of experts” he not only decried the work of people who gather and use evidence, he also attacked the motives of experts.

And that raises the point, if we are not going to trust experts who have devoted a lot of time to studying the facts and analysing the data, then we are lost in a sea of stories – rather like the ceaseless transfer rumours, but on a much larger scale.

As US anthropologist and historian Joseph Tainter has said, “The simpler past seems more attractive than today’s complex reality, and so people vote thanks to inchoate frustrations. They choose simplicity and locality over complexity; identity over internationalism.”

The same in football.   The two championships of George Graham are remembered – as most certainly they should be, particularly 1991 in which the club had two points deducted and still won by seven points.  What is forgotten is that two years later is forgotten; the season when we scored the lowest number of goals in the top division and came 10th.

As the UK looks at the current state of newspaper reporting of football and sees it not as a dire warning of how quickly proper analysis of reality can vanish, but as a blueprint for the way journalism can be done on the cheap, so we increasingly need to challenge the stories we are given and try and deliver an alternative vision, no matter how much the lovers of the fantasy world created by post-truth reporting might deride what we are trying to do.

It is, I think, a rather important battle.

Untold Arsenal: The curse of time wasting

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

Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek 14 – The bullet points

For the sake of some of its fans, should Arsenal be sectioned under the Mental Health Act?

Ref Review : Arsenal – WBA: the ref who turned his back on time wasting

Arsenal sign their first player of the window, and it is quite a surprise.

How the FA, PL and PGMO backtracked on the promises made by the National Review Board.


New from the Arsenal History Society – all the player histories indexed.  The AHS player histories tend to be more detailed than those on the official Arsenal site – especially for players from the early part of Arsenal’s history.  Now we are undertaking the huge task of indexing the main articles.  Players with surnames A to K have been linked to their main articles and we are continuing the task day by day.

22 Replies to “How football laid down the rules for the post-truth world”

  1. spot on Tony. It is as if some don’t want us to talk about the things we want to talk about.

  2. Excellent point, Tony, about journalists and bloggers spouting their opinions as facts, and lies as the truth, and then shouting down those who dare to have a different opinion or tell the truth.

    In cyberwarfare, these are known as ‘denial of reality’ attacks.

  3. Sorry Tony …. going to have to pick you up on one thing in there … the main reason no one was worried about finishing 10th in 1993 was we won the FA and League Cups, (I say this because I was at Wembley for all three games and therefore have the evidence of my own eyes !!!!).

    It’s probably more fitting to cite the losses in the cups in 1992, to Benfica, Coventry and Wrexham as examples of when George Graham’s team “failed” … and yes, unfortunately I was at those three too !!!

  4. A fantastic article Tony, and much closer to truth than the whitewashes and lies spouted by the mainstream media and politicians.

    The problem is that this type of “news” has turned us all into either sheep or radical non believers. People who dig a little deeper into stories peddled by “professional” journalists, will find that in most cases, the exact opposite applies. We are being conditioned to believe what we are told by the mainstream, at all costs. Therefore, we have a scenario where the UK fights a war against one regime, whose punishments include beheading, while at the same time, we support another regime that uses death by stoning, as a penalty. When the news broke that Saudi Arabia was using dirty bombs against Yemeni civilians, and that the UK supplied those bombs, the “hush up” story was swift. Alarmingly, the story was accepted and less than 2 weeks later, we have moved onto more important news.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that Riley is into beheading or any other evil form of justice, but he does head up an organisation that puts out a couple of one-liners once a season, which apparently answer all the criticisms of PGMO and it’s employees. So, the whitewash peddled by the media is that Mike Riley said so therefore, it must be true. In any case, who are football fans to question what goes on behind the doors to those in power?

    If I’m going to be fair though, even Arsene is probably guilty of the same thing (whitewashing, not beheading), by stating that Alexis is “alright” which he obviously wasn’t. However, he isn’t far enough up the food chain for that to be accepted, as the media are all over Sanchez’ “tantrum” to the point of suggesting he’s off.

