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June 2021

Football’s problems are multiple, and largely hidden. But slowly there is a chink of light.

by Tony Attwood

The problems with football are multiple, but ultimately, in my opinion they tend to focus on two key areas.

First, football is run by a group of organisations that have their own agendas and are in essence answerable to no one.

In this regard I think of the FA, Fifa, Uefa, and of course the PGMO.  The FA is a by-word for gross incompetence and self-serving continuance.  Fifa and Uefa are by-words for corruption.  The PGMO doesn’t just behave like a secret society with vast powers and no sense of accountability; that is exactly what it is.

The second problem is that the media that reports football, pays football.  From newspapers paying for the right to list forthcoming fixtures through to TV companies paying football for the right to show matches.

Given that any questions about the integrity of football could undermine the public’s faith in football, we cannot expect the media to do much investigating.  Yes the BBC and the Daily Telegraph occasionally uncover the bizarre antics of Sam Allerdyce, or Chelsea’s misbehaviour in relation to transfer rules, but these are fringe matters, not issues affecting results or the running of the whole game.

Now the media also has two functions: it sets the agenda (in that it alone decides what is news and thus worth publishing) and then it interprets the news in its own stories.  Some issues never get mentioned at all, while others which fit in with the overall need to hype up excitement, are regularly part of the news.  The manipulation of reality is total and all done with the aim of keeping the audience.

For example, the tale that Arsenal gets the most injuries has been around since the media dropped its ludicrous assertion that Arsenal got the most yellow and red cards, and although the injury assertion is still regularly being published, no one has managed (as far as I know) to challenge our figures which show it simply isn’t true.

There have been many more campaigns of course and I won’t bore you with them all now, but throughout one problem with our campaigning has been that the mass media both set the agenda as to what is important, what people are saying, and indeed what is right, and report the “facts”.

However the media will move from its position, generally when its position become utterly untenable.   This is the case with refereeing, for so long a no-go zone for the media.  But now we have headlines such as “Leicester dig deep to limit damage after referee error puts them in spot of bother”.  It’s hardly as dramatic as our revelations that in some games referees get more major decisions wrong than they get them right, but it is a slight movement.

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We are also getting a little bit of reporting of problems with English supporters overseas, which has for a long time been another no-go zone, as Uefa in particular have been very strong in taking the position that crowd issues (be it racism, homophobia or violence issues) do not exist.   Also, although the blame has always been put on aggressive policing methods (largely because these foreign types don’t understand how it should be done), there has been some movement here.

The media is going to have problems of course because they have a world cup coming up in Russia, where some groups have vowed to make it a festival of street fighting (an issue that is very much not on the agenda at the moment).   So it was refreshing, in the sense of a momentary breakthrough of honesty, to see the headline “Police clash with Leicester City supporters before Atlético Madrid match.”   Although it was interestingly not reported as “Leicester City supporters clash with police…” – a subtle but important change.

What made that headline particularly interesting was the sub heading “Blue flare is let off before police move in”.   Trying to do something about flares has been one of our least successful campaigns – Arsenal won’t take any action against visiting clubs or their supporters where flares are involved, and the media don’t normally report it at all.   But now we have the headline “Social media videos show a blue flare was let off while objects were thrown at police.”  Another tiny step forwards.  Maybe Leicester has idiot supporters just like everyone else; something that has never been considered before.

Of course many of the big time issues are mostly not being covered, and when they are mentioned it is only as a wild rumour.   The Barcelona game in the last round of the Champs League against PSG quickly became notorious as a game in which the referee behaved very oddly, and the press did cover the obvious issues relating to that match for a couple of days.

But now (and this is a perfect example of how the media works to manipulate the agenda) the message is changed.   Consider this from the Guardian…

“If Barcelona end up winning the Champions League this season they will have done it the hard way. After their extraordinary comeback against Paris Saint-German in the previous round, they will need to do something similar against Juventus after being well beaten in the quarter-final first leg in Turin on Tuesday.”

Extraordinary refereeing decisions?  No, those are long forgotten.

One way in which unwelcome news is accommodated is through the use of media talk which serves to diminish a statement or an issue.  Consider this headline:

“Dortmund manager blasts Uefa: ‘We were told by text to play as if we had just thrown a beer on our coach. We will not forget it, it is a bad feeling’.”