    Think on this, apart from family members, who is asking hard questions of West Yorkshire Police….

  5. Speaking of Dylan, Everything is Broken is one of my go-to feelgood driving songs at the minute.

    Ok, an edge of brokenness to the feel-good (does anyone actually feel good about songs which go ‘everything is fine and good’, I wonder?) but still nice and cathartic.

  6. Another fine article in a long roll of fine articles. Thank you Tony. No argument with the points you raise.

    It strikes me, thinking about the takeover of investigation by the corporate interests, prodded and shaped by the endless wall to wall Sky/BT Sports TV screen, we really have hit a wall. Maybe it can be summarised as –

    Fill in the chapters – ”From The Duke Of Earl To The President Of Tweet: How The World’s Top 1% Secured The Planet.’

    1)The Containerisation Of Aspiration.
    2)How The Buddha Grew The Surveillance State.
    3)Homeland Security – It Starts In Your Head, Poisons Your Heart
    4)The Planet 24/7
    5)The Moon Is A Lonely Mistress: The Earth No Longer Exists’
    6)When Is An Earthquake A Floating Iceberg?

  7. A good article, but the question that most of us cannot answer, indeed the question that many do not ask, is who is it that exerts such complete control of the media – both mainstream and large sections of social media?

    We know that the PGMO is a very unsatisfactory organisation, we see this every match, but the evidence of our own eyes is not supported by the media, instead the media protects PGMO at every opportunity – why does this happen and who makes ths decision?

    As you rightly point out the same media mis-reports or mis-represents world events on an ongoing basis – even doing a 180 on the untold misery caused by various campaigns – the utter destruction of Kurdish cities in south east Turkey is one example of modern genocide not covered by western media. Who makes that huge decision?

  8. Sure we need negativity to balance our positivity, just as long as we don’t dwell for ever in one or the other.

    Ups and downs are a vital part of life else everyone would be sipping their fav tippple all day long and lapping up which ever part of this Earth that one fancies until one becomes bored to tears.

    We surely can’t enjoy positivity forever without having experienced something to compare it with.

    Just as Arsenal goes up and down, so the people who support Arsenal.

    Early in my life i realised that those who say/demand/threaten don’t hate must have a fear of people hating them? It’s alright to hate. Just hate the situation though and this will balance the love you feel when all goes well.

    The pendulum swings and creates the motion needed to progress/improve/better oneself.

  9. Who indeed drives the media – that is a very good question.

    We can only assume, given his projected self importance in the world, that Murdoch is King of the Media Castle. How he has got there is mostly portrayed as “Little Aussie Lad makes Good” propaganda, but I don’t buy that for one second.

    The majority of football supporters will be saying that we shouldn’t be mixing politics with football, but how do you get masses of people globally to follow an argument or cause? Expose them to your “truth” – and how big a mass do football fans engulf globally? – tens of millions, probably hundred of millions.

    Our love of sport is being used AGAINST us.

  10. AS someone who is passionate about politics, Arsenal, truth and tolerance I find this whole sordid issue hugely frustrating. I don’t require people to like what I like or believe what I believe but I do require them to deal in facts and that’s where it all falls down.

    Just having a point of view doesn’t make it valid if it has no substance.

  11. Don’t know if anyone watches the Sunday Supplement on Sky but a couple of weeks ago they had G Neville on as a special guest, primarily because he’d called out sports journalism in his column for lowering standards. Oliver Holt in particular was highly defensive to the point of being condescending.

    Neville himself repeated several times he had questioned the sheer weight of content which is provided, the pressure to pump it out continually and the effect that may have on quality, yet the journo’s at hand seemed insistent on defending all their friends in the industry. Herein lies the problem: when you’re paid for your opinion your ego takes more control over your perspective than the facts.

    I suspect that Neville is right. There are so many voices competing to be heard that if you’re under pressure from your Editor and there’s nothing of value out there, then you just make something up to stay in the game. In addition, blogs don’t even have top down quality control since they’re mostly produced by one person, so a lot of what’s printed is recycled lies and half-truths from other blogs.

  12. I’ve heard, but don’t know if true, that the immense success of Sky as a business relied massively-sink or swim even- on the phenomenal success of the premier league/ sports subscriptions.

    I found it believable but, as i say, I don’t know how true that is nor what the situation now is.

    Think I’m right in saying Bskyb are still thriving as a profitable company and, should murdoch succeed in gaining control, will represent a bountiful source of revenue for him. Maybe even his best source of revenue

    Part of the horror of that is in thinking of how it would allow him to happily run,say, The Sun as a loss-maker (60 mill down I heard just this week) in perpetuity. Pretty disastrous stuff for the country.

    At the moment my football addiction, Arsenal rather, overrules my principles, but I’m not sure it will forever.

  13. Terrific stuff, Tony. The last paragraph should be posted where the world can see it.

  14. Great article.
    These little minded people with false email addresses ranting at you probably cannot tolerate anything that deviates from their own little world of
    “Wenger Out”…..”Hope Spurs finish above us” etc…..thats their chosen truth and they will stick to it, no matter how unhappy their little world becomes

  15. Who control the media? Well, I remember reading an interesting little statistic that over 90% of the worlds media is owned by the same 6 corporations. When you think of just how many forms of news and media there are (along with all of their countless different outlets), that really is quite a worrying static. Although, really, the scariest thing to me is that the very people that run the world are the very same that have complete and utter control over the media. The money cartels; families such as the Rotschilds, Rockafellers ect.

  16. Since Tony mentioned the George Graham era it is worth pointing out that in 1994 Arsenal actually won a major European trophy.

    I appreciate that this is a difficult concept for younger fans to understand as of course these days it is more about the taking part than the winning that is important to the club

  17. Some very fine words of advice.

    Truer Words Were Never Spoken
    – Words from Colin Powell

    The less you associate with some people, the more your life will improve.
    Any time you tolerate mediocrity in others, it increases your mediocrity.
    An important attribute in successful people is their impatience with negative thinking and negative acting people.

    As you grow, your associates will change.
    Some of your friends will not want you to go on.
    They will want you to stay where they are.
    Friends that don’t help you climb will want you to crawl.
    Your friends will stretch your vision or choke your dream.
    Those that don’t increase you will eventually decrease you.

    Consider this:
    Never receive counsel from unproductive people.
    Never discuss your problems with someone incapable of contributing to the solution, because those who never succeed themselves are always first to tell you how.
    Not everyone has a right to speak into your life.
    You are certain to get the worst of the bargain when you exchange ideas with the wrong person.
    Don’t follow anyone who’s not going anywhere.
    With some people you spend an evening: with others you invest it.
    Be careful where you stop to inquire for directions along the road of life.
    Wise is the person who fortifies his life with the right friendships.
    If you run with wolves, you will learn how to howl. But, if you associate with eagles, you will learn how to soar to great heights.
    “A mirror reflects a man’s face, but what he is really like is shown by the kind of friends he chooses.”
    The simple but true fact of life is that you become like those with whom you closely associate – for the good and the bad.

    Note: Be not mistaken.
    This is applicable to family as well as friends.
    Yes…do love, appreciate and be thankful for your family, for they will always be your family no matter what.
    Just know that they are human first and though they are family to you, they may be a friend to someone else and will fit somewhere in the criteria above.

    “In Prosperity Our Friends Know Us.
    In Adversity We Know Our Friends.”

    “Never make someone a priority when you are only an option for them.”

    “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”…

    Colin Powell

  18. Top Guns

    Sadly, I doubt many of our unhappier fans would acknowledge the Cup Winners’ Cup as a prestigious prize.

    If they don’t consider the FA cup as a major trophy, and many claim it isn’t, some of the time at least, why would they be excited about a tournament made up of domestic cup winners?

  19. I disagree with you when you say nobody would have expected the terrible terror attacks in Nice and Brussels (and Berlin). I think it was plainly obvious to most that allowing over one million undocumented migrants from an area rife with Islamic Fundamentalism posed a huge security risk. This had already been in evidence earlier in Paris.

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