The use of “blasts” makes it sound like an outburst by someone out of control, someone whose opinion is not to be trusted since his emotions (always untrustworthy things and not what we English do: emotions) have got in the way.

By using this device the media manages to avoid asking the key questions such as why the game had to be played so quickly after the event.  Uefa’s explanation – that there were simply no spare dates – is not examined.  And yet, given the world we live in, having spare dates is clearly vital.  It is, in fact, Uefa’s and Fifa’s fault that the calendar is so full.  And indeed it is getting worse as the number of countries that will be accommodated in the world cup finals is going to be expanded still further.

It is rather similar to the position at the start of each season.  Every year Arsenal and other teams are forced to play with diminished squads because the summer events run on for so long.  Every year Fifa and Uefa expand their summer operations – but in terms of regular challenges of this we hear nothing.

Of course we can’t do that much on our own, but I would always argue, at least we are trying.


8 comments to Football’s problems are multiple, and largely hidden. But slowly there is a chink of light.

  • Pat

    I think the main problem with football is the amount of money that can be made out of it – including by gambling – and therefore the potential for corruption.

  • Gooner S

    Nice post.

    Unfortunately the average football supporter doesn’t seem to give give a damn about these problems.

  • Menace

    It is time clubs introduced clauses in their contracts impacting remuneration where players are not available due to International matches including a week before & 2 weeeks after to ensure readiness for the professional league. It is not good business to pay for unavailable staff. Time for clubs to charge for staff being pulled to represent their countries while FIFA make mucho dinero.

    Injuries take a lot of time to heal & should also be included in the equation. Clubs are not charities but seem to be treated like ‘fry ponds’ supplying the table when the fish is ready for the table.

  • para

    Fully agree.

    And while we are at it, the refs need to have a league where they move up and down like the teams.

  • Julianm

    I think I like to concentrate on issues that are controllable by my club, Arsenal. I concur that there are dodgy owners of a dubious past, mercenary players who would stop at nothing to discredit or leave a team that only offers them what they are worth and a few managers. I say a few managers without qualifying it, because the media have the audacity to call Big Sam a football manager, along with Maureen the Sunday league manager who is given unlimited funds for the purchase and ruination of talented footballers.
    The Premier League referees we see week in week out, are largely incompetent. I say that because otherwise I would have to call them err ‘crooked’.
    I do wish my club would ask our Manager who he wants to buy, why he wants to buy them and how they would improve the team in the league and Champions League.
    I would like to see a post-match review between the Manager and coaches as to what plans they put in place for the previous match and how the preparations worked.
    I believe if my club does everything it can within the bounds of the law and rules of football to succeed on the pitch, then very good things will happen for the club, the players and the fans.

  • Goonermikey

    I love Arsenal . They’ve been part of my life for nearly 60 years now. I grew up on the terraces in the 60’s when we really did have something to moan about! But I will “support” Arsenal whatever happens (not just wear the shirt when we win and moan when we lose).

    My problem is that I’m sick of football and the dishonesty surrounding it. It’s all about money, hence Man U get preferential treatment in England, Barca get preferential treatment in Europe and, as Tony so rightly says, the media and powers that be are quite happy to support such corruption because their snouts are virtually superglued in the same trough.

    What really sickens me is that too many people are too stupid to see that they’re being taken for a ride. Idiots believe the crap that’s in the media and if it’s not in the media then they don’t believe it can be true.

    Tony, Walter et al deserve considerable respect for doing what they do and facing constant criticism. It’s hard to keep coming up with analysis and facts to be shouted down by people repeating stuff they heard some bloke on a blog say, who himself heard it from a bloke who works in a chip shop but sometimes reads the Metro or some equally inept rag.

    I would have given up by now. Keep it going UA. You are a voice of reason in a wilderness of blinkered regurgitation.

  • Atta

    I don’t kno about the media you read but referee errors have certainly been covered by the Media for as long as I’ve been watching football (since the 90’s). The referee’s integrity or competence may not be called into question, a stance which i fully support and which i believe still holds sway today. Because as an arbiter his character is supposed to be considered neutral unless otherwise proven beyond reasonable doubt